Development Cooperation Handbook/Local Authorities and Civil Society

Local Authorities and Civil Society

While Governments and Intergovernmental organizations are important stakeholders of all development cooperation processes, they are often little important as cooperation actors in implementing on-ground project activities (with exception of the emergency cases of Humanitarian relief. Cooperation activities are better done by entities that are closer to the daily life of beneficiaries. In the best possible scenario, the cooperating actors are the organized beneficiaries themselves. So, while choosing the development actors, the best choice is to bring on board civil society organizations that are well rooted in the region and the sector where development is supposed to take place, and institutions that embody, at the local level, the political life of involved communities. These can be grouped into two main categories: a) Civil Society Organizations b) Local Authorities.

Civil Society Organizations

Civil Society Organizations

Traditionally much of the development cooperation work on-ground is undertaken by the "NGOs", i.e. the Non Government Organizations that have as their mission, social work for the increased welfare of beneficiaries. Originally, the United Nations, an intergovernmental organization, promoted the participation of NGOs in development cooperation and made it possible for certain approved specialized international non-state agencies - or non-governmental organisations - to be awarded the observer status at its assemblies and meetings. Besides the typical NGOs, cooperation programmes tend to encourage the participation of different kinds of "Non-State-Actors" and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) considered as privileged partners so as to work towards better governance and more participatory development. However, in many countries they also face challenges related to restricted legal and political space in which they operate.

Four different levels of CSOs


Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) operate at four different levels:

  • First level: Grass-roots organisations/ community-based organisation. These consist of informal groupings or adhoc organisations working in the immediate local context.
  • Second level: organisations that are legally registered with appropriated statutes, working for the benefit of populations or in service delivery, sometimes in collaboration with grass-roots organisations (e.g. NGOs, associations).
  • Third level: geographic or thematic networks: national associations, coalitions, alliances, federations mandated to defend a common interest.
  • Fourth level: this is the highest level of CSO (civil society organisation) networking. It is made up of platforms or common dialogue fora for umbrella organisations and networks of the third level.

Local Authorities

Local Authorities

Local Authorities are the "grass-root" levels of institutionalized political life. They represent the latest stage of the process of governance decentralization and they are fundamental in the process of governance subsidiarity. Local development depends on the support (financial, infrastructure, basic services, technical) given by local authorities to improving socio-economic conditions of the local population. This support depends on the investment capacity and the technical competence of local authorities and the extent to which it can engage people in local development. The financial capacity of the local governments depends on budget allocations of the national government, the revenue generated by and the investment attracted to social and economic activities of the local population. The technical capacity of local actors depends on access to education and technical knowledge and updated global technologies and practices. The extent to which investment can be attracted depends on the local enabling environment including infrastructure, access to finance, legislation, etc. The more capable and empowered the local authorities and the more aware and engaged the community, the more effective will be the process of implementing and informing national development policies and plans. 

Thus, in a global economy where it is possible to develop and benefit from partnerships directly with counterparts across the world, local authorities are interested in and can play a determinant role in fostering the achievement of MDGs and ensuring sustained development for its peoples.  Only when national and local authorities share policies, plans and time lines to achieve programs, can universal goals of the MDGs be achieved.

The term "local authority" (LA) encompasses many different actors at various levels. The concept of "LA" was extended to "regional and Local Authority (RLA).

European Union Decentralised Cooperation Approach

Decentralised Cooperation

In the communique of the European Union, "Local authorities: Actors for development" the term "Local Authority" is used in its widest sense to encompass the large variety of sub-national levels and branches of government i.e. municipalities, communities, districts, counties, provinces, regions etc. Concerning development cooperation, there is substantial heterogeneity in the mandate, finance and functions at each level and within each level. LA have increasingly been viewed as players in development policy (for example, the UN conferences, Rio de Janeiro 1992 & Istanbul 1996 on Environment & Development and Human settlements, the 2000 Millennium Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development formally recognised their role). The European Consensus on Development, the revised Cotonou Agreement and a number of conclusions and resolutions of the EU Opinions reiterate the significant expertise among local authorities, not only in terms of service delivery but also as catalysts for change, conflict prevention, decentralisation and confidence-building in the development process.

While some local authorities have attained a true devolution of central government's powers in development policy planning and implementation processes, the involvement of others comes as an additional effort to that of central governments. In some EU Member States, local authorities allocate considerable financial resources to development (representing nearly 15% of national ODA in Spain for instance), and have developed specific instruments for aid delivery (programmes, co-financing instruments, city to city links, direct cooperation agreements).

In 2008, to palliate the absence of a thought-through strategic approach at EU level and with a view to facilitating and recognising the various facets of this increased involvement of LAs in EU development policy, the EC issued a communication on the role of local authorities as actors for development

See also


  Issue 2 ⇒ How can local policy actors contribute to the achievement of MDGs and other global policy objectives?
  Issue 3 ⇒ NGOs as development actors: their role, their limits; their challenges
  The Development Organization
  ⇒ in Devcopedia - EuropeAid Wiki

 Local authorities: Actors for development Communication from the commission to the council, the European Parliament and the European economic and social committee and committee of the regions.
 Papers on local authorities - EuropAid
 Observatory for Decentralised Cooperation between the European Union and Latin America



Click on the name of the contributor to go to the page with the full interview.

P. Krishna - Governament and civil society - Importance of NGOs - P.Krishna

Delivering results is much more complex than designing Government schemes: social participation is required - M.S.Ahluwalia
Collaborations between Civil Society, Government and Private Sector - JM Balmorugan
Global and local MDGs - S.Kumar
Development needs civil society active and responsible engagement - Julian Parr
Present Role and future challenges of NGOs - Julian Parr
Limitations of the NGOs - Julian Parr