Local development and decentralisation

Iram has been involved in changing approaches and designing specific tools for territorial development since the early 1990s, when developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa started engaging in decentralisation processes. The institute helps territorial actors (and local authorities in particular) carry out their mandates, with interventions that focus on consultation, participation and ensuring that all parties fulfil their responsibilities for managing their territories.

Putting development back into the hands of local actors

The shortcomings of State-led development strategies emerged in the 1980s as it became clear that central administrations are often incapable of improving local living conditions, managing natural resources in an equitable and sustainable manner or tackling poverty effectively. Since then, the two main drivers of change in these areas have been:

  • Many countries are in the process of transferring State competences to autonomous local authorities that are supposedly better able to understand and address local people’s needs. The nature and objectives of these administrative and political reforms vary according to the country and historical context concerned, and have led to the emergence of local authorities as important new actors.
  • Local development: a collaborative economic and social dynamic driven by individual and collective actors in a given territory – local authorities, economic actors, civil society organisations, local services, deconcentrated State administrations, etc. Local people want to play an active, leading role in their own development. Interventions to support local development build on joint territorial management by and for the communities concerned, taking account of their specific needs and expectations from the start of the process and building on their projects and initiatives.

In this context, local governance – the democratisation of territorial decision-making processes – can only become a reality if local authorities are given the authority and resources they need to fulfil their new functions. Another key requirement is capacity building, to enable them to function as participatory institutions capable of understanding and addressing the needs and concerns of all citizens. A core characteristic of this kind of governance is decision-making processes that actively involve the public, NGOs and community-based organisations. Specific tools to finance local development are also needed to support these processes.

However, it has to be said that territorial governance is still hampered by a lack of capacity at the local level. Local authorities are new entities with very limited human and financial resources, civil society is poorly organised, and State services are also constrained by insufficient human and financial resources.

Iram's approach

Iram is involved in bilateral, multi-lateral and decentralised cooperation interventions at different levels to support the various actors involved in decentralisation and local governance.

This entails:

  • Support defining and implementing decentralisation policies:
    • Helping train decentralisation actors
    • Building local authorities’ capacity to fulfil their responsibilities
    • Support in defining national policies on financial decentralisation and managing local finances
  • Support for local governance:
    • Feasibility studies (institutional diagnostics, strategic analyses)
    • Consultations and contracts between actors (local agreements, territorial charters)
    • Helping local actors evaluate the impacts of their joint efforts on the development of their territory
  • Local planning: helping local actors plan joint actions to support territorial development
  • Local development finance:
    • Putting in place financial tools that are appropriate for decentralisation contexts: local development or investment funds that use the complementarity between external grants (from the State and development projects), local taxes and user contributions to fund public amenities
    • Helping local authorities (1) design finance systems that will enable them to encourage initiatives by local economic actors, (2) improve recovery of their own resources (through participatory tax surveys), and (3) manage expenditure and procurement, supervise works and maintain and manage investments in a sustainable manner.