All about Localism

Welcome to LogoNet’s Localism page, a place to explore ideas about localism, community governance and collaboration.

What is localism? It takes different forms and there are many definitions, but a starting point is provided by the recent Local Government New Zealand Local government position statement on localism (2018):

Instead of relying on central government to decide what is good for our communities it is time to empower councils and communities themselves to make such decisions. This means strengthening local self-government, putting people back in charge of politics and reinvigorating our democracy.

Localism has emerged as a key theme in LogoNet’s Dialogue and the From the Frontline initiatives, reflecting responses to a diverse range of factors affecting both councils and communities around the world. These include rising inequality, increasing urban densities, council mergers, devolution initiatives and declining levels of government funding and service provision, combined with a realisation that many complex issues can be only managed effectively through intense local collaboration between councils, institutions and the communities themselves.

This page will share news about localism initiatives in Australia and around the world and provide links to selected articles and papers discussing and critiquing localism and related topics such as collaboration and devolution. Many of the articles in the LogoNet Dialogue also discuss these issues, as do several of the documents listed on our Recent Publications page.

We would welcome your contributions to this ongoing discussion. Contact us at admin@logonet.org.au with your ideas and comments. Please note that preference is given to freely-available, non-paywalled material and also that LogoNet does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in the initiatives or publications listed below.

Localism Initiatives and Resources

International

Investing in Better Places: International Perspectives(2011)a series of essays by the Smith Institute providing global perspectives on the place-making agenda, exploring the potential to create better, sustainable, and more ‘people-friendly’ places.

Open Government Partnership – an international multilateral initiative involving all levels of government seeking commitments from governments to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”

Resilience.org “aims to support building community resilience in a world of multiple emerging challenges”. It republishes material from other sources including a number of articles relating to Localism. These include:

Australia

Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) received Federal Government funding in 2009 and operated until 2015, showcasing innovation and best practice across local government and encouraging the adoption of innovative practices and solutions. The Centre released a number of studies relating to aspects of localism, including:

City of Mandurah – A New Vision – Council recently resolved to establish a community engagement campaign aimed at “establishing a clear, citizen-led vision for Mandurah’s future” and to convene the Future of Mandurah Summit to engage with local stakeholders and community members to consider priorities and to “define the desired ’story’ for Mandurah in the decades ahead.”

‘Citizen sourcing’ to improve councils’ image, Georgia Clark, Government News (February 2019). Discusses a report of recent research in the Journal of Public Sector Management measuring public responses to MyLinz, an Austrian platform that allows citizens to submit ideas on urban development and planning, which according to the article found that “perceptions of government were overwhelmingly improved through engagement with the platform.”

Collaboration for Impact – seeks to respond to complex issues through effective collaboration and by building skills and capacity to address complex social problems.

Community engagement in Australian local government: A closer look and strategic implications, Helen E Christensen, Presentation to the Emerging Trends in Local Government Forum, UTS (March 2019). Review of research revealing how “an increasing focus on community engagement is changing the way local government operates”.

Enabling participatory and deliberative governance: Institutional design and organisational capacity for local government, Emanuela Savini, Presentation to the Emerging Trends in Local Government Forum, UTS (March 2019). Examines the ways that councils “can better manage the opportunities and challenges associated with participatory and deliberative governance”.

Legislating community engagement at the Australian local government level, Helen Christensen, Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, Issue 21 (December 2018). This article examines the historical development of Australian local government legislative frameworks, arguing that “community engagement now occupies a central place in local government”. The article argues that Australian jurisdictions use four different types of approaches; ‘prescriptive’, ‘aspirational’, ‘empowering’ and ‘hedging’. As well as comparing these it identifies “key issues and challenges for the future of community engagement.”

NewDemocracy – an independent research and development organisation which promotes alternatives such as the jury model to restore trust in public decision-making.

Noosa Council Community Jury – in 2015 Noosa Council used community juries to inform two important decisions, a first for a Queensland Council.

Participatory Budgeting: The Next ‘Big Thing’ in Australian Local Government? (2017). Helen Christensen and Bligh Grant explore six examples of Australian local government participatory budgeting processes in which communities contribute to part or all of the budget-setting process.

Participatory public governance: why we need it, what it is, and how to do it (in that order), Pia Andrews, The Mandarin (October 2019). As well as improving the chance of success, the article suggests that “participatory public governance provides a means of scaling impact” and helps in maintaining “a more evidence- and outcomes-based focus”. It also argues that to deliver public good requires continual public engagement to help define that good. The article defines four broad levels of practical participation in public governance and how its development can be driven by public servants. The article is part of The Mandarin’s “Public Sector Pia Review — a series on better public sectors”.

Small towns, Big returns: The economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill  analyses a recent locally-initiated resettlement involving Hindmarsh Shire Council which has resulted in significant outcomes for a small regional community and the refugees involved.

Town Team Movement – an ‘under-arching’, non-profit organisation helping to create a network of town teams around Australia and New Zealand… Town teams are positive and proactive organisations that include businesses, landowners and residents working collaboratively with their local government to improve a place or area, often a town centre or ‘main street’”. Publications include:

Waratah Community Board – an initiative of the Tasmanian Waratah-Wynyard Municipality, the Board provides local leadership on decisions that affect people in Waratah.

Canada

Re-imagining Community Councils in Canadian Local Government (2017) – Alexandra Flynn and Zachary Spicer review the theory, function and scope of community councils in Canada, in the context of changes to Toronto’s community council structure.

New Zealand

An Overview of Developments in Community and Neighbourhood Governance, A presentation by Peter McKinlay to the workshops Making Community Governance Work for You and Your Communities, September-October 2014

Community Boards – established in 1989, 110 community boards operate throughout New Zealand, carrying out functions and exercising powers delegated by their councils.

The New Zealand Initiative – a think tank covering a range of policy areas including local government. Recently it jointly initiated Project Localism (see below) and has produced several papers on localism including:

Policy Quarterly New Zealand Special Issue: Localism and Devolution, Victoria University of Wellington (May 2019). In New Zealand like similar democracies the question of how responsibilities are distributed across governments is a matter of debate. The theme of this issue is ‘localism’.  “In the world of public policy localism sits in a constellation of concepts which include subsidiarity, devolution, decentralisation and deconcentration.” Selected articles in this edition include:

Project Localism– launched by Local Government New Zealand and The New Zealand Initiative, Project Localism calls for a shift in the way public decisions are made through a commitment to localism.

Reinvigorating local democracy: The case for localising power and decision-making to councils and communities. A discussion paper. Local Government New Zealand (July 2019). The paper seeks the views of New Zealanders to assist LGNZ in preparing its “localism manifesto” in the run-up to the 2020 NZ Parliamentary elections. Comments and feedback are sought by 15 December 2019.

Roadmap for reinvigorating local democracy launched. Local Government New Zealand (July 2019). Media release regarding LGNZ President Dave Cull’s launch of Reinvigorating local democracy (see above) at the 2019 LGNZ Conference in Wellington. Contains a transcript of the LGNZ President’s speech. “Localism is the principle that power and authority should flow up from our citizens and communities, rather than down from Government. Greater localism is powerful in that it enables our communities to directly shape their places and futures. To not just say, but to do.”

Serving New Zealand? A 2018 Survey of Community Boards, Callum and David Hammond. Examines the role Community Boards are playing across New Zealand in local democracy, and opportunities for the future.

Towards a new ‘localism’: Bottom-up problem solving in the 21st century, Patrick McVeigh, Medium (2018). Comments on Localism developments in New Zealand, noting that it needs to be integrated with the wider regulatory framework. “The practice of localism also needs to effectively navigate the inherent tensions between scale, community, democracy and citizenship”.

United Kingdom

There is a strong focus on localism in the UK, enshrined in legislation such as the Localism Act 2011 and the Cities & Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Powers and responsibilities have been devolved from central government to groups of councils through initiatives such as city deals, as well as from larger councils to local neighbourhoods and rural parishes. The following is a selection of papers and strategies dealing with various aspects of these processes.

Cooperative Councils Innovation Network is a group of local authorities committed to finding better ways of working for, and with, local people for the benefit of their local community. Their work is evaluated in From Cooperative Councils to Cooperative Places (2017). The Cooperative Devolution project involves councils pledging to put cooperative principles at the heart of employment support and local growth.

Devolution Hub – an English Local Government Association initiative exploring the current status of devolution in England.

The future of localism and devolution in England (2016) – a paper by Prof. Jane Wills which provides a useful summary of the changing nature and impact of devolution policies.

Growing a stronger local democracy from the ground up (2017) – the report of the ‘Democracy Commission’ established by Kirklees Council argues the case for localism and for ‘community-led’ councils.

Local Government Information Unit UK (LGiU) – a UK think tank and local authority membership organisation. LGiU recently established the Public Trust Lab to explore themes such as the future of the relationship between councils and their communities and how to build trust in this relationship. It has also published a number of papers on localism, including:

Local Governance Review. Scottish Government (May 2019). A joint initiative of the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) “to ensure Scotland’s diverse communities and different places have greater control and influence over decisions that affect them most.” An analysis of the responses received during the Democracy Matters engagement phase of the Local Governance Review has been published, along with a joint statement from the Scottish Government and COSLA on the review.

Local Trust – is the sole corporate trustee of Big Local Trust, established with a National Lottery grant of nearly £200 million. Local Trust’s mission is to “enable residents to make their communities and their areas even better places in which to live”. Projects include Empowered Communities which researched “What needs to happen for communities to feel and be more powerful in the future?”, and action research with four councils, which will test the findings and recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Localism with four UK councils.

Localis – a UK not-for-profit think tank, which works to “promote neo-localist ideas through research, events and commentary”. Its latest essay collection is Neo-localism: Rediscovering the Nation

Locality – a national membership network for community organisations which builds on the UK Localism Act 2011 to campaign for a shift in power to local communities. Locality commissioned the UK Commission on the Future of Localism to consider how to reinvigorate localism. People Power: Findings from the Commission on the Future of Localism, the final report of the Commission was published in January 2018.

Local needs, local voices: building devolution from the ground up (2017) – a UK National Council for Volunteer Organisations paper exploring the role of the voluntary sector in supporting devolution.

National Association of Local Councils (NALC) – represents English community, neighbourhood, parish and town councils. Recent papers and initiatives relating to localism include:

USA

The arguments for and against more powerful local government, PBS News Hour (2018). The transcript of a debate between John Yang and Sherrilyn Ifill, chaired by Judy Woodruff, on the relationship between localism and race relations in the USA.Can a ‘New Localism’ Help Cities Transcend Gridlock? (2018) – Richard Florida interviews Bruce Katz and Jeremy Novack, authors of The New Localism. (see below)

City Observatory – a website and think tank “devoted to data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them”. Recent papers relating to localism include:

Localism: A Call to Civic Action, USC Annenberg, Center on Communication, Leadership and Policy (April 2019). In November 2018, “leaders from libraries, newspapers, local government, nonprofits, and small businesses” gathered at the Centre for a roundtable called “Localism: Rebuilding America from the Bottom Up.” A “set of high-level principles emerged, functioning as guidelines to localism”, resulting in a two-part report which is a “practical call to action” for civic leaders.

Localism in America: why we should tackle our big challenges at the local level (2018) – a compilation of essays which “brings together an eclectic and ideologically diverse group of thinkers to examine various aspects of local governance and problem-solving.”

Localism: Closer Than We Think! Peter Hirshberg, MakerCity (2019). An article claiming that localism in the US is “rapidly gathering momentum and dimensions, raising broad institutional support and awareness.”

The Localist Revolution, David Brooks (2018). The article describes some features of the “coming wave” of localism in the US.

The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, Brookings Institution Press (2018 – purchase). “The location of power is shifting as a result of profound demographic, economic, and social forces. Power is drifting downward from the nation- state to cities and metropolitan communities, horizontally from government to networks of public, private, and civic actors, and globally along transnational circuits of capital, trade, and innovation.”

The New Localism. A website and online newsletter established by the authors of The New Localism (see above) which explores news, research and events relating to Localism.

To Reunite America, Liberate Cities to Govern Themselves (2017) – Joel Kotkin and Richard Florida argue for a devolution of power to America’s cities and municipalities.