Scoring Local Democracy (CIVICUS Guest Column)

CIVICUS Guest Column by John Coonrod, PhD, Executive Vice President, The Hunger Project

All politics is local. The truth of this saying is underscored by the experience of my Hunger Project colleagues working in 20,000 villages, as well as by studies such as the World Bank’s massive 2010 study “Moving Out of Poverty.”

Progress on all eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) requires planning and action at the local level: food security, jobs, primary health care, primary education, changing gender attitudes, water, sanitation and preserving the natural environment.

While national governments need to provide resources and standards, the nitty-gritty details of ensuring that people can reach these fundamental services depends on local government.

When we look at success stories where people have rapidly liberated themselves from extreme poverty – such as in Brazil and the Kerala state of India – these are often the result of strong decentralisation and strong mechanisms of participatory local democracy that involves a vibrant local civil society.

Yet good local governance is virtually absent from the international agenda. How do we transform this?

We at The Hunger Project decided to take a page from the Jim Grant playbook. Before Mr. Grant became the legendary head of UNICEF and launched the Child Survival Revolution, he was the think tank president who focused world attention on one simple indicator of deprivation – the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR). At UNICEF, his State of the World Children Reports spotlighted the IMR. Grant created an indicator so simple and compelling that it’s ranking grabbed the attention of political leaders.

Ten years later, in 1990, Mahbub ul Huq began shifting world attention from a sole focus on GDP to Human Development through creating the Human Development Index and the annual Human Development Reports.

In 2013, we propose to do the same. In partnership with the UN Democracy Fund, we have conducted consultations with experts and activists in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe to create a multidimensional Participatory Democracy Index. The PDI assesses five key dimensions of good local governance: active citizenry, political devolution, fiscal and administrative decentralisation, and multi-stakeholder planning.  And it will rank countries separately on what’s in the law and what’s actually implemented on the ground – as there is often a huge gap between these two.

We will publish our first State of Participatory Democracy Report this September at the UN General Assembly, and the second in September 2014. In addition to rankings and country profiles, we will highlight some of the inspiring innovations in this field from around the world.

We need your help to build this global index. We base the PDI on two short online surveys – one about legal provisions and one for how well those laws are being implemented. The surveys are available athttp://localdemocracy.net in EnglishFrenchPortuguese and Spanish.

You will also find on our website profiles of the numerous innovative local organisations and networks working in this field. Your own organisation is very likely one such organisation and we hope that this initiative can put some additional wind in your sails. These organisations are pioneering new approaches that truly engage local people – and particularly women – in the processes of local governance, restoring them – in the words of Mahatma Gandhi – “to control over their own lives and destiny.”

This is the future that all of us stand for, a future that is increasingly within our grasp.

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