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Complementarity of urban leadership and community involvement: A new theoretical approach to urban governance

The main objective of this result is to present a common conceptual framework providing a theoretical frame for the central research questions, guiding the empirical research and delivering perspectives for comparative conclusions.

First, it helps to understand why the assumption of a complementarity of leadership and community involvement in modern urban governance is a worthwhile object of study. Second, it paves the way for an assessment of this complementarity within a comparative perspective. Third, it leads to a vision of "good governance" and institutional performance in cities that transcends simplistic notions of sustainable policies.

The complementarity of urban leadership and community involvement is seen in the context of changing policy challenges for cities resulting in a mix of traditional forms of government and new forms of governance. These challenges are described by reference to three dimensions of democratic legitimation:
- Input-legitimation (authentic participation),

- Throughput-legitimation (transparent accountability) and

- Output-legitimation (effective problem-solving).

The three dimensions are brought into a relation-ship with crisis phenomena in the perception of the performance of local government throughout Western democracies. Reforms of formal local government institutions and governance (governing within networks) are considered as important, yet insufficient aspects of attempts to cope with these challenges. “Meta governance” (B. Jessop) is presented as the central challenge for urban leaders and practices of community involvement, i.e. a flexible and reflexive way of choosing and changing modes of governance.

Specific cultural contexts (notions of democracy, traditions of local government) are linked with the question of what “good governance” and “democratic legitimacy” can mean within a comparative perspective. Notions of urban leadership and citizen involvement are situated within this models of legitimacy.

A comparative understanding of institutional performance is provided, and the characteristics of economic competitiveness and social inclusion are systematically linked with this understanding.

Obviously, conceptual frameworks cannot have direct socio-economic relevance or be directly implemented. However, the conceptual framework developed within the PLUS project so far does make proposals for an improved understanding of the performance of urban governance which might be useful for cities and policy makers on higher levels.

Performance indicators often stick to “objective” indicators of policy outputs (decisions) or outcomes (actually taken measures). Achieving “sustainability” is often translated in such indicators. Although this might be useful in some contexts (e.g. as a means to make cities ac-countable for goal attainment or to strengthen competition between cities) it seems problematic in comparative respects and also with respect to democratic principles. In democratic polities goals might be defined differently; and the performance of institutions can only be fairly evaluated if one takes into account how difficult it has been in a particular setting to achieve certain (locally defined) objectives. On the other hand, these objectives are not completely relativistic; “sustainability” is shared as a universal guiding principle, yet interpreted and concretised in local settings.

The PLUS performance model tries to cope with this difficult tension between universalism and particularism. It comprises three central elements:
- The notion of institutional performance as increasing the “governing capacity” of a city (Clarence Stone).

- The notion of “good governance” as referring to the mentioned three dimensions of legitimation, which can be linked to an analysis of practices within different institutional arenas.

- A guide for a contextualised measurement of institutional performance.

Institutional performance as increased governing capacity means that the PLUS project will look for the change over time that has been realised in the cities by certain policy initiatives and the role of leaders and societal actors within these initiatives. More exactly, performance is seen as coping with the difficulty of realising that change.

We suggest three dimensions of evaluating this difficulty:
- A substantial challenge (redistribution, complexity),

- A procedural challenge (activation of passive actors/involvement of heterogeneous group of actors) and

- An institutional challenge (building new institutions for effective action).

Concerning the three dimensions of legitimation, this perspective helps to consider the question whether the increased “capacity” of governing within localities has also led to “better governance”. Further work in the project will think about the best ways to disseminate this performance approach to urban settings and their actors.

Related information

Reported by

Darmstadt University of Technology
Institute of Politics, Residenzschloss
64283 Darmstadt
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