Policy and Politics Journal

Policy & Politics Editorial Team co-chair a panel at ECPR on ‘strengthening local governance capacity through interactive political leadership’

Policy & Politics Editorial Advisory Board Member Eva Sorensen (Roskilde University) and Co-editor Sarah Ayres (Bristol University) co-chaired a panel on the first session of the 2017 European Consortium for Political Research Conference (ECPR) in Oslo, Norway.

The panel drew together a number of international scholars to examine how political leadership is enacted in interactive governance arenas. Gro Sandkjaer Hanssen (Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research) acted as discussant and drew attention to the range of policy and governance theories underpinning the analysis and the benefits of international comparative research.

Panelists debated the fact that local governments are facing a growing number of wicked and unruly problems that call for the exercise of political leadership that defines the problems and challenges at hand, designs new and innovative solutions and mobilizes support for their implementation. Unfortunately, many local councilors tend to spend most of their time acting as complaints services for the citizens, advanced case managers engaged in detail-regulation and controllers of the conduct of public bureaucracy. Consequently, they fail to exercise the kind of political leadership that is needed to deal with the deep-seated and emerging problems that confront local communities in times of crisis and turbulence. The result of this failure is a steady decline in political trust and a paralysis of local democracy that may trigger the rise of authoritarian populism.

The panel explored how city leaders can strengthen their political leadership and rebuild trust through the advancement of institutional reforms that allow them to engage in sustained interaction with local citizens and organized stakeholders that can provide input such as experiences, ideas and resources that allow the local councilors to better understand and find innovative solutions to pressing policy problems. Panelists and a busy audience debated recent attempts to develop an ‘interactive political leadership’ that can stimulate policy innovation and enhance the governance capacity of local governments.

Eva Sorensen and Jacob Torfing (Roskilde University) described and examined recent and ongoing attempts in Gentofte Municipality (Denmark) to transform its political governance system. Findings reveal that, while the reforms have been successful, it has proved difficult to forge a connection between the new interactive policy making arenas and the old political institutions.

Adam Gendwill (University of Warsaw) looked at the role of independent mayors in Europe and asked the question: ‘Does nonpartisanship make a real difference? He argued that opinions that nonpartisans “open up local democracy” or “enhance democratic accountability” are not well-grounded in his systematic empirical analyses .

Tina Ollgaard Bentzen (Roskilde University), Christian Lo (Nord University) and Marte Winsvold (Institute for Social Research, Oslo) drew on an analysis of Denmark and Norway to examine how  local councilors strengthen their political leadership through institutional reforms. They found interesting differences between the two countries in terms of the style of political leadership enacted.

Sarah Ayres (University of Bristol) drew on a case study of the Bristol Pound in the UK to explore how city leaders can harness and utilise ‘informal governance’ as a leadership asset. Findings revealed that informal governance offers a number of advantages in engaging a diversity of stakeholders, maintaining and developing trust in difficult circumstances and making tough decisions in the context of austerity.

Asbjørn Røiseland (Nord University) discussed innovations targeting political leaders in the context of Norwegian local government. Different ‘types’ of interaction were identified depending on what stakeholders political leaders sought to engage.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like to read Improving policy implementation through collaborative policymaking by Chris Ansell, Jacob Torfing and Eva Sorensen (Free to read in September 2017).