Decentralisation and local government

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Estimates suggest that decentralisation is being pursued in over 80% of developing countries worldwide. For many people, local government is the part of government that most directly impacts on their lives, particularly via the provision of services like water, sanitation, and primary education and healthcare.

About this topic guide

This guide was written in September 2009 by Zoë Scott (GSDRC) with assistance from Nick Devas (Senior Lecturer, International Development Department, University of Birmingham, UK) and Dr Munawwar Alam (Governance and Institutional Development Division, Commonwealth Secretariat). It was updated in March 2011 and November 2014 by Sumedh Rao (GSDRC), with assistance from Dr Munawwar Alam, and Brian Lucas and Claire Mcloughlin (GSDRC). This 2014 version was produced with support from the UK Department for International Development. We are also grateful to the Commonwealth Secretariat for supporting the previous versions of this topic guide.

Further resources

The following resources were included in GSDRC's Gateway Guide on Decentralisation and Local Governance, and complement the materials and links provided in the Topic Guide.

Guidance materials

  • UNDP Governance Assessment Portal: Local Governance and Decentralization: This site explains how local governance indicators can inform local policy and strengthen local accountability, and how local governance assessment can be useful at national level in order to enhance decentralisation policies, strengthen capacities and compare trends across cities or districts. Resources include A Users' Guide to Measuring Local Governance, which provides guidance on the many different tools and methods being used to measure, assess and monitor governance at the local level.
  • USAID Democratic Decentralization Programming Handbook (2009): This Handbook conceptualises decentralisation as a reform that advances the exercise of political freedom and individual economic choice in a context of stability and the rule of law. It introduces key concepts, describes different forms, and discusses the goals of and programming strategies for pursuing decentralisation.

Academic resources

  • Eldis: Decentralisation and Local Government: This thematic sub-section of the Eldis Governance resource guide includes a regularly updated selection of research on decentralisation and local governance from a wide range of sources. The resource guide also has a sub-section on Urban Governance.
  • Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IDP): Decentralization Task Force: The IPD at Columbia University has a number of international expert task forces which provide overviews of policy options for government officials and civil society. The decentralization task force analyses government decentralization policies using case studies to illustrate good and bad practice. The website includes a collection of background papers and presentations from task force meetings.


Networks and regional partnerships

  • ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability: ICLEI is an international association of local and national government organisations committed to sustainable development. ICLEI provides technical consulting, training, and information services to build capacity, share knowledge, and support local government in the implementation of sustainable development at the local level. 
  • CITYNET: The Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements: CITYNET is a network of international organisations supporting local authorities to improve urban sustainability across the Asia-Pacific region. The website includes a number of publications and other online resources, including a bi-monthly newsletter. 
  • Cities Alliance: The Cities Alliance is a global coalition of cities and their development partners committed to scaling up successful approaches to poverty reduction. The website includes materials published by the Cities Alliance with a focus on slum upgrading and city development strategies as well as publications on broader urban issues from other organisations. 
  • Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF): CLGF works to promote and strengthen effective democratic local government throughout the Commonwealth. The CLGF website contains a number of reports and country specific information on decentralisation initiatives, including the Commonwealth Local Government Handbook. It also hosts the Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance.
  • The Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa (MDP-ESA): MDP-ESA aims to improve the capacity of local governments and support the process of decentralisation in Sub-saharan Africa. It also hosts the Africa Local Government Action Forum (ALGAF), an interactive initiative which aims to provide a platform for dialogue on key issues that impact on the performance of local governments.
  • The Local Government Information Network (LOGIN) – Central & Eastern Europe: LOGIN aims to promote the professional development of local government staff and to support the reform of public administration at the local level throughout central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The website includes an online library with a substantial collection of publications as well as information on legislation, funding and training opportunities.