Local governance and participation: Two cases from Latin America

Essay, 2006
22 Pages, Grade: B


1. Introduction

Governance has become one of the main ideas directing development today. However, besides being a concept that is useful at the time of describing characteristics of government and state, it is also a very broad term that sometimes can be misused or misunderstood. It is important to differentiate it from government which is seen as a “one-way” activity from the state towards the society. Governance has been understood in a broader sense as the “relationship between the state and the civil society” (De Coning 2006). Thus, it becomes a two-way dynamic in which the actors more or less control inputs and outcomes. However, some mechanisms are necessary to help generate this dynamic. For this relationship to be healthy, it is necessary that the actors have the opportunity to express their interest and needs. Then, participation comes into scene as an essential factor for the improvement of governance.

Participation is one of the keys to good governance and it is in the local level where this relationship can be better understood. Local communities have the potential to improve the democratic processes of their governments and the possibility to guide their own economic and social development. But none of that will be possible if the institutional and legal frameworks for participation are not in place and the commitment from all the actors to participatory methods is inexistent.

In this work, I intend to analyze the concept of participation and its intrinsic relation to governance through the evaluation of two case studies. For that I will, in the first section, analyze the concepts of governance, participation and decentralization as the essence of the perspective I will use through the rest of the work. In the second section, the case study of the Municipality of Vallegrande, Bolivia will be analyzed. In the third section, the case study of the Municipality of El Bosque, Chile will be examined. The same methodology will be used for the description of both cases. First, a brief analysis of the legal and institutional framework of the country will be provided, followed by a description of the participatory processes undertaken by each municipality and its outcomes. Some analysis of both experiences will be carried out in these sections. In the next section, the findings will be compared, analyzed and contrasted with our initial theoretical perspective. At the end, a brief conclusion will be provided and some topic of further research. On the whole, the case studies will be our guide to understand participation at the local level and its relations with governance.

2. Theoretical Approach: Understanding Governance and Participation

Conceptualizing Governance

Despite the many definitions of governance that have been attempted from different disciplines, it should be noted that governance is, in general related to the public affairs and the way they are conducted. Governance has been differentiated from government itself as a broader concept that also includes civil society and the interactions between the two of them. In a general way, governance is defined as a “process whereby societies or organizations make their important decisions, determine who they involve in the process and how they render account” (Graham et al. 2003, p.1). However, some propose to consider governance as a process while other see it as an activity. Governance as activity would imply a more static view of the concept where it would be possible to separate the action from the outcomes (Olowu and Sako 2002). Governance as a process would be associated with a complex phenomenon that runs across the entire set of activities of the state and the civil society and which affects the results of these interactions. In a participatory process, the interactions are not always clear-cut and temporal limits for each activity cannot be completely seized, which makes it difficult to relate governance to a static concept and, even necessary to understand it as a process that goes on, and improves over time with the inputs of the actors.

The public administration view also states that governance is “composed of purposeful action to guide, steer, and control society” which is achieved through a “process that takes time and involves both governmental and non-governmental organizations” (Olowu and Sako 2002, p.16). Governance becomes a process to which a direction can be given, and where this one is not necessarily imposed by the state but in fact, from the interactions between the public and private actors of the system. This concept is somehow institutionalized in the perspective that “governance consists of the regularized, institutional patterns that emerge from the interactions of these [governmental and non-governmental] organizations” (Olowu and Sako 2002, p.16). Some scholars who have adhered to this view also argue that one of the essential characteristics of governance in the new disarticulated state is the existence of what they call “self-organizing, inter-organizational networks” which are in line with the interactions in the system (Olowu and Sako 2002, p.16). Thus, the dynamic becomes bidirectional, since these networks provide their own inputs to the process and their participation is independent from the direct control of the government.

Governance has also been divided into two more specific concepts: “bad” governance or “good” governance. However, it could be argued that in reality governance goes along a continuum and there is only one, that can be better or worse governance (De Coning, 2006) defined by how effective the mechanisms to make decisions in a society are, how the society determines who participate in those decisions and how accountable those participants are. The more democratic and participatory these interactions are, the “better” the governance of the society is.

For the specific purpose of this work it is of interest to look at those dimensions, principles and indicators in the theory of governance that are concerned with participation issues. Hyden describes this one as the “socializing dimension” which refers to the rules and structures that are set in order to familiarize the people with public issues, to articulate the interests from the society, and to channel participation (Olowu and Sako 2002, p.21). Participation, transparency and accountability are essential to any process that seeks to improve the interactions between the actors of the state and the civil society.

Social and Political Participation

Gaventa and Valderrama (1999) propose four “paths” to understand citizen participation. On the first place, there has been a tendency from the perspective of development programs to see participation as related to projects and social policy. According to this approach, “citizens have been ‘beneficiaries’ of government programs”. Later in this same line, the World Bank has defined participation as a “process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them”. The concept is then broadly defined and extended to all stages of a program or project cycle.

However, as Gaventa and Valderrama (1999) argue, “within the development literature there has been less attention to notions of ‘political participation’ which involve the interactions of individuals or organized groups with the state, and which often focus more on mechanism of indirect participation”. For this approach, participation is related to the exercise of the political rights and the mechanisms that promote control of the citizens over the government through “individual and collective actions that include mainly voting, campaigning, contacting, group action and protest”. It pays less attention to other forms of direct participation and intervention in government affairs.

Both approaches count on their own participatory methods for enhancing participation. In the field of political participation these methods have commonly referred to voter education, awareness of rights and responsibilities of citizens, lobbying and advocacy, and often aimed towards making the elections of representatives more accountable (Gaventa and Valderrama 1999). In the field of social participation, on the other hand, there are a number of “broader participatory methods for appraisal, planning, monitoring large institutions, training and awareness building [and] greater emphasis here has been on the importance of participation not only to hold others accountable, but also as a self development process, starting with the articulation of grassroots needs and priorities, and building popular forms of organization” (Gaventa and Valderrama 1999).

Social and political participation are now coming together and are merging into the new notion of “participation as citizenship”. This re-conceptualization of participation has essentially come from a wider use of participatory methods in externally financed development projects and the pressure that the donors have put over the recipient countries, given the growing interest in including “all the stakeholders in the process, from the citizens to governments and donors” (Gaventa and Valderrama 1999). This new dynamic necessarily calls for a re-definition of the relation between these actors. In the field of international development cooperation this has come in the form of governance and the broad and innovative understanding of the interactions among the actors it has brought about. The growing concerns about good governance are “opening spaces within governments for new relationships with their citizens” (Gaventa and Valderrama 1999).

The interactions of public and private actors become of great importance at the local level since “the community is the space par excellence to make effective the participation of the citizens” (Serrano 1998). At this level the decisions can be more effective at meeting the real needs, and the space for the decision-making is limited and reciprocal. Participation also fosters the efficiency of the decisions and strengthens the local government. Local governance calls for increased participation of civil society (Gaventa and Valderrama 1999).

The very concept of citizenship can be re-defined to include participation at political, social and community levels. From previous views that consider it as either a set of individual rights or a group of social and civic responsibilities, it has moved to a concept that links citizenship to participation in decision-making as an essential right. “Citizen as participation can be seen as representing an expression of human agency in the political arena, broadly defined; citizenship as rights enables people to act as agents” (Lister 1998: 228, in Gaventa and Valderrama 1999). Thus, citizenry exercise part of the control over governance and can influence the government through more direct forms of representation.


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Local governance and participation: Two cases from Latin America
Comparative Governance and Public Administration
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Local, Latin, America, Comparative, Governance, Public, Administration
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Cecilia Costella (Author), 2006, Local governance and participation: Two cases from Latin America, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/78520


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