“Relevant knowledge of local democracy has to be gathered and discussed among researchers, practitioners, politicians and citizens. Only then can we create informed policy recommendations” says Staffan Smedby, Sida in his introductory remarks during ICLD’s Local Democracy Academy 2020. His statement captures what we believe the Local Democracy Academy to be all about – making research relevant for local governments.
Over the course of five days, between December 14-18, ICLD organised the Local Democracy Academy, a place where representatives of local governments and researchers from all over the world meet to share and exchange ideas. This year’s theme – Global Disruptions and Local Democracy for a Post-Covid World – generated a lot of interest, and the lessons learned seem more pertinent than ever.
The Academy offered four core learning experiences for the participants: A panel debate; thematic sessions; training sessions; and AIMday – a Q&A concept that connects practitioners and researchers to discuss solutions for the most pressing problems facing local governments.
There are many key takeaways from the week that deserves a mentioning. First, the strength of the Local Democracy Academy lies in its focus on interaction and participation. Participants that registered submitted policy briefs for feedback from peers and experienced researchers. This was done over the course of two days, with improvements and new ideas being formed in the ensuing discussions. As one participant noted in his concluding remarks: “You cannot sit down and just listen – you must participate. Local Democracy Academy is about interacting with everyone and meeting new people.”
Second, the virtual format of this year’s Local Democracy Academy attested to how the pandemic has cast much of our everyday work into the digital space. Digitalisation was a key theme, with participants taking part in training sessions and lectures on topics such as digital methods, participatory video, netnography, and the influence of emerging technologies in citizen participation. Many discussions centered around what effects the pandemic may have on local democracy and citizen-participation during a time of physical isolation. Is the move to digital participation discriminatory against those without smart phones or does it include new, previously excluded, segments of the population? More research is duly needed.
Third, the truly global reach of the Local Democracy Academy shows that local governments and researchers from all over the world share similar concerns and face common challenges. This opens for interesting comparative research, and it further reaffirms assumptions at the very core of ICLD:s Municipal Partnership programme, where collective learning and experience-sharing is needed to solve problems facing local democracy and local governments. The pandemic has made this reality more apparent than ever before.