Policy Brief on Enhancing the Effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance Reforms

Nancy Marangu is a communication and public policy analyst and one of the participants of the tutored DeLoG e-learning course on ‘’Enhancing the Effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance Reforms’’, which took place from April 04 - May 29, 2022. In this policy brief on enhancing the effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance (DLG) reforms, she reflects on her work experiences and insights from the DeLoG course.

© Michal Matlon

1.0 Introduction

Nancy Marangu is a communication and public policy analyst and one of the participants of the tutored DeLoG e-learning course on ‘’Enhancing the Effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance Reforms’’, which took place from April 04 - May 29, 2022. She is passionate to advocate for inclusion, gender and climate mainstreaming and envisions an inclusive facilitative infrastructure that supports youth, women and persons with disabilities. In the last 14 years, her work experience in the areas of strategic communication, and development of concepts to enhance gender mainstreaming, entrepreneurship and risk management strategies has strengthened her research, planning, and writing, administration, monitoring and reporting skills. In this policy brief on enhancing the effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance (DLG) reforms, she reflects on her work experiences and insights from the DeLoG course.

Decentralisation is defined as the transfer of responsibility to quasi-autonomous subordinate units or levels of government (called devolution), while transfer of responsibility to field units of central government line ministries or agencies is classified as “deconcentration”. Governments regard citizen participation as a means to preventing social tensions and strengthening the long-term prospects of democracy through dialogue and consensus-building at the municipal level and diverse consultative processes. International development partners are also advocates for decentralisation as a pathway to improving governance and service delivery in developing countries.

Devolution is apportioning power and functions to sub-national bodies run by elected representatives, with political autonomy in their own right. Nonetheless, the degree of autonomy and discretion of these bodies can vary substantially among countries. Transferring of political authority encompasses apportioning of fiscal resources. Besides, the availability of administrative structures for implementing the decisions of the local representative body.

Deconcentration is defined as the intra-organisational transferring of functions from the central government to its own peripheral offices. Furthermore, it is redistributing of decision-making authority and financial and management responsibilities among different levels of the national government. Similarly, distributing administrative tasks from an upper to a lower layer or unit of state administration, through establishing regional or local field offices.

Thethree defining dimensions of decentralisation are political, administrative and fiscal decentralisation. Expectedpositive outcomes of decentralisation reforms include better service delivery, efficiency gains, increasing democratic participation and improving political empowerment of communities and citizens, more effective accountability mechanisms as well as greater transparency.

2.0 Constraints of decentralisation

Constraints of decentralisation include “elite capture” wherein local bodies are taken over by local elites which use local resources for their own interests, lack of managerial and technical capacity at the local level resulting in reduced quality and quantity of services. Moreover, increasing political competition and leading to political instability, lack of fiscal discipline, reduced capacity for countering external shocks at the national level and lack of coordination between various levels of government.

3.0 Global goals and decentralisation

Local and regional governments ought to play a vital role in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The implementing countries, ought to carry out a needs assessment within their national jurisdiction. Outlining responsibilities and roles between local and regional actors which are involved towards the accomplishment of the SDGs targets is critical for ease of monitoring and evaluating with requisite support from the Center of the international discourse on localising SDGs.

The New Urban Agenda constitutes a major element for implementing local - and more specifically urban - dimension of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Endeavors to create a mutually reinforcing relationship between urbanisation and development whereas providing guidance on diverse enablers: development enablers that include national urban policies, laws, institutions and systems of governance and the urban economy; operational enablers local fiscal systems, urban planning and basic services and infrastructure and underneath the technocratic solutions of economics and governance, normative concepts such as democratic development, respect for human rights, equity, safety and security as well as the relationship between urbanisation and the environment feature prominently.

4.0 Cross cutting issues and decentralisation

Climate change and development are closely intertwined, therefore mitigating and adapting to climate resilience is crucial for promoting global development. Local and subnational governments are inextricably linked to the causes and effects of climate change. Adaptation measures are often local by default; since they have certain spatial or territorial dimension and consequently might fall into the jurisdiction of subnational governments.

The political dimension of decentralisation has potential to increase participation of communities in local decision-making, participatory budgeting and development planning. This could contribute to overcoming the under-representation of women at any level of governance and decision-making. It is worth noting that many countries have already introduced quotas for membership in local councils.

Emerging technologies are drivers for determining how systems can be people centered to promote and enhance decentralisation. Governments and local authorities have to remain abreast of the new possibilities and the new normal being presented by technological dynamic and ensure its personnel are equipped with requisite technical skills.

The strategic gender issues in decentralisation include: local planning, budgeting, revenue raising and expenditures are rarely gender neutral; quotas or reserved seats may be needed to promote women’s participation in local decision-making e.g. in local councils; local administrators often have little experience in identifying or addressing gender concerns in their work, local norms, authorities and practices (e.g. related to marriage, inheritance, land ownership and dispute resolution) may be gender-biased.

The important building blocks of comprehensive and holistic decentralisation reforms entail: restructuring and empowering of subnational governments;  adapting to divergent  modalities of decentralisation and subsequent arrangements for political, fiscal and administrative dimensions; assigning functional roles/responsibilities within sectors that support decentralisation; revamping fiscal transfers and revenue arrangements and civil service arrangements; designing and implementing capacity development strategies and lastly, instituting systems for supervisory and monitoring of results which can be used to fine-tune decentralisation reforms in line with the intended impacts.

5.0 Conclusion

Successful decentralisation requires a meaningful dialogue between local and central governments, as well as appropriate sets of legal and institutional arrangements for local government management. These arrangements include national urban policies, coherent national decentralisation strategies and proper frameworks for localisation of national SDG priorities and other development agendas.

6.0 Feedback

The course organised by DeLoG on ‘’Enhancing the Effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance Reforms’’ was mind stretching as it facilitated my understanding on decentralisation. Importantly, it sharpened my worldview on how other countries have been successful to their journey in the process of implementing SDGs. Peer learning was also exciting, valuable and insightful as different course participants shared their experiences. I would highly recommend this course to most of the county officials in Kenya.


DeLoG E-Learning Course on ‘’Enhancing the Effectiveness of Decentralisation and Local Governance Reforms’’  (April 04 - May 29, 2022)

ADB (2012), Gender Tool Kit: Public Sector Management. Asian Development Bank, Manila

ADB (2006), “Managing Decentralization: Inter-ministerial Bodies, Policy Coordination, and the Role of Development Aid Agencies”, ADB Governance Brief, No. 15, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

Wollman, H. (2007), “Devolution of public tasks between (political) decentralisation and (administrative) deconcentration – in comparative (European) perspective”, Social Science Japan, No.37, pp.16-21.