ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability
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Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Programme
In recognition of the critical role that local governments play in building sustainable societies, and as a follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) "Earth Summit" of 1992, ICLEI launched an international action research programme on sustainable development planning in 1994. This programme, called the Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Programme, was a four-year partnership with fourteen municipalities in twelve countries around the world and was supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Programme (LA 21 MCP) was a project designed to aid local governments in implementing Chapter 28 of Agenda 21, the global action plan for sustainable development. The goal of this programme was to jointly design, document and evaluate local strategic planning processes for sustainable development. The results of the programme, which was undertaken from October 1993 through April 1997, are analyzed in Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Report, Volume One. It is expected that the results of the project will support local governments to follow through on Chapter 28 of Agenda 21 and, thereby, increase local institutional commitment to sustainable development planning.

Municipalities in the MCP were:
The primary research objective of the MCP was to work with the participating cities to develop and test a general framework for local sustainable development planning that is applicable to a variety of municipal and developmental contexts.
The MCP sought to:
  • Develop and test the various instruments and procedures required for sustainable development planning.
  • Draw conclusions about the means, methods and requirements for local sustainable development.
  • Generate informed recommendations to local government worldwide about the design of local sustainable development planning processes (backed by models).
The research approach taken in the MCP was action research, a form of applied research where actors and researchers work together to achieve agreed objectives and participate in an agreed process of documentation, reporting, self-reflection and evaluation to derive lessons and reach conclusions.

By drawing from the strategic planning experiences of local governments and communities around the world, ICLEI developed a general planning framework to guide local governments and local communities in the development of their sustainable development action plans. The elements of this sustainable development planning framework are presented in Figure A. For a detailed discussion of the planning elements, please see the Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide: An Introduction to Sustainable Development Planning (ICLEI, 1996).

In addition to conducting supportive background research, a major component of the ICLEI research effort addressed the implementation of an evaluation process at the local level to permit comparative analysis of the data and experiences from each participating municipality. The sustainable development planning framework had been created by ICLEI for review and refinement by the MCP participants. The framework was ultimately adapted by participating municipalities to meet their local circumstances and to establish a unique local planning process. During the process of refining the sustainable development planning framework, ICLEI staff and MCP researchers, municipal staff and community members in the participating municipalities further articulated seven guiding principles for sustainable development that they believe underlie the elements of the planning framework. These principles are listed below.
  • Partnerships - Alliances among all stakeholders/partners are established for collective responsibility, decision-making and planning.
  • Participation and Transparency - All major sectors of society are directly involved in sustainable development planning, and all information that relates to the LA 21 planning process is easily available.
  • Systemic Approach - Solutions address underlying causes and whole systems
  • Concern for the Future - Sustainable development plans and actions address short and long-term trends and needs.
  • Accountability - All stakeholders/partners are accountable for their actions.
  • Equity and Justice - Economic development must be equitable, environmentally sound and socially just.
  • Ecological Limits - All communities must learn to live within the earth's carrying capacity.
Desirable planning actions accompanied each principle in order to translate the principle into concrete achievements. These principles and desirable planning actions formed the framework for evaluation of the implementation of LA 21 at the local level.

Likewise, these seven guiding principles have been used in the Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Report, Volume One, as the framework to organize, review and evaluate the experience of the MCP municipalities.

Model Communities Experience
Full case studies of each of the MCP participants' experience in instituting a LA 21 planning process are presented in Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Programme Case Studies, Volume Two.

Case summaries in the Local Agenda 21 Model Communities Report, Volume One (incorporated later in this document), show that despite the disparate circumstances and geographic locations of the participating local governments, there are many similarities in their experiences. Much can be learned from their efforts about building a global society capable of sustaining its peoples and its environment. In fact, the most important lesson from all of the experiences is what we already know-that people and their environment are intrinsically linked.

Participants within the municipalities concluded that the LA 21 process should engage all sectors of society in decision making about their future. To accomplish this, the process needs to increase community awareness and knowledge of the issues so that all stakeholders can effectively contribute to the process and be accountable for it.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Conclusions drawn from the experience of the MCP participants as they sought to incorporate the seven guiding principles for sustainable development planning follow. Due to the integrated nature of the LA 21 planning process, a number of the conclusions may apply to several of the principles. It is hoped that the associated recommendations will assist local government worldwide to institute effective local sustainable development planning processes.

Partnerships established for collective responsibility, decision making and planning result in numerous benefits. A community stakeholder group can be especially helpful in guiding, facilitating, promoting and building support for the process within the community. Partnership groups that are established to participate in the entire planning process, as well as those established to address very specific and limited issues, can both be effective. Overall stakeholder groups in which subcommittees and working groups address particular issues can be especially productive. Partnerships can be brought into the process at different stages, though strong partnership groups established at the outset may be most effective. In all circumstances however, the effectiveness of the group depends upon a clear understanding of their role and the objectives of the process, as well as adequate financial resources and decision-making authority.

  • Engage a wide variety of partners/stakeholders including women, youth, poor, etc. in partnership groups.
  • Provide a secured budget and staff for partnership groups.
  • Obtain explicit support from the mayor and councillors, and their engagement in the partnership group.
  • Ensure clear terms of reference for the group's mandate.
  • Establish an explicit structure for the partnership, as well as clear procedures for decision-making and conflict resolution.
  • Create a communication and information sharing strategy.
  • Garner clear commitments from partnership group members.
  • Create partnership groups that are resilient to political change.

Participation and Transparency
Ensuring that the LA 21 process is transparent and accessible to all sectors requires the use of several interactive, semi-interactive and non-interactive methods of communication. In general, interactive methods, such as focus groups, result in greater transparency and participation than semi-interactive methods such as a questionnaire. Worldwide, efforts to engage all of the groups in a community has proven challenging. Creativity and flexibility are needed to reach out to those who are under represented. Community education is essential to effective participation in the process, and education programmes should also be directed to municipal councillors and staff.

  • Institute public education programs at the outset of a LA 21 planning process.
  • Provide training programs for municipal staff and councillors as well.
  • Be creative and employ diverse methods to reach out to and secure participation from different sectors within the community.