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Comparative governance at the local level: new trends and old challenges

Jorge Barenstein

This paper stresses the importance of the local level in analyzing governance problems. A conceptual background is defined, measurement of this field is proposed, and some archetypal cases are discussed from a comparative view. Conclusions and remarks to make and implement local policies are provided.

Governance strategic relevance in the development processes has been widely acknowledged, particularly concerning social-political-economic transformation. In this respect, increasing demands on the role to be played by local institutions in producing and delivering public utilities are stated, as well as their link with quality and efficiency.

A governance matrix allows to define points of reference in order to locate different policy and public management archetypes, as well as to compare them. Said matrix includes two variables -the stage of development measured by the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI), and a qualitative appraisal of the nature of real public policies and reasoning on them.

Conceptualization of governance systems allows to analyze the state of affairs of public services from a suppliers' and consumers' perspective. In this regard, totally opposed actual backgrounds -urban locations in the United States and rural locations in Bangladesh- are taken to study similar aspects of local governance.

In the cases of Cincinnati and other U.S. cities, productive involvement by the beneficiaries aimed at expanding government-civil society exchanges is tackled. The cases of Rangunia and Nababganj districts show the so-called fuzzy governance and the difficulties to incorporate low-income sectors into decision-making.

The need for changing the orientation of present public administration is emphasized. Such administration is focused on government participation in governance, without considering democratization and people participation, and with the civil society being the recipient of governmental actions.

The decline of centralizing programs, the new opportunities provided by privatization, deregulation and structural transformation, and depletion of rigid models on structural adjustment, could help overcome public/private, central/local, and government/civil society dichotomies. This would provide a favorable moment so that the governance concept can lead to a better efficiency in analyzing, making, and implementing social and economic policies.

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