Expanded networks, bright ideas and new horizons for local democracy research and practice summarizes this year’s Local Democracy Academy, which took place June 6-10 at Uppsala University, Visby, Sweden.
64 participants from 28 countries took part in the experimental, highly participatory conference to explore how transformative Local Democracy can work to bring people and politics together.
Why transformative local democracy?
Testimonies from all over the world point to the same conclusion: Trust is crucial for transformative local democracy – both in each other and in governments.
– Transformative local democracy is about legitimacy and achieving change in people’s conditions to participate in local level decision-making. It identifies innovative ways to give people a voice in the establishment of their local communities, says Anders Lidström, session leader of the thematic stream dedicated to figure out what this really is.
– Local democracy goes beyond local governments – it involves all groups and individuals who strive to participate in the formal and informal life of the community, added Leslie Kern, session leader of the Feminist Cities thematic stream.
Participants illustrate the relevance of this endeavor when we asked them to finish the following sentence:
Bringing people and politics together is important because…
…there is no politics without people! – Leslie Kern, Canada
…it’s the way to dismantle inequalities – Raksha Janak, South Africa
…everything stands or falls based on responsive leadership – Moses Tetui, Uganda
…I can’t think of anything more feminist! – Aila Bandagi, India
…many people feel disconnected from politics and this stimulates a return to realizing the importance of inclusive politics – Ben Stoman, South Africa
Connecting research and practice
Throughout the conference with its 8 thematic streams, the research-policy connection remained central. In 18 Local Democracy Labs, researchers met local government officials that are part of ICLD programmes to discuss pressing issues faced by the municipalities. The researchers also allocated time and effort to transform their research into policies for sustainable, digitalized, healthy, feminist cities, which were presented on stage during a livestreamed (LINK) event in the iconic democratic arena of Almedalen, Visby. Watch the energetic policy pitching here.
Image: whiteboard/ presentation/Johan on stage with group?
Social events filled an important role to improve peer learning and co-creation. Bicycle tour, world café with snacks brought from the four corners of the world, people bingo – all served to build lasting connections while exploring diversity, culture and nature. A special dinner was held in tribute to women in local democracy, inspired by The Historical Dinner Project.
What comes next?
When asked about the main takeaways from the Academy, researchers echoed “network”, “network”, “network!” So why are research networks important? Jua Cilliers, session leader, describes how the diversity of participants reinforces the transdisciplinary thinking necessary to meet the challenges of transformative local democracy:
Some results are direct and tangible – such as the formation of a Working Group on Child-focused Cities – whereas other are being molded and built over the coming year(s). ICLD will direct funding to action research projects and case studies based on discussions and sessions during the conference, and collaborations have already been initiated between participants and municipalities to increase city managers’ understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Read further reflections by Josh Learner, session leader in the Participatory Budgeting stream in this blog post.
We look forward to seeing the fruits of the LDA 2022 ripen over the coming weeks, months and years. Follow ICLD on social media to stay updated on upcoming events and conferences.