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Participation & Sustainable Development in Europe

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Once a community or a region has decided to initiate an LA21 process, there are some major changes ahead: the community must alter the existing decision hierarchies to some extent, and let itself in for a process with unpredictable outcome.

Both the political hierarchies and the established administrative undergo substantial change in the course of dialogue with ordinary citizens, local firms, NGOs and other institutions. A new form of >> governance takes the place of classical political control.

So far experience with LA21 processes has revealed that the questions of how projects are funded and of the political will to do more than lip service to sustainable development are crucial. The reason is that, as and when the general public are more closely involved, politicians must relinquish some of their power. At the same time the community’s or region’s financial planning needs adapting to the requirements of the Agenda process.

But the LA21 is a learning process for everyone else involved, too. Ordinary citizens, NGOs etc. find that their rôles have changed: they can take on new responsibilities in connexion with developing their surroundings. So the LA21 process requires a combination of top-down and bottom-up structures, which need to be transparent and to allow a free flow of information.

Sequence of events in an LA21 process

LA21 processes vary as much as the communities and regions that carry them out; so there is no single fixed sequence of events characteristic of all processes. However, LA21 processes usually include the following typical steps:


  • Identifying structures and sectors that need changing for the sake of the community’s or region’s future. Catalogues of sustainability indicators are available as an aid to the necessary stock-taking and analysis; these can also be used to check progress later.
  • Starting a dialogue with agents. Agents who are affected by the issues identified and who feel interested should be invited to take part in the LA21 process. Collaboration between the various agents can be encouraged with suitable >> methods of participation, leading to a collective 
  • search for possible ways of promoting the development of the community or region. A key aspect here is for conflicts of interest to be brought out into the open and for the parties to seek a compromise. 
  • Implementing the solutions arrived at often turns out to be a considerable challenge. Usually uncharted territory is involved and there are no precedents in standard political and administrative practice. Several different areas of responsibility need to be unified, and a way of financing the measure in question must be found. 
  • As with other projects, evaluation and controlling are an essential part of an LA21 process.