Published on May 18, 2011

Thinking Local? Look Global

By Thea Shahrokh

Thea has worked for Involve since January 2009, she is on unpaid leave until the end of 2011. During this period she will be working as a Volunteering Advocacy Adviser with the VSO National Volunteering Programme and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in Guyana. Thea will be posting a monthly blog on the Involve website to share her experiences, and what she has learnt about civic engagement and participation while in Guyana.

Boy hugging a world

Guyanese civil society is presently engaging with the questions about the reform of voluntary and community sector legislation. This legislation is at an early stage of development. As a result, many people here are looking for answers from other countries as much as from the internal debate.

This post makes the case the UK should be doing the same as the Government considers the repeal of the Duty to Involve.

Many small island status Caribbean countries have a similar context to Guyana. They will therefore offer lessons as the legislation is developed. A recent analytical study of volunteerism in Guyana (in press), for example, emphasises the best practice value of the NGO Act of Belize 2000. Described as ‘model legislation’ by the Caribbean Policy Development Centre, the Belize Act unifies NGO registration under a provision for ‘Company Limited by Guarantee’ in the Companies Act, and also recognises that NGOs are independent of Government and work to advance ‘sustainable human development’.

Looking internationally, the same report also looks at how Nicaragua and Peru have established National Commissions comprising representatives from government and civil society organisations, which are tasked with coordinating state and civil society volunteerism initiatives and, in the case of Peru, coordinating the actions of national, regional and municipal governments.

This globalised view regarding learning and development in policy-making is not something restricted to Southern, emergent democracies such as Guyana. The Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability coordinated by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) has spent much energy over the past decade delivering and promoting DfID sponsored evidence based research into how newer as well as more established democracies in the Southern hemisphere can provide a wealth of learning resources to the UK.

Involve is also working internationally to share learning about the development of public policy for participation and involvement. Present work with the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Turkey, for example, is helping to develop the capacity of public institutions to implement more effective stakeholder and citizen engagement in the strategic planning process. This will contribute new perspectives and resources to similar projects being delivered in the UK. In addition, a number of projects in partnership with the OECD focus on how OECD governments can put the principles of open and inclusive policy making into practice through shared learning and partnership working.
This is interesting in relation to the consultation on CLG’s new Best Value statutory guidance which proposes to repeal two statutory duties on local authorities: the Duty to Involve, and the duty to prepare a sustainable community strategy. In a recent article Deputy Director of Involve Edward Andersson makes a request to stakeholders for a discussion on how a legal duty could be improved in the future’?.

In response, I would like to propose that when thinking locally about the Duty, we look globally for lessons and experiences the UK’s present legislative, democratic and societal structures have not enabled.

The 2008 Demos and IDS pamphlet ‘Democratic Engagement’ delivers a detailed, yet clear explanation of what can be learnt from legislation across the world that has been designed to create more enabling environments for citizen engagement.

Another opportunity for learning would be the Philippines where the important role civil society can play within local governance is recognised through the local government code of 1991 and the Barangay system of local councils, which provide detailed legal frameworks for citizen participation. India’s participation and accountability structures are also unique points of reference in this field. An interesting starting point could be a March 2011 working paper from the IDS which analyses citizen participation mandates in Indian urban governance, including the Nagara Raj Community Participation Law.

Providing concrete legislation on the democratic involvement of citizens in local policy making is seen by many as a way of providing security to new democratic spaces for participation. However, as my colleagues have highlighted in previous articles, democratising engagement is dependent on multiple factors, all of which need to be considered when discussing the Duty, and the Best Value Statutory Guidance more generally. I think that it is important for the UK government to extend their consultative and research process to countries beyond their immediate democratic partners. There are so many well researched and innovative resources available to the ‘global’ policy-maker, that using these would be, to quote my colleague Tim, ‘My two cents on the Duty‘.

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Please do get in touch if you are interested in the work that I am delivering on volunteerism in Guyana, or any wider interest in Involve’s or VSO projects and programmes in this area.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

The views expressed on this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Involve, VSO or the government of Guyana.

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