Towards Participatory Local Governance: Assessing the Transformative Possibilities.




Gaventa, John

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Institute of Development Studies


For the last twenty years, the concept of ‘participation’ has been widely used in the discourse of development. For much of this period, the concept has referred to participation in the social arena, in the ‘community’ or in development projects. Increasingly, however, the concept of participation is being related to rights of citizenship and to democratic governance. Nowhere is the intersection of concepts of community participation and citizenship seen more clearly than in the multitude of programmes for decentralised governance that are found in both Southern and Northern countries. Linking citizen participation to the state at this local or grassroots level raises fundamental and normative questions about the nature of democracy and about the skills and strategies for achieving it. The literature is full of debates on the meanings of citizenship and of participation, on the role and relevance of 'the local', especially in the context of globalisation, and of course on the problem of governance itself. In this paper, I pose six challenges which point to the importance and potential for assessing the transformative possibilities of citizen engagement with local governance.



citizen participation, local governance, civil society


Gaventa, J. (2003). Towards participatory local governance: Assessing the transformative possibilities. Prepared for the Conference on Participation: From Tyranny to Transformation. Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, United Kingdom.