Informal Consultations
Committee of the Whole
Thematic Committee
Parallel Events
Parallel Event

Uneasy Partnerships between City Hall and Citizens
David Westendorff
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
Palais des Nations CH1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Background and Introduction
When the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat I, was held in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976, the design and implementation of programmes and policies to address the problems of housing and human settlements were seen to be the almost exclusive responsibility of governments. At that time, it was still generally believed that rapid urbanization could be slowed and its negative effects mitigated. Contrary to these optimistic projections, urbanization has continued unabated in many parts of the world. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the majority of the world's population will be living in cities, and by some estimates that proportion will increase to two thirds by the year 2025. The number of mega cities (cities with populations over 8 million), which are often characterized as "ungovernable" as a result of the seemingly intractable nature and concentration of social problems they encompass, grew from two in 1950 to 21 in 1990. Sixteen of these are in developing countries. By the year 2015, the number of mega cities is expected to reach 33, with 27 in developing countries.

Today civil society plays a crucial role in finding and implementing solutions to the problems of urbanization, and it appears that this role will only grow in the coming decades. People's organizations, such as community-based organizations (CBOs), grassroots movements and volunteer groups at the very basis of civil society, see no future in permanent confrontation or competition with the state. Rather, they want a responsible and competent state at all levels - one that is responsive and accountable to the needs of all people. In many countries, achieving this will require reforms that strengthen local governments in ways that enable them to become better partners with local communities in implementing bottom-up development strategies. And, for such reforms to achieve optimal results, civil society organizations at the local level will have to be strengthened as well.

To address these needs a joint project was developed by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV): Volunteer Action and Local Democracy: A Partnership for a Better Urban Future. The goal was to identify the successes of, and constraints on, collaborations between CBOs and volunteer organizations, on one side, and local governments, on the other, in designing, implementing and evaluating social and economic policy at the local level, and to use this information to initiate and inform a dialogue among local actors about concrete ways of enhancing future collaborations of this kind.

This second UNRISD-UNV multi-city action research project was undertaken as both a follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and as a contribution to the Habitat II conference held in Istanbul in June 1996. Provisional findings of some 20 case studies conducted in Chicago, Johannesburg-Soweto, Lima, Mumbai, and São Paulo, along with related research in East St. Louis (USA), Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam) and Jinja (Uganda), were first discussed at an international workshop in Kumburgaz, Turkey during the last week in May 1996. These preliminary findings were then synthesized and presented at Habitat II. Since then, a process of dialogue and action research continued in most of the cities, and this is reflected in a number of the studies that have been finalized as late as this year. Additional work was also conducted in six Chinese cities in 1997, drawing on earlier VALD studies and collaborators in addition to those from the Chinese government and academic institutions.

This report is divided into five sections following this introduction. In order they review the focus and methodology of the VALD project, its preliminary findings dating from Habitat II, the issue areas addressed in the case studies of partnership between community and volunteer organizations and local authorities, a synthesis of the overall findings of the project concerning factors tending to hinder effective collaborations between local authorities and community and volunteer organizations, and, finally, some recommendations for local authorities interested in enhancing the quality of their collaborations with community and volunteer organizations.

Project Focus and Methodology
The collaborations that the project sought to document were those demonstrating an active, non-exploitative partnership between agencies of the government operating at the local level and community organizations. In such relationships the community, through its volunteer and civic organizations, exercises its right to participate in decisions concerning the allocation of resources at the local level. Community members are not merely purveyors of free or below-market price labour or materials in return for services or complementary resources from the state.The relationships they seek, rather than creating political or economic dependencies (as often happens in participation-as-subcontractor schemes), are partnerships that create skills, knowledge and the capacity to organize effectively among community members, and open channels for democratizing information and decision-making processes at the local level. Such relationships are termed "non-co-optive" or "enabling".

The project made an effort to engage key actors at the local level, and especially government authorities and community organizations (together with their supporters elsewhere in the local civil society) in a dialogue on how to improve the possibilities for such "enabling relationships". The project used the Habitat II conference as a pretext for initiating these dialogues in a set of large cities on four continents.

In each of the core cities, several detailed case studies on specific collaborations between community organizations and local government were carried out. In addition, two thematic papers were prepared(Authors and titles will be given at the point where the studies are mentioned) , reviewing the legal and regulatory framework that determines in a formal sense the possibility for collaborations and one the larger political economy of development and urbanization that influences the possibilities for collaborations between community groups and local authorities. Collectively, the case studies and thematic papers served as the basis for a dialogue among diverse local actors on how to improve the possibilities for future collaborations.

Preliminary Findings and Recommendations Presented at Habitat II
The findings and recommendations from the draft "City Case Studies" discussed in Kumburgaz, Turkey (27-30 May 1996) were further synthesized for presentation at Habitat II. These were as follows:

  • Community-local authority collaborations exist in all the core cities surveyed.(The distinction between 'core' and 'non-core' cities was not made explicitly in the report made at Habitat II. The projects in the non-core cities -- East St. Louis, Jinja and Ho Chi Minh City -- were at that time laying the groundwork for future collaborations. These efforts are described briefly after the experiences in the core cities in the next section. ) However, the picture of collaborations with local authorities painted by community organizations and their interlocutors is a sobering one.
  • The genuineness - or degree of partnership - that characterizes these collaborations varies greatly from city to city and between collaborations within cities. CBOs and local associations remain too weak and disconnected to propel change; instead, they are "takers" or "implementers" of policy change initiated from above.
  • True power sharing relationships between community organizations of marginal or vulnerable groups and local authorities are, in fact, rare. And those partnerships that appear to be genuine may turn out to be less than that on closer examination. The direct impact on policy formulation by community and volunteer organizations is extremely limited. Governments still appear to play the dominant role in promoting change. They are followed in importance by NGOs, which have the capacity to lobby upward and organize downward, while accessing external resources that allow them some independence from domestic power brokers.
  • Many of the most positive collaborations appear to depend on the support of sympathetic officials, often in high places. Others often mask clientelist relationships and practices. Even democratically elected urban administrations supported by progressive political parties are not immune to such practices. In either case, the lack of institutional supports that buttress democratic state-civil society relationships - such as legal structures, administrative regulations and norms protecting and promoting the rights of communities to organize themselves and to participate in decision-making; the existence of strong community organizations; broad access by community organizations to information influencing decisions affecting life and livelihood, and the like - hamper the development of genuine partnerships between local authorities and vulnerable or marginalized groups.
  • Even where strong community organizations do exist, collaborations with local authorities often begin a process of co-optation or demobilization from within the organization. Efforts at advocacy, community organizing and consciousness raising formerly undertaken by the community group may deteriorate once the organization becomes saddled with responsibilities for delivering and managing "public services". New and very different responsibilities often reorient the priorities of small organizations away from their original constituency.
  • External forces also erode the basis for community action and genuine partnerships with local authorities. Economic restructuring has impoverished many communities, lessening the health, leisure time and confidence individuals and families need to organize themselves. At the same time, the prevailing ideological climate reinforces sentiments against demands made by the poor on the state. In many cities, the poor have been characterized as part of the problem - a burden on the city and the rest of its residents, rather than a symptom of inegalitarian social and economic systems. In this scenario, it is becoming easier to manipulate and divide disadvantaged groups with identity politics. Failing to establish and maintain internal cohesiveness, communities are less capable of negotiating with local authorities from a position of strength.

The less-than-positive assessment of the impact of community organizations on policy and on resource distribution does not deny that the experiences covered in these studies had many positive side effects. The collaborations clearly benefited participating individuals and organizations and, as pilot projects, they provided some useful lessons.

Recommendations for enhancing the environment in which genuine collaborations can grow were outlined in three broad areas: institutionalization, capacity building and resources. Among the points highlighted were the need for constitutional and legal structures to protect and promote partnerships between local authorities and community organizations; capacity building for CBOs, NGOs and local authorities, including training and regulatory structures to help them develop and maintain internally democratic practices; reorienting the education of planners, architects and urban management specialists so that participatory action-research (PAR) with community organizations becomes a standard operating procedure; locating and allocating resources at the local level to make it possible for community organizations to assume responsibilities in decision-making with local authorities. (In the final point, the emphasis is on making it possible for local groups, which are already hard-pressed with the simultaneous tasks of community organizing, neighbourhood planning and local development activities, to make time to garner the necessary skills for becoming equal partners in planning with local authorities.)

The following section takes a brief tour through the neighbourhoods where the project was implemented and highlights the issue areas/sectors that each of the case studies addressed. These summaries also suggest the diversity of existing pre-conditions that shape and constrain collaborations between local authorities and community and volunteer organizations. These need to be taken into account whenever intervention in urban communities by outside agencies or actors is being designed/contemplated.

Results in the Cities
In Chicago, three neighbourhood organizations located on the near south side of the city's traditional central business district joined forces with a city-wide and state-wide coalition of housing advocates in an effort to protect their homes and neighbourhoods from incipient processes of gentrification. Despite being well-organized and assisted by technically and politically adept advocates, these black and ethnically Chinese communities appear to be losing ground in their fight to keep their neighbourhoods intact. The crux of the problem is twofold: the complexity of the urban development process makes it class-biased; and the city has abdicated responsibility for mediating the competition for urban land between groups with highly disparate levels of power and resources.

Today the city of Chicago relies primarily on market forces to determine where different income groups live. Community groups wishing to maintain themselves in a specific area are told to come up with a project and submit it to the government. If it is economically viable it gets approval. This form of partnership with the local government, which often can be achieved only after lengthy pressure and confrontation from community organizations, encourages the community organization to become a developer.(In the United States, the often informally constituted neighbourhood organization must transform itself into a 'community development corporation'. This permits the organization to take legal responsibility for loans, grants and other forms of contractual agreements that allow them to organize not only 'bricks and mortar' projects but to accept payment from government for services they offer.) And by doing so, it agrees to play by the principles of market sustainability. The Chicago cases(David C. Ranney, Patricia A. Wright and Tingwei Zhang, Citizens, Local Government and the Development of Chicago's Near South Side, UNRISD Discussion Paper No. 90.) show that new developments may be sustainable, but not with low-income tenants. Sooner or later, low-income housing, whose construction and maintenance are often subsidized from public sources, graduates to middle-income housing once the initial loans are repaid. The taxes, rents and other costs soon increase those who cannot pay move out. Evidence also suggests that once community organizations take on the mantle of developer, the linkage of interests between neighbourhood residents and their organization becomes more tenuous, and so, too, the prospect of the organization pursuing the broadest community needs.

In Johannesburg-Soweto, researchers felt there had been so many "structural breaks" in South Africa's recent history - the un-banning of the ANC, the first democratic elections and government, the collapse of many anti-apartheid civil society organizations whose funding and best personnel shifted to the newly legitimate government, and so on - that conditions in the late 1980s and early 1990s were not a helpful reference point for community-government interaction in the mid-1990s.

Therefore, researchers decided to survey residents in three different kinds of low-income neighbourhoods to understand their perception of local authorities and community organizations, as well as their own role within the community, and to attempt to draw some conclusions about strategies for making genuine collaborations feasible in the future.

The community-level research took place in the months following the first local government elections in November 1995, thus reflecting expectations that existed before any significant experience of co-operation between the new local authorities (councillors) and community organizations. Some of the findings included that:(David Everatt, Grace Rapholo and Sarah Davies, The South African Experience: Analyzing Local-Level Governance in Tladi-Moletsane, Ivory Park and the Johannesburg Inner City, mimeo, 1996. David Everatt, Grace Rapholo and Sarah Davies, The Southern African Experience: Background Document, mimeo, 1999.)

  • minimal collaboration exists among residents, their organizations and local government
  • residents remain largely unaware of their rights and obligations vis-à-vis local government
  • councillors often have no staff, no budget and no experience in public administration, nor do they have detailed descriptions of the roles they are expected to fill or how to accomplish what is expected of them
  • newly elected councillors' contacts with the state bureaucracy are often frustrated by obstructionist officials still holding power ¨ extremely low levels of technical, financial and human resources are available to both community organizations and newly elected councillors
  • attendance by residents at civic ( "Civic" is the term commonly used in South Africa to denote neighbourhood or residents' associations.) meetings has fallen off (reasons cited include: the attitude that there was no need to attend because "our people" were now running the government; weakening of the civics because the previous leadership had been absorbed into government; and emerging political conflicts within and among the civics).

As Peru's capital and largest metropolitan area, Lima is home to three levels of government: the national, the city (Province of Lima), and 40 district-level governments (municipios) making up the Province of Lima. It was at the district level that researchers felt the most innovative collaborations in Lima were occurring. Case studies were selected from each of the four major geographic zones comprising the Province of Lima: the Northern, Southern and Eastern Cones and the historic city centre (El Cercado).

In the Northern Cone, three case studies (María Josefina Huamán, Gloria Cubas Rivera and Juan Pedro Mora Sono, Los nuevos desafios de la ciudad para las mujeres y la visibilizacion de su participacion en la construccion del habitat: el caso del cono norte, mimeo, 1997 (a compilation of three case studies). Jaime Joseph, Organizaciones comunitarias de base y gobiernos locales, mimeo, 1997. These and the other Lima studies have been revised and updated and will be published in Lima in monograph for in early 2000.) describe the efforts of women's CBOs and local NGOs to work with district governments to ensure improved nutrition, sanitation and public health in their districts. The Eastern Cone case study (Julio A. Calderón Cockburn, La organizacion zonal de las comunidades de base y su articulacion con los gobiernos locales en el cono este, mimeo, 1997.) compares two separate experiences in which neighbourhood associations, community kitchens, mother's clubs, etc., from a set of contiguous neighbourhoods formed a committee to engage in social and economic planning at the sub-district level. In one case the municipio joined the effort; in the other it did not. The Southern Cone case study (Eduardo Ballón, La experiencia de comercializacion del frente unico de comerciantes minoristas de villa el Salvador, Lima, Peru, mimeo, 1997.) examines the efforts of a retail merchant's association, community organizations, NGOs and the municipio of Villa El Salvador to develop the infrastructure and supply links necessary to prevent hoarding, price gouging and other forms of corruption in the marketing of food in the municipio. In the Cercado (Federico Arnillas L. and Arq. Silvia de los Rios, Organizaciones comunitarias de base el cercado de Lima y formas de coordinación y participación en la gestión municipal, mimeo, 1997.) government collaboration with community organizations barely exists because the level of community organization is so limited.

In all but the Cercado case, interaction between local authorities and community organizations resulted in positive impacts on the individuals involved in the community organizations, on the organizations themselves and on the development of innovative and appropriate approaches to social problems at the local level. But their immediate influence on policy - in other words, on resource distribution and decision-making structures - was minimal. This typically stems from the unwillingness or inability of the mayor to transfer adequate resources to the collaborating organizations or to extend to them control over the resources needed to make the collaboration function as intended by the community participants. Excessive dependence of these collaborations on the goodwill of the mayor proves to be another important impediment to their sustainability.

In Mumbai, two of the three main collaborations studied reflect a similar phenomenon, albeit substituting dependence on a senior civil servant for dependence on the district mayor. In the case of the Rationing Kruti Samiti, the successes of a coalition of NGOs, CBOs, and government agencies in halting corruption and abuse in the public distribution system of subsidized grains, oils and cooking fuels began to rapidly erode when the officer who catalyzed the effort was transferred to another post outside the rationing system.(Apnalaya, Rationing Kruti Samiti: Experience of Collaboration Between NGOs, GOs and CBOs in the City of Mumbai, mimeo, 1998.) In the second case, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner (DMC) with jurisdiction over Jogeshwari, one of Mumbai's largest slums, brought city agencies, NGOs and CBOs together in a two-year-long fact finding collaboration in order to unravel a series of conflicts over the legal rights and responsibilities of tenants, chawl (tenement) owners, and various municipal authorities vis-à-vis one another. Using the information collected, the DMC ruled in favour of the tenants, strengthening their rights to tenure and security against harassment by the chawl owners. However, the DMC was transferred not long after making his ruling which, eight years later, has yet to be implemented. While this suggests that implementation may have been too dependent on the DMC, it also highlights a more serious problem: the absence of accountability for the civil service to follow through on its own decisions or rulings.

The Mohalla Committee case study (Sushoba Bharve, Mumbai Mohalla Committees: A Case Study, mimeo, 1996.) describes incipient efforts of the Mumbai Police Force to open effective channels of communication and co-operation between itself, community organizations and ordinary citizens. The police have been accused in some quarters of having taken sides in the communal strife experienced in Mumbai in late 1992 and early 1993, and the proposed action was intended to show the police force's commitment to promoting harmony among Muslim and Hindu residents living in close proximity in Mumbai's slums. To date, however, doubts remain about the nature of the collaboration established. Two main reasons for this are: 1) the selection of Mohalla Committee members remains under the direct control of local police offices; and 2) the police force strongly resists any suggestion that the Mohalla Committees should directly monitor police work in the community.

The studies in Mumbai also highlight other constraints that must be overcome before there can be more genuine partnerships between community organizations and local authorities. These include internal weaknesses of CBOs, their over-reliance on NGOs (whose number and resources are extremely limited), and the general resistance or inability of the lower-level bureaucracy to work with CBOs and NGOs.

São Paulo

The São Paulo case studies reflect the willingness of the first Worker's Party (WP) administration (1989-1992) to democratize the traditionally closed and clientelistic machinery of urban government in one of the world's largest cities. Of the four São Paulo cases, two describe initiatives of the WP administration (Valmir de Souza, Acao cultural regionalizada area central da cidade de São Paulo, mimeo, 1996. Pedro Jacobi, Orcamento participativo: o caso de São Paulo (1989-1992), à luz das experiencias de Porto Alegre e Belo Horizonte, mimeo, 1997. Additional information on the Erundina Administration is contained in Pedro Jacobi, Overview Paper: São Paulo, mimeo, 1998.)and two examine ongoing initiatives of community organizations and NGOs that the new mayor, Luisa Erundina, decided to promote for "demonstration" purposes.(Raquel Rolnick and Walter Cruz de Oliveira, Mutirao autogerido apuaña: enfrentando a questao da moradia com parceria, mimeo, 1997. Beth Grimberg, Estudo sobre a coopamare: Cooperativa de catadores autonomos de papel, aparas e materiais reaproveitaveis de São Paulo, mimeo, 1997. ) The most public and extensive experiment of the WP administration was the Participatory Budget (PB), which for the first time formalized channels for public review and comment on the city's spending priorities. Its most revolutionary feature was to offer community organizations throughout the city the opportunity to comment on and offer their own spending proposals. The process for mobilizing such large-scale participation was cumbersome and, despite efforts to improve and streamline it in subsequent years, the PB never caught the imagination of the public or had a large impact on the decision-making process. The greatest impediment to the successful implementation of the PB was, however, that the final spending decisions were made by the city council, on which the WP held a minority position. Thus, the WP was neither able to change the legislative basis of the budget-making process, nor force the city councillors to accept the recommendations of the PB. And without an effective campaign to convince the public of the validity of the PB, it will be hard to overcome these weaknesses.( Relatively successful instances of Participatory Budgeting (PB) have proceeded in recent years in Porto Allegre and Belo Horizonte, and may eventually catalyze a change in public opinion about the PB in São Paulo.)

The two cases promoted by civil society organizations, and supported by the WP administration for their demonstration value, pioneered lessons in employment creation for the homeless through solid waste recycling co-operatives, and self-managed construction of high-density, multi-storey, low-income housing. Both of these initiatives represented innovative solutions to pressing problems of low-income and marginalized groups, but neither could muster adequate popular recognition during the WP's administration. In the case of the recycling co-operative, economic sustainability has been elusive because of the absence of laws and administrative practices necessary to make consumers bear the real cost of non-recyclable solid waste. Thus there is little incentive to recycle anything, and the co-operative designed to reintegrate homeless people into the labour market as collectors of recyclable materials languishes. The case of self-managed construction of low-income housing has evolved more positively, albeit long after the WP was voted out of office. In part this is due to the visible (Two kinds of "visibility" made for the success of the Apuaña scheme, and neither existed during the Erundina administration. First, the physical structures were not complete until 1995; and second, wide public debate about their role in public housing did not occur until 1996.) success of the model: the Apuaña apartments have turned out to be an attractive, land-saving, low-cost alternative to other social housing schemes in São Paulo, a fact acknowledged both in Brazil by conservative and progressive politicians alike, and by the Habitat II meeting in Istanbul in 1996.

The 'Non-Core' Cities: East St. Louis, Ho Chi Minh City and Jinja
The three non-core cities differed from the five core cities in the initial conditions of the collaborations reported on. Most importantly, from the perspective of the project the principal characteristic of the non-core cities was that the collaboration with governments and civil society was indirect, in each case mediated if not largely promoted by university-based researchers and technicians. Second, in each of the three cities no strong evidence of community-local authority collaboration presented itself to the researchers. Indeed, none of the researchers involved in the project had reported collaborations on the order of those defined in the initial section of this paper. Rather, this being the case, the researchers hoped that through long-term, broad-based interaction with both community organizations and local authorities, they would help promote both the will to and the capacity for partnership/collaboration between two crucial protagonists in local level development. Third, in these cities, the research teams prepared a single report. This profiled the socio-economic conditions in each city, the principles and methods underlying their interventions and the progress made as of 1996.

The largest and longest of these interventions took place in East St. Louis (ESL). Beginning in 1990, a multidisciplinary team of researchers and graduate students from a public university located some 300 KM from ESL began making contacts within the city and community organizations. Their aim was to understand how the University might assist a turnaround in the social and economic conditions of the city, the poorest in the USA at that time. The university put most of its efforts into strengthening the capacity of existing community organizations (and helping set up new ones) to: (a) identify neighborhood concerns; (b) build a consensus about the kinds of actions that could be undertaken by citizens (either independently or with the assistance of the Project); and (c) organize such actions.

The ESL Action Research Project (ESLARP) then helped identify possible allies within agencies and government bodies operating within the boundaries of ESL that could be accessed by community organizations to accomplish discrete community driven projects. The next major effort was to lobby local agencies and political officials to do their jobs better, and create conditions for more thoroughgoing reform of local government. More recently, housing and economic development activities of ESLARP have begun to involve local authorities, in part due to the high level of organization among local residents.

In 1996 in both Ho Chi Minh City and Jinja, the government - university - community collaborations were in the early stage of implementation, with all participants in a fact-finding and mutual familiarization process. In both cases, pressing environmental problems affecting the physical health and income generating prospects of large numbers of urban poor were the focus of the planned collaborations. In Jinja, the agreement of the municipal government to implement Local Agenda 21 recognized officially the importance of bringing civil society organizations, local authorities and business together to solve the problems at hand. In Ho Chi Minh City, water and sanitation issues in densely inhabited informal settlements were the foci of scientific, sociological and economic analysis that was to eventually lay the groundwork for a series of interventions. Among these were to be actions undertaken by and for the residents themselves, others in cooperation with municipal agencies and yet others at the policy level reflecting the analysis of the partners in the action research component. A major difference between the ESLARP and the Jinja and Ho Chi Minh projects lay in the fact that foreign aid was the source of many of the resources available to the latter two projects. On the other hand, an important similarity among the three cities existed: the commitment of the external promoters to use participatory action research methods as a tool for planning, implementing and evaluating their interventions.

Despite the incipient nature of the collaborations in the 'non-core' cities in 1996, the researchers established important baselines of socio-economic conditions against which the impact of developing collaborations can be measured.


In the year following Habitat II, new research took place in China, culminating in a meeting in Shanghai, October 1997, "Comparative Perspectives on Decentralized Governance in a Globalizing World".

The purpose of the Shanghai meeting was twofold: to disseminate the results of the studies completed earlier in the project; and to better understand how Chinese cities are attempting to come to grips with the stresses and strains caused by rapid rural-urban migration and other compound effects of deepening economic and administrative reforms. The meeting brought together urban planners, officials and scholars from six large and medium-sized Chinese cities, researchers involved in the VALD project, and observers from foundations, international NGOs and multilateral development agencies for three days of discussion and site visits. Participants sought to identify the extent to which Chinese cities had begun responding to pressures on physical and social infrastructure by opening up new channels of participation in decision-making processes, and to gauge whether such changes had begun to affect the living and working conditions of residents.

From the preliminary discussion of the case studies written by Chinese planners (Beihai chengshi guihua gongzhong canyude shijian tansuo (The Experience of Public Participation in City Planning: The Case of Beihai City), Beihai City Planning Bureau, mimeo, 1997. Zhuanjia guwenzu canyu chengshi guihua de shijian yanjiu (Research on the Experience of Specialized Consultants in City Planning) Wuhan City Urban Planning and Design Academy, mimeo, 1997. Liuzhu zuotian, fengfu jintian, zaizao mingtian: gongzhong dui ningbo lishi wenhua mingcheng baohu guihua he shijian de canyu (Protect Yesterday, Enrich Today, Create Tomorrow: Public Participation in Planning for the Preservation of Historic Ningbo), Rongguang XIA and Guoqing ZHANG, mimeo, 1997. Chengshi guihua bianzhizhong de gongzhong canyu: yi Shenzhenshi wei lie (Public Participation in City Planning: The Case of Shenzhen), Shenzhen Municipal Institute of City Planning and Urban Design, Huasheng SUN and Fuhai WANG, mimeo, 1997. Tingwei Zhang, The Transition of the Decision-Making Process: Participation in Urban Development in China, mimeo, 1997. )and a study commissioned by UNRISD,( Tingwei Zhang, The Transition of the Decision-Making Process: Participation in Urban Development in China, mimeo, 1997. ) it became evident that community participation in planning and decision making remains extremely limited. In contrast to many rural Chinese communities where residents select their leaders by plebiscite, mayors and other high city officials are still appointed by provincial and, sometimes, central government administrators.

Planners and city officials in six cities prepared case studies exploring their understanding of "public participation". The case studies also relate actual experiences with public participation in Chinese cities to efforts at designing more effective responses to social problems accompanying the rapid urbanization and economic and social policy reforms in the People's Republic of China. Chinese participants compared and contrasted their studies with a selected group of cases presented by members of the project's research team from other cities, and from a sampling of other international research projects with similar concerns. International cases were selected to highlight alternative strategies for participation in decision-making.

Case studies suggest that the urban planning apparatus of Chinese cities remains strongly top-down and closed, as it was during the pre-reform era, despite wide-ranging deregulation in social and economic spheres. These case studies reflect, nonetheless, an openness to new planning techniques and some small efforts at experimentation in public participation.

Participation in urban governance in Chinese cities has been largely passive: planners may undertake opinion surveys, hold exhibitions where plans are unveiled and citizens invited to comment and, in some cases, solicit the input of groups of experts from different fields when plans are on the verge of completion. Municipal legislatures (People's Consultative Congresses) are empowered to recommend legislation to the local government. However, the high proportion of Communist Party members in the congress ensures that it will not veer from decisions established by the municipal government, whose leading members are also the leading members of the Communist Party in the municipality. With power concentrated in a small group of high party officials at each level of government, decisions in cities still tend to flow from top to bottom, with very little accountability to lower levels of government or communities.

On the third day of the meeting, participants reflected on the state of and prospects for participation in planning and decision making in Chinese cities. Almost all agreed that simply informing residents of plans or taking opinion surveys did not constitute participation. Residents should have an active role in decision making and implementation of policies, through either their neighbourhood or street committees or other organized bodies. Participants felt that it would be useful to experiment with some of the participatory techniques that cities in other countries are using and especially to understand the roles and potential of true ("True" NGOs are rare in China. Organizations that have typically been touted as NGOs often receive their operating budget directly from the government, and employ staff that are either seconded from government agencies or holding dual appointments.) NGOs in building the capacity of community groups and local authorities to undertake bottom-up community development initiatives.

But building political and practical support for such experimentation and research would first require awareness raising and training at different levels of urban government. Mayors and high-level officials will need to understand the value and methods of participatory decision-making; officials in the basic-level (submunicipal/district) governments, who number some 480,000, must be encouraged to function more effectively with market rather than administrative mechanisms in providing services; and residents' committees, which suffer from low levels of legitimacy because of past involvement in repressive functions and/or because of the limited abilities of their cadres, must invigorate themselves by attracting younger and more capable people. Finally, participants recognized the importance of institutionalizing participation in planning by incorporating appropriate legal mechanisms in planning statutes. Additional details of the discussions are found in the workshop report. (Quanqiuhua de Shijiezhong Jinxing Fenquan Guihuaguanli de Zhanwang: Guoji Taolunhui Zongjie Baogao(Report of the International Conference on Prospects for Decentralized Governance in a Globalizing World), UNRISD mimeo, February 1998.)

The following section elaborates a typology of factors that tend to hinder the growth of effective collaborations between local authorities and community organizations. These include:

1. External Social/Political/Cultural Environment
2. Conditions and Attitudes of Local Authorities
3. Structure of Collaborations
4. Roles, Functions and Attitudes of Intermediary Organizations
5. Capacity of Volunteer Organizations
6. Capacity of Individuals (Volunteers)

Factors Hindering Effective Volunteer Efforts in Collaborations with Local Authorities

None of the individual collaborations studied were affected by all of these factors, nor were all characteristic of the project cities. But multiple constraints were the rule for all collaborations and cities. This should not be surprising. If it were otherwise, there would be few challenges to improving governance at the local level. The project suggests, however, that the challenges are many and occur at a variety of levels, from the individual to the macro-society.

The factors 'hindering' collaborations are not matched by a list of those 'enhancing'. The positive scenario is easy to imagine, and is also readily available in many forms, including the action agendas of the major UN Summits, international covenants and the charters of numerous international bodies promoting good governance, the numerous guides to partnership and participation in development projects and programmes produced by international agencies, etc.

This list is provided to help organizations engaged in grassroots interventions in low-income urban settings. Its chief use is as a check-list when considering the feasibility of intervention, and at what level. The list should also encourage the development of indicators of progress for intervention in urban areas. Over time, has the environment changed to be more or less hospitable to collaborations between local authorities and community organizations? In what way? What do the key actors need to do to promote such change?

External Social/Political/Cultural Environment
A fractious party-political environment, resulting in frequent changes of leadership in municipalities, can retard the evolution of positive interaction between community groups and local authorities. On the one hand, policies encouraging genuine participation in grassroots level decision making can be easily undone, or on the other, civic (volunteer) impulses can be diverted to serving clients (particularistic interests) versus those of the larger vulnerable community. (Chicago, SP)

Traditions of clientelism die hard, even in formally democratic states and cities. Political leaders and non-elected members of urban authorities still derive popular support from such practices. These, of course, work against truly civic volunteer contributions because their chief aim is to maintain the power of an individual and system that supports her/him rather than to promote well-being of the larger group. (SP, Mumbai, Johannesburg).

Macro-economic policies and/or administrative reforms that radically increase the role of market forces in daily life can expand or contract opportunities for volunteer action in urban communities. The imposition of structural adjustment policies were seen to stimulate some forms of organizing for survival that in the short run accomplished the purpose. But there is also evidence that too much competition between individuals and groups can have negative impacts in the long run. Organizations of survival have neither the resources nor the outlook to create, plan and organize activities that change inequitable social structures. (Lima)

The lack of administrative rules and legislation protecting and promoting collaborations with volunteer groups and other civil society organizations are a major hindrance to effective participation of grassroots actors in urban decision-making. In only one of the cities studied was such legislation on the books. However, the implementation of the legislation remains stalled 5 years after promulgation. Authorities are therefore able to treat civic participation as a discretionary, rather than mandatory, area of governance. (Chicago, Lima, Johannesburg, Mumbai & SP)

Decentralization is expanding the latitude of cities to adopt policies to enhance social integration in the local space. This occurs primarily by leaving to the local authorities the setting of social policy and, to an even larger extent, its implementation. While the capacity to implement such policy is in question because the resources needed to implement them may not accompany decision making autonomy, the city allocate certain economic activities to enhance the status of poor and/or marginal groups. Opportunities for this were found in solid waste collection, environmental protection and housing provision. Unfortunately, the authorities were unwilling to explore these possibilities to their logical extension and important advantages to the poor were lost. (Chicago, Lima and SP).

In all the cities of the study, there appears to be a willingness (at the level of action, if not rhetoric) to back away from the role of mediator of the public good. Market mechanisms are given much greater sway than would be expected from the recent history and politics of the city.

The rapid expansion and differentiation within the NGO sector, coupled with the increasing 'marketisation' of their roles, especially as service contractors, has created among local authorities great confusion about and solid resistance to working with NGOs. Local authorities have expressed legitimate concerns about the representativeness, accountability, governance structures and ambitions of many NGOs, CBOs and other CSOs. (Chicago, Mumbai)

Communities with a strong tradition of mutual assistance have a better chance of developing the local organizations that can effectively interact with local authorities in efforts to improve urban living conditions. Conversely, urban communities comprising large numbers of migrants of diverse origins have more difficulties organizing themselves, or being organized with the help of external agents (e.g. NGOs, religious groups, municipal agencies, etc.) (Lima, Sao Paulo [SP])

Violence and insecurity stemming from the increasing prevalence of extra-legal force and intimidation tactics diminish the capacity of communities to organize and pursue collective social goals. Public institutions, churches and all manner of volunteer organizations suffer the threat of arms. Individuals who would otherwise participate in public-spirited activities resist the impulse in order to unnecessarily sacrifice their lives and their families' wellbeing. (Lima, Johannesburg, Mumbai)

Conditions and Attitudes of Local Authorities
In none of the cities studied did there exist a strong tradition of incorporating community and volunteer groups in significant decision-making processes. In practice, ignoring grassroots actors was closer to the rule.

The relative impoverishment of local authorities (as compared with central and intermediate governing bodies) appears to exacerbate sentiments of envy and distrust toward civil society groups, who are often seen as competing from resources that would otherwise go to the local authority.

Non-transparent behaviour and restricted information flows characterize most of the local authorities - even those considered open to community participation - in the study. This continues to disempower volunteer action across the spectrum of urban governance.

Corruption and/or lack of internal accountability within local authorities (Lima, SP, Mumbai) permits positive action taken by one branch of local authorities to stymie or block positive change brought about by other branches in collaboration with community groups.

Local authorities are inclined to take an instrumental view of participation, i.e. to welcome it when the community and volunteer groups provide labour, material inputs or, simply, the façade of democratic decision-making that allows an otherwise top-down project to go forward. Even the most 'participatory' local authorities fear too much genuine participation.

The exceedingly low level of fiscal and administrative capacity of local authorities often prevents them from being able to join as effective partners with community and volunteer groups. They may neither know how to interact or work with community groups nor have any significant material resources they can bring to the collaboration. (Johannesburg, Mumbai)

Decentralization in new democracies or newly democratised municipal entities, when combined with weak local government capacity and a willingness by the local authority to back away from its role as mediator of the public good, can result in highly undemocratic governance. (Lima, Johannesburg)

Despite the high-level of women's contribution to the collaborations studied and women's dominant role in the management of low-income communities, traditional forms of sexism and class bias were evident in the local authorities and, were likely to have reduced the positive impact that women could have been having in their communities.

Structure of Collaborations
Partnerships - relationships in which the partners take genuine responsibility for achieving one another's objectives -- were absent in the study. All cases selected for analysis were chosen because they were perceived to represent partnerships. None, however, came close to this ideal.

Related to the previous point, power imbalances usually favour local authorities and/or, secondarily, intermediaries such as NGOs. In no cases have the community organizations been able to 'drive' the agenda. Some instances did exist where community and volunteer groups were able to block a proposed action for some time, but none could do so permanently. (Chicago, Mumbai)

Local authorities are often less stable 'players' than community participants. This results from changes of political leadership, administrative transfers of important decision makers, internal reorganizations or major shifts in policy. Mutual trust and established collaborations are often sacrificed when key contacts in local government are lost. This has a high cost to volunteer organizations because they must continually convince and persuade new functionaries of the value of collaboration and joint decision-making.

Collaborations are too often based on relations with a sympathetic politician or bureaucrat. Such personalized interaction/collaborations are fragile, at best, and clientilistic, at worst. (Lima, Mumbai, SP).

None of the collaborations studied contained formal procedures for record keeping, monitoring or evaluation. As a result, data on the conduct of the collaborations had to be acquired from a variety of non-systematic sources. This lack of formal institutional memory not only makes the analysis of the collaborations more difficult and tenuous but also results in lost opportunities for building on past experience.

Roles, Functions and Attitudes of Intermediary Organizations (The observations concerning intermediary organizations are largely based on the project coordinator's discussions with the intermediary organizations participating in the project as well as analysis contained in the overview reports. These perceptions are not based on case studies, however. )
Intermediary organizations such as Nongovernmental Development Organizations, grassroots support organizations, voluntary agencies associated with church groups or international NGOs and certain collectives of academic and professionals are crucial actors in all of the cities in this study. They often serve as conduits of information and/or mediators between local authorities and grassroots urban organizations. These institutions also provide training, contacts and, sometimes, direct financial support to the community level organizations. At present, it appears difficult to conceive of CBOs and other grassroots volunteer organizations of vulnerable groups carrying out effective collaborations without the support of such intermediaries. At the same time, the following observations can be offered about the roles of such organizations:

As mentioned above in the section on the general environment for CSO-local authority collaborations, the rapid expansion of NGOs in development work has also given rise to some doubt about their motivations, competence and commitment to civic action. Many NGOs have become service providers or social sector consultants, leaving behind - if they ever had them - orientations toward empowerment or advocacy for the poor. This is not entirely surprising as in many cases, especially in formerly authoritarian countries, funding for the opposition groups dried up when democratic governments came in. (Johannesburg and to a lesser extent, SP). These organizations either dissolve or find ways to survive, the latter often by selling services. Some of these same NGOs lost their top cadres to the newly democratic governments, putting further at risk the ideals these organizations professed in the era of opposition.

Some intermediaries are more successful than others in promoting and accompanying institutional development and autonomy in urban grassroots organizations (Johannesburg, SP).

Unfortunately, there are simply too few intermediary organizations capable of undertaking large scale organizing and capacity building of autonomous volunteer organizations in the vast slums and bidonvilles of many of the world's megacities. (Mumbai)

Capacity of Volunteer Organizations
Volunteer organizations, such as neighbourhood associations, community based organizations, mother's clubs, housing cooperatives, etc. typically draw their strength and material resources from within, i.e. their members. Thus an organization's strength has much to do with the capacity of its individual members (see next section), its access to information and capacity building (see previous section) and the possibility to exist and develop in a democratic way (i.e. without stifling regulation or repression from the government or inhospitable local forces). In all the cities studied this last condition was met. The grassroots organizations also typically had access to strong, civic-minded intermediaries. The capacity of the members was a problem, however, especially the individual's ability to remain in a state of mobilization over the long term. The constraints acting at this level are described in the next section.

Internal democracy is an acknowledged ideal for both NGOs and CBOs. For many of the grassroots organizations covered in the case studies, such ideals were sometimes more honoured in their breach (Chicago, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Lima, SP). This does not mean that the organizations did not have democratic impulses or goals, rather that adverse conditions - such as changes in leadership, external political forces or internal corruption - did at times divert the organization's trajectory.

The urban poor are rarely a homogenous lot. They can be highly stratified even in their vulnerability. This shows itself in the attitudes of different groups and in the community organizations that serve separate subsets of the poor. Among groups with different 'vulnerability profiles' residing side by side, the most vulnerable will not necessarily benefit from the efforts of the groups representing the less vulnerable. In practice, relations between the groups can be highly conflictual. Such circumstances reduce the possibility of effective approaches to resolution of problems affecting both groups. (Mumbai, Johannesburg)

In politically fractious environments, and even when party politics across the spectrum have been completely discredited, volunteer organizations may become targets for capture by 'political bosses' or leaders with political ambitions. (Johannesburg, Lima, SP)

Community organizations of the urban poor can rarely access by themselves information needed to protect themselves and/or their neighbourhood. Nor are they adequately prepared to interact publicly or in private with local authorities or to develop independently the kinds of analysis of the urban economy that will sway private developers or city agencies to protect the rights and interests of members of the low income community. In these situations it is crucial for grassroots organizations to have access to reliable information and analysis from NGO or research institutes.

The internal strength of community and volunteer organizations can be enhanced effectively if, in addition to access to strong intermediaries and information, they learn to 'organize themselves to learn'. This means, among other things, becoming participants in action research, whereby they collect and analyse in progressively sophisticated ways the information needed to become effective advocates for change both within their community and in the larger society.

Capacity of Individuals (Volunteers)
Individuals in low-income communities who because of the objective conditions of their lives have highly restricted mobility, chronic health problems or extremely limited mental functions will not be able to take an active role in public life. This is not unexpected. Nevertheless, this is a burden imposed unequally on the poorest populations. To this must be added the burden of violent or disaffected youth, criminal elements and others who have been excluded from more positive social intercourse. A higher incidence of persons in these categories increases the number of 'non-participants' in civic activities, as well as the burdens on those who might otherwise want to contribute, or contribute more.

Related to the previous point, women who are often the primary managers of 'informal' urban settlements share this burden disproportionately. This is a limiting factor on their ability to participate as fully as they would want, and to acquire special skills that may advance overall volunteer contributions of women.

In many low-income settlements, existing efforts by women to contribute have been undermined by the attitudes of their male partners/spouses and fellow community members. Women are still, in general, not granted equal status as civic actors in the community. The persistence of men's unemancipated attitudes negatively affects the volunteer contribution in many communities.

Youth have proven to be invaluable volunteers and civic actors when structures (organizations and activities) exist to channel their efforts. They are also among the most vulnerable members of society. Longstanding precarious economic and social conditions are clearly alienating many young people from taking up civic action. (Lima, Johannesburg)

Recommendations to Local Authorities for Enhancing the Effectiveness of Collaborations with Community Organizations
The previous section offers a litany of factors that impede the establishment of fruitful collaborations between local authorities and community organizations. To improve the impact of such collaborations, all of the actors and institutions cited could usefully change certain aspects of their attitudes, behaviour and capacities. The full responsibility for promoting and compelling such changes cannot be placed entirely on local authorities. They can, only with great difficulty, bring about changes at the macro-level, despite their increasing influence on social and economic conditions within their sub-national regions. It may also be argued that it is not inherently the responsibility of local authorities to redress the weaknesses of community organizations within their geographical purview. Nor would it be wise to suggest that the local authority must improve the basic element of the community organizations -- the individual -- by intervening inside the family to change patterns of relations or cultural practices that disproportionately benefit some members to the detriment of others. But there are areas in which local authorities can make important contributions, and these are the focus of this final section.

These recommendations are those of the author, based on his understanding of the case studies, overview materials and interaction with the main participants in the project over the past several years. The recommendations are, in effect, based on comparing and contrasting the conditions, achievements and challenges that have been reported on in total. As such, these recommendations are generic, and hence apply everywhere and nowhere. Any attempt to apply them should be accompanied by a review of the individual studies in which recommendations are set clearly within local contexts. Limitations of space prevent further discussion of how international organizations, national governments, community organizations, international NGOs can support the kinds of changes needed to bring about more fruitful collaborations between community organizations and local authorities.

One of the main conclusions of this study is that local authorities play the determining role in urban grassroots development, or more correctly, in fostering social cohesion and development in cities and towns. But to be successful in these efforts they must ally themselves with community and city-wide institutions of civil society. Cities willing to do this may begin by examining the extent to which they:

Ø Make publicly available in timely and easily accessible forms information concerning public budget decisions; investment and urban development plans; records of internal discussions on infrastructure locations, designs and technologies, and administrative and political boundary changes.
Ø Allow substantive participation of community organizations in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and investments that significantly and differentially affect groups within the city.
Ø Support open dialogue between local authorities and civil society organizations (and among the latter) on these issues.
Ø Provide a competent, motivated and politically independent liaison service within the urban administration to respond to and inform CSOs on issues of concern to the public.
Ø Promulgate and implement legislation and administrative regulations that institutionalise these characteristics of openness to CSOs, regardless of the change of important political or executive personnel within the local authority.
Ø Promote awareness of the concerns of CSOs and a capacity for working with CSOs among employees at different levels of the urban administration.
Ø Train CSO liaison personnel to be 'women-friendly', as many of the most important grassroots managers of low-income urban communities are wives and mothers.
Ø Commit to acting as mediators of the public good, in which promoting and protecting the dignity of life for all residents is the first priority in decision-making.

Implementing even this short list of recommendations, which will necessarily have to be adapted to widely varying local conditions and histories, will require additional resources, new ways of thinking, and more autonomy for local authorities. This is happening in many cities, but not nearly enough. And the threats to progress already made loom ever-larger: political and ethnic conflict, environmental collapse, increasing disease burdens, the scourge of drugs, disintegrating local economies, etc. It is therefore necessary to bolster reforms within local authorities with external support - not just monetary but moral, intellectual and legislative. National governments, other local authorities, international cooperation and local and international civil society, citizens and business all have a part to play in this effort.


© 2001 UNCHS