Return to the UEM Homepage

Participatory Approaches for Local Agenda 21

Joeseph Leitman


There are at least three different approaches for structuring participation in the development of Local Agenda 21s: a) the "priority problem" approach; b) the sectoral or municipal services approach; and c) the stakeholder or thematic approach. Each approach is described below along with a flow chart, list of requirements, advantages and disadvantages, and an example of its application in a city.

   Priority Problem Approach

The most commonly used means of structuring public involvement in Local Agenda 21 is to involve stakeholders in determining priority urban environmental problems and then structure participation around key problem areas. The process is as follows: 1) background information on the city's urban environment is prepared (e.g. environmental data and a "State of the Environment" report); 2) a stakeholder workshop is held to discuss the background information and prioritize urban environmental problems; 3) stakeholder working groups are created around the 2-6 highest priority problems; 4) the working groups identify and prioritize options for solving the problems; and 5) a panel with representatives from each working group, along with experts, develops an integrated strategy and individual action plans for each priority problem.

The Priority Problem approach requires: a) consensus on which problems are the most important; b) consensus within each problem area as to priority options; and c) participation of relevant stakeholders, especially decision-makers. Its advantages are that it focuses the LA21 process on addressing the most important issues and promotes an integrated approach to strategy development. Its disadvantages are that real-life problems may be different from identified priorities if the process takes too long and it may be difficult to achieve consensus on priority problems and options.

BOX: Priority Problem Approach in Dakar, Senegal

In 1993, a start-up workshop was held to discuss the process with 80 representatives of stakeholders and to seek their cooperation. This was followed in mid-year by a rapid assessment of the urban environment by local consultants who assembled relevant data and prepared an environmental profile. Towards the end of the year, a consultative workshop was held to discuss the profile and identify priority issues. Working groups identified general or thematic problems (natural and industrial risks, air pollution, solid waste, sanitation, and environmental education) and geographically specific ones (pollution of the Hann Bay, coastal erosion). At the final plenary, a consensus was reached to proceed with action planning on the Bay pollution and industrial risks.

Strategy development and action planning followed in 1994 with assistance from the UNCHS Sustainable Cities Programme and the UMP. Environmental profiles were prepared on the two priority themes. These profiles, prepared by local consultants, examined the nature of the problem, the relationship between the problem and urban development, and the institutional setting surrounding the problem. Towards the end of the year, a three-day consultation with over 100 stakeholders was held to discuss industrial risks, Hann Bay pollution and next steps. The results of this work were used to develop action plans that cover needed investments, technical assistance, policy reforms, and institutional development.



   Sectoral or Municipal Service Approach

This approach is based on the environmental dimensions of a city's existing sectors or municipal services. The process is as follows: 1) an analysis is made of sector-by-sector or service-by-service issues, either by experts or by a stakeholder workshop; 2) stakeholder working groups are established for each key sector or municipal service; 3) working groups prioritize issues, identify options and prioritize options for each sector or service; 4) an integrated working group develops an inter-sectoral or cross-service strategy and sector- or service-specific action plans.

The sector- or service-specific approach requires the active participation of key sectoral actors (e.g. industries and neighborhoods affected by industrial pollution) or key services (e.g. the water and sanitation company directors as well as representatives of their industrial, commercial and residential customers) and a willingness to evaluate real problems in each sector or service. The advantages of this approach are that it focuses on operational problems in each sector or service and that it results in practical, institution-specific recommendations. The disadvantages are that it may not identify and address the most important environmental issues in a city and it tends to reinforce the existing sectoral structure or service delivery system.

BOX: Sectoral and Municipal Services Approach in Tilburg

In 1990, the city of Tilburg (The Netherlands) formulated a Municipal Environmental Policy Plan (MEPP). After four years, an evaluation concluded that environmental problems had not been solved and than an important policy document could not be drawn up in a top-down manner from behind a desk.

The second MEPP was developed in 1994. An overall strategy was developed based on the need for placing environmental policy in a broader view of sustainable development, the importance of using measurable policy targets and the view that implementation of environmental policy is the joint responsibility of all parties involved (the municipality, target groups and interest groups). Eight action plans (called sustainability strategies) were developed with stakeholders for municipal services (urban planning, traffic control, and the management of wastes and water) and specific high-priority sectors (industry, households, construction, and energy). The action plan for urban planning serves as a framework for the MEPP and the other plans are designed as inputs to it.

Implementation of the MEPP began in 1995. The municipality reports annually on implementation of the plan using source, effect and performance indicators. Consultation has been built into the implementation process: the construction sector, industries and environmental groups are both implementing and reviewing the process along the way.



   Stakeholder or Thematic Approach

In this approach, public participation is organized around groups of key stakeholders or pre-identified urban themes. The process involves: 1) identification of relevant stakeholders or themes; 2) establishment of stakeholder or thematic working groups; 3) optional preparation of background environmental documents (e.g. environmental data and a "State of the Environment" report for use by the working groups); 4) identification and prioritization of stakeholder- or theme-specific strategies and action plans; and 5) integration of working group outputs into a city-wide action program by a stakeholder workshop or a group of experts.

This approach requires the active involvement of all key stakeholders and/or consensus on central themes. The advantages are that it is easy to establish and understand, and that it can address cross-sectoral and inter-jurisdictional problems. The disadvantages are that: a) the resulting strategies and action plans may not address a city's most important environmental problems; b) recommendations may be too general to guide action at the level of individual institutions; and c) separating stakeholders may create an "us against them" mentality that could lead to divisiveness.

BOX: Thematic Approach in Bursa

In late 1995, the city of Bursa (Turkey) established a Local Agenda 21 General Secretariat. Early in 1996, the Secretariat organized an Urban Forum to discuss sustainable development and urban environmental priorities that was attended by 800 citizens representing municipal government, NGOs, professional associations, the private sector, unions, and universities. Participants identified key themes and volunteered to work on these themes. As a result, 12 working groups were formed. This has now expanded to 21 groups involving 2200 volunteer members on the following themes: Waste; Land Use; Urban Structure; Industry; Climate Change; Water; Socio-economic Life; Historical and Cultural Heritage; Art and Culture; Education; Environmental Regulations; Public Relations; Health; Sport; The Disabled; Children; Women; Young People; Scout Groups; Pensioners; and Combating Poverty.

Environmental data are being collected and a "State of the Environment" report is being prepared to assist the working groups. The working groups have come up with 33 cross-cutting recommendations that are being integrated into a city-wide action program.

Local Agenda 21
Return to the Local Agenda 21 page
Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org