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Principles and Mediating Values

A concept of democracy that is anchored in clear principles and values helps provide a framework for high-quality democracy against which localities can evaluate and measure themselves. Using a common set of democratic principles, such as popular control over public decision-making and equality among citizens, is important throughout all phases of the State of Local Democracy assessment.

Popular control and political equality guide all local democracy assessments. The more these two principles are present, the more democratic a system of public decision-making can be considered. Eight mediating values have been identified to help citizens assess the key principles in their local unit.

Popular Control / Political Equality


Participation is a necessary condition for democracy and can be facilitated by both institutionalized and informal mechanisms. It is only through participation that citizens can elect and guide their representatives, and play a role in shaping local policies and practice.


Authorization is inherently linked to free and fair electoral choice. Local elections allow citizens to authorize public representatives and officials to represent their interests in a local legislature or other elected body, or as delegated to other public actors/authorities at the local level.


Democratic legitimacy is the popular acceptance and recognition of the power and authority which elected local representatives exercise through their decisions and actions. It validates the acceptability of the rules and processes of democracy and confirms whether the rules and practices are indeed respected and recognized by the local population.


Representation, achieved through regional, provincial or local elections and political parties, is the raison d’être of democratic institutions and processes. Representation embodies the rule by the people and the different tendencies of public opinion.


Accountability refers to the relationship between the local population and their representatives, and the mechanisms through which citizens can ensure that decision-makers are answerable for decisions made, such as in the area of public service delivery, and actions taken on the citizens’ behalf. It has horizontal (separation of powers) and vertical (citizen-elite) dimensions.


Transparency refers to the level of openness, predictability and answerability of local representatives and institutions. Transparency is critical for citizens to engage in democratic processes, monitor public officials, and demand responsiveness and accountability.


Responsiveness reflects the way local governments respond to the needs, claims and policy preferences of citizens. It refers to the grounds for decision-making and the extent to which public policies and their implementation at the local level reflect the will of the people.


Solidarity refers to the ties in a society that bind different people to one another, expressing social bonds rather than autonomous individual ties. Solidarity reflects the degree of social cohesion within a local unit and equality amongst individuals, as well as relationships between different levels of society, so that all who are living within the local unit can access and enjoy their rights.

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