The Last Bastion of Recovery: Innovative and Effective Governance at the Local Level

April 13, 2021

Supporting local governance should be a priority for all social and political actors for the coming years.

Tendencies and innovations in local governance in Latin America and the Caribbean have a common denominator: the use of data and evidence as fundamental inputs for management. This is the opportunity to deepen innovative processes of effective governance at the subnational level for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.

There is a new local governance that is developing as a positive externality of the pandemic. A year after the start of the pandemic in the countries of our region, the outlook continues to be complicated. Unemployment, hunger, political polarization and exclusion pressure the democratic institutions and social advances of the last decade. At UNDP, we have identified local governments as one of the most relevant actors in this governance crisis. These are promoting initiatives, programs and innovations on issues related to building a sustainable recovery.

Local innovation an opportunity for sustainable development

In the face of this new context in the region, we anticipate this global consultation with the early identification of trends and innovations in local governance. Many of these initiatives are linked to efforts to promote a model of institutional openness and the open government approach. Likewise, public innovation spaces are being launched for sustainable development.

From UNDP, we support spaces for innovation. For example, the Articulated Platform for Comprehensive Territorial Development (PADIT) of Cuba: The objective is to strengthen institutional capacities for planning and managing territorial development. It is a multilevel and multifactorial platform that responds to the updating of the economic and social model of this country.

There is also the case of the Local Innovation Platform of San Juan Sacatepéquez: This is about an open network of collaboration between traditional and non-traditional partners, who participate in the co-creation of comprehensive solutions to complex problems, considering the SDGs as transversal nodes.

Similarly, at the UNDP Regional Center we promote projects with a strong territorial vision such as Infosegura, DataAcción about citizen security issues, as well as experiences related to the exercises developed by the Acceleration Labs in local plans, with the use of a basic data infrastructure for decision-making.

Likewise, the UNDP-SIGOB regional project and its adapted expression at the local / subnational level (SIGOBito) is a clear example of the adaptation of public governance through strategic articulation tools, in subnational governments, to design, implement, monitor, control and evaluation of public management.

Proposals to strengthen the effectiveness of local governments

A good part of the innovations in local governance are examples of a mixture that allows the articulation of various tools. With this approach, we have a common denominator in all initiatives: the use of data and the use of evidence as fundamental inputs. There is data processing in reusable format (open data). Also, there is a survey of qualitative information on dynamics with the participation of local actors, with a visible territorial focus.

Now is the time to deepen substantive reform processes in local governance for sustainable development, to strengthen local governments as the axis of transformation and innovations for effective governance.

For that reason, we propose at least five fundamental elements: 1) move towards a holistic approach to effective local governance models to reduce fragmentation, create synergies and improve efficiency at the local level; 2) improve the infrastructure and local capacities to adequately respond to the demands of the community in the territory; 3) link successful interventions at the local level with public policy at the national level, as an effective means to expand, deepen their scope and results; 4) promote inclusive and bottom-up approaches that help facilitate and expand spaces for the participation of local stakeholders in the planning and management of measures; and 5) co-create new spaces for innovation in the territory, from a proactive role of local governments.

In conclusion, from UNDP we call for the development of an ecosystem of innovations for local governance in the region that allows us to rethink the power structures, institutional capacities and beliefs that guide the way we handle the challenges of sustainable development. With no less than 16,529 local governments identified in 19 countries in the region, supporting local governance should be a priority for all social and political actors for the coming years.