Political leadership in local councils. Comparing Norway and Denmark (POLECO)
About the project
In this project, we developed the theoretical concept of ‘interactive political leadership’. We did this in response to the recognized need for stronger political leadership in handling increasingly complex and wicked problems at the national as well as at the local level of government. In the traditional approach to political leadership, citizen participation is regarded as desirable because it empowers people and gives them a say in questions concerning their community. Participation also plays a role in educating people about democratic procedures and the formation of a democratic society. However, seen through the lens of the interactive political leadership concept, citizen participation is viewed in a more pragmatic way, and participation is considered desirable because it helps elected politicians to gain insight and knowledge, thus better equipping them to discuss and solve local challenges.
We have mapped organizational features and routines that are believed to strengthen the interactive role of local councillors, their contact with citizens, and the latter’s empowerment. The results show that such interactive measures are much more widespread in Danish than in Norwegian municipalities. One reason for this seems to be the large number of inhabitants in Danish municipalities and a correspondingly greater need for councillors to get in contact with citizens than in Norway, where the municipalities are considerably smaller. Also, the fact that Danish local governments were hit much more directly by the financial crisis in 2008 than Norwegian local governments may explain the need for councillors to involve citizens in co-governance and co-creation.
The project has generated knowledge about the importance of institutions for interactive political leadership. First, we have shown that the different systems for organizing the relationship between the top political and the top administrative actors in the two countries matter. While Danish mayors head the municipal administration, this role is administrative in Norwegian local governments, where the chief administrative executive head the administration. Among other things, this affects how measures intended to strengthen the interactive role of local councillors actually work out in practice, that is whether councillors feel that their political leadership role is supported or not. Second, our project has revealed that arenas where political issues can be discussed and solutions found are of the utmost importance in enabling local councillors to perform interactive political leadership, and we further show how this may be done.
The project has been financed by the Norwegian Research council, program on “Democratic and Effective Governance, Planning and Public Administration” (DEMOS).
Associate Professor Sarah Ayes, University of Bristol, UK
Professor Paul t’Hart, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Professor Jean Hartley, Open University, London, UK
Associate Professor Daniel Kübler, University of Zurich, Switzerland