On 25, 26 and 27 November, the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy held its 18th Conference in Barcelona, which was attended by more than 600 people from all over the world. During these three days, reflections and experiences related to direct democracy, citizens' initiatives and inclusive democracy ecosystems were discussed. The local governments and civil society represented called for ensuring that the mechanisms of participatory democracy do not leave anyone behind: only in this way will it be possible to restore the relationship of trust between local governments and citizens and renew the social contract. The IOPD Assembly adopted the Observatory's Local Democracy Agenda and agreed to strengthen links with the municipal movement that UCLG represents.
Democratic innovation in cities, key to renew the social contract
The Conference of the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy (Barcelona, 25-27 November) acknowledged the role of cities as fundamental spaces for democratic innovation, and local governments as the main stakeholders for rebuilding citizens' trust in institutions.
Mayor of Barcelona and Co-President of UCLG, Ada Colau highlighted the importance of the municipalist movement that UCLG represents, since it reinforces the role of cities in reformulating the social contract and updating our democratic system.
Carlos Martínez, Mayor of Soria and Vice-president of UCLG for Europe, referred to the need to rebuild citizens' trust in institutions, which he claimed meant giving them back control over decision-making.
To this end, it is essential that local governments apply transparency policies and mechanisms that allow real accountability, "so that citizens can know what decisions are taken, based on what interests, and with what resources are carried out"
For her part, UCLG Secretary General Emilia Saiz called to review not only the link of citizenship with institutions, but also the framework of socioeconomic relations in which this relationship takes place.
Only this way will it be possible to defend the rights of citizens. This is why the international action of local governments is fundamental: "in the context of the globalization of non-democratic actors whose actions affect our daily lives, the coordination of cities on a global scale is key to defend the interests and rights of local communities.
The conference was also attended by the Mayor pro tempore of Durham, Jillian Johnson; the Mayor of Mandlakazi, Maria Helena Langa; the Mayor of Bologna, Virginio Merola; the Mayor of Paso, Pedro Vicente Obando; the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam, Rutger Groot Wassink, and the Councillor of Strasbourg, Chantal Cutajar. All of them took part in the round table of elected representatives which was held on Sunday afternoon 25th, moderated by the UCLG Secretary General.
IOPD and UCLG: a strengthened link to place local democracy at the centre of the cities' agenda
Within the framework of the Conference, the IOPD held its Assembly, at which the Agenda for Local Democracy was adopted. The document acknowledges the fundamental role of cities as drivers for sustainable development, good governance and the promotion of human rights, as well as the diversity of democratic forms and practices. The Agenda focuses on the inclusiveness of participation mechanisms; common goods and the strengthening of citizenship; digital infrastructures for participation; the evaluation of participatory policies and programmes; the value of local autonomy and the relationship with other spheres of government; and the need to co-construct participatory ecosystems. The agenda also highlights the relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals related to democracy and good governance - and especially target 16.7.
To strengthen the link of this work with the international municipal movement as a whole, the IOPD Assembly also discussed and approved strengthening the link with UCLG through mechanisms of representation and reporting to its governing bodies. Thus, the Observatory will reinforce its role as one of the three fundamental pillars of UCLG's strategy on local democracy, together with the analysis of the state of local autonomy and the defence of elected representatives.