Local Democracy Academy – connecting research and practice

The ICLD Local Democracy Academy is an intensive academic program that brings together an international group of leading scholars for a week of mutual learning, critical thinking and joint exploration of new ideas to foster a more inclusive local democracy on a global scale. Our Academy provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the junior scholars by matching them with senior researchers and providing a space for a fruitful collaboration that leads to policy relevant research. The Academies should result in comparative and innovative research proposals, cutting edge papers, and a dynamic network of scholars interested in the role of cities and local governments in development. Following the conference, ICLD invites the participants of the Academy to submit proposals for funding of research networks. ICLD covers the cost of transportation, accommodation, and meals during the academy for new laurates.

Previous Academy:

Local Democracy Academy 2022

The theme of this year was “Transformative local governments: bringing people and politics together“.

The academy brought junior and senior researchers from different fields to Visby Sweden on June 6-10th 2022, to share case studies that can help local governments better understand and respond to the needs of vulnerable groups. Local governments are the governmental linkage closest to people, and therefore they play a key role in answering to local needs and aspirations.

However, local governments are often underfunded leaving them inadequately or unresponsive to many. Accountability and communication pathways are also often poorly known by communities. Many other factors, especially in the context of misinformation, are contributing to a lack of confidence in local elected authorities. Lack of trust in democracy and its institutions threaten the possibility to address key social challenges such as segregation, climate change, gender and health inequity, increasing income inequality, among others.

Thus, the 2022 Local Democracy Academy discussed case studies on concrete tools used to build back trust bringing people and politics together.

Thematic sessions

This years thematic sessions were:

1. Climate Action with or without Local Democracy

This session explores different mechanisms and tools that can be put in place to ensure citizen accountability for climate action. A particular emphasis will be placedon how youth and children can demand accountability from politicians to address climate change. Practical examples of local governments that are creating more participatory climate action will also be discussed.

Session leaders:
Jesse Ribot, Professor, School of International Service at American University, Washington, DC, USA
Tomila Lankina, Professor of International Relations, at London School of Economics, UK

2. Feminist Cities

This session brings together cases where local governments have achieved concrete changes to achieve the SDG 5 on gender equality. Practical tools such as gender sensitive budgets, gender data, gender commissions, campaigns to break gender norms and overcoming gender-based violence will be explored.

Session leaders:
Leslie Kern, Associate professor of geography and environment and director of women’s and gender studies at Mount Allison University, Canada
Shireen Hassim
, Chair in Gender and African Politics, Carleton University, Canada

3. Tactical Urbanism

This session presents cases on simple and low-cost interventions in urban areas to improve public space and achieve inclusion and citizens participation. Particular attention will be given to cases on improved public space in marginalised neighbourhoods.

Session leaders:
Valeria Guarneros, Reader in Public Policy and Politics, and Deputy Director, Centre for Urban Research on Austerity Department of Politics, People and Place De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
Adriana Sansão Fontes, Associate Professor at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and PROURB

4. Child Friendly Cities

This session explores leading examples of towns where children’s rights are at the core of local government action. Cases on how to ensure that all children have the right to grow in a safe environment, with the possibility to access basic services, where they can learn, play in green spaces and make their voices heard.

Session leader:
Jua Cilliersis the Head of the School of Built Environment, and Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Technology Sydney

5. Action Research for Equitable Health

The Covid-19 pandemic showed us how social, economic, and environmental factors impact our ability to access health care and live a healthy life. Working with vulnerable groups to address disease prevention, health promotion, and quality of life is essential to shift social norms and habits that affect our health. This session will bring cases of action research that have worked to improve health equity among vulnerable groups.

Session leader:
Moses Tetui, Postdoctoral researcher at the School of Pharmacy, University of Waterloo, Canada. Affiliated scholarto the department of Health Policy, Planning and Management, School of Public Health, Makerere University in Uganda.

6. Participatory Budgeting in Marginalised Areas

Letting people participate and decide on how public funds should be spent can contribute to more democratic engagement. It can create a stronger link between citizens and local politicians leading to more accountability and transparency. Participatory budgets originally coined in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil at the end of 1990s have been used for a long time in different parts of the world and many experiments have been conducted. This session explores the use of participatory budgeting in marginalised areas to increase trust in local government.

Session leaders:
Josh Lerner, Executive Director of People Powered: Global Hub for Participatory Democracy and PhD in Politics at the New School for Social Research from the University of Toronto
Amalinda Savirani, lecturer at the Department of Politics and Government, University Gadjah Mada

7. Digital Services and Innovation

Digitalisation is without doubt a key feature for local governments. This session explores the use of digital tools to provide better service delivery that increase trust in local governments.

Session leaders:
Viktor Mitevski, Fulbright Scholar who holds MSc in Economics from Texas A&M University, USA
Quinton Mayne, Ford Foundation Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Faculty Co-Chair for Curriculum and Research at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

8. Transformative Local Democracy

This session will include innovative cases of local governments that have taken bold steps to improve citizen participation, equity and accountability. The cases will contribute to a broader understanding of the local democracy by sharing policies that have a transformative role. These cases should provide inspiration for other municipalities around the world.

Session leaders:
Anders Lidström, Professor of Political Science Umeå University
Sten Hagberg, Professor of Cultural Anthropology and director of the Forum for African Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden

Transversal Sessions

In addition to the thematic sessions there were also transversal sessions, for further capacity building.

  • Case-based Learning: This session on crafting and using case studies is led by Lisa Cox, senior writer and editor for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, where she works with faculty and staff to write, edit, and shepherd content — such as books, case studies, videos, and articles—through production and publication.
  • Writing Comparative Policy Briefs: In this session, researchers can practice the art of writing policy briefs, connecting their research with practice.
  • Writing Comparative Research Proposals: This session focuses on brainstorming ideas for comparative research proposals, based on the problems discussed in the local democracy labs and the possibility to apply for ICLD research network grants.
  • Local Democracy Labs: As part of the academy, we will have large virtual Local Democracy Labs where local government officers and politicians will meet researchers and have a dialogue on global challenges with a local perspective. The labs are based on questions sent by local governments from different parts of the world.
  • Study Visits: The island of Gotland has many historical sites that we visit during the academy, including the smaller island of Fårö, home to the historical Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. We will also make a visit to the park of “Almedalen”, a place used by former Prime Minister of Sweden Olof Palme to strengthen local democracy.


The Local Democracy Academy of 2022 is organised by ICLD (Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy) and Uppsala University Forum for Africa Studies.

ICLD acknowledges the financial contribution to its research programme made by the government of Sweden through Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.