The Value of Decentralisation: Two Case Studies of Participative Democracy

Victoria Capoferri (2013)


This article is a discussion of the democratic and normative value of decentralisation and participation. States are fundamental agents for the establishment of the cardinal conditions that favour the creation of participative societies, and for the legitimate, authentic representation of the public interest. States should be the catalysts of a political project aimed to increase participation genuinely, to tackle inequalities and empower marginalised groups. Nevertheless, development ought to be advanced in a balanced combination of both state intervention together with the recognition of civil society, to carry out a comprehensive project aimed to represent the many communities and to eradicate structural inequalities. This article takes firstly the form of a theoretical account, to discuss the value of pluralism and equal representation, and to illustrate the concept of radical democracy and decentralised schemes for development. The second section briefly examines two acclaimed experiments of cooperative, participatory governance carried out by two states in developing countries, and draws conclusions on the relevance of this typology of reform for development and the related role of the state in the process.


To alter effectively uneven societal dynamics, a metamorphosis of governance structures is required, that involves the expansion and the creation of new avenues of citizen participation. The state, for a successful move towards a participative program, needs to engage in a project of radical democratic deepening, inasmuch as limited interventions or regulations are not sufficient to tackle structural inequalities, nor would these be sufficient mechanisms for inclusive participation. Local governance reforms should be part of a wider state orientation aimed to challenge directly structural inequalities and to meet genuinely the needs and interests of people. Democracy is fundamental to tie people into the development of their own society, and to allow them authentic capability to practice their rights meaningfully. A strong state should have a popular will underpinning its program, and development be driven via the cooperation of both representative democratic institutions and civil society groups. A balanced cooperation with citizens does not imply a decrease in the importance of the state, but rather to build a more robust and accountable state.


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