Public administration is the key to people’s collective realization of their aspirations and sustainable development. There are at least seven areas where the public administration is expected to actively undertake responsibility:

  1. Securing the rule of law,
  2. Creating a level playing ground for competitive markets,
  3. Investing in fundamental infrastructural initiatives, education, health, and social security programs,
  4. Protecting vulnerable sections of the population such as children, elders, disabled, and the like,
  5. Protecting future generations’ rights in vital areas such as the environment,
  6. Ensuring domestic public security,
  7. Defending the country against external threats.

While meeting these basic needs, the public sector at the same time lays the grounds for an environment within which the citizens, corporations, and NGO’s live and flourish.

Local Good Governance and Quality of Life Relationship with Dr. Yılmaz Argüden

“The more we can improve trust, better world we are able to achieve. One of the ways to achieve trust is following universal principles of good governance such as accountability, fairness, responsibility etc…”

The concept of human rights is traditionally based on the individual’s right to lead a life with dignity and freedom, without any discrimination on basis of gender, race, color, religion, language, age, nationality, difference of opinion, national or social background, wealth, social class, sexual orientation, or political position. Democracy on the other hand is defined in the context of right to vote, freedom of enterprise, freedom of thought and speech, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of worship, and the like. However today neither human rights, nor democracy are conceived within the limited boundaries of the above elements. Today, the essential principle is individual’s right to have a say in decisions shaping his/her future and his/her participation in local and global decision-making processes. This is the core of today’s understanding of human rights and democracy.

In ancient times, issues impacting people’s lives were collectively decided by those who had the right to vote. The “participatory democracy” in this particular sense evolved into the “representative democracy”, due to the increase in both the number of the participants on the one hand, and the diversity and complexity of the issues to be decided, on the other. However, the interests of the representatives and the represented do not always coincide. As a result of this and greater awareness due to technological developments in education and communications, the aspirations of people to take part in decision making in matters that influence their lives have increased. This led to the emergence of new forms of participatory democracy. Success in public administration will get even harder and harder every day, unless this trend is fully conceived and embraced. Furthermore, this understanding of democracy lies in the heart of good governance which aims sustainable development and improvement in quality of life by gaining the trust of all the stakeholders.

Local governments offer the most comprehensive and frequent opportunities for interaction between the public authorities and the citizens. As the pace of urbanization accelerates at an unprecedented rate, the importance of local governments in our lives grows as well. It is for this reason that municipalities constitute an area where data-informed, participatory, and collaboration oriented, truly effective and efficient interactions gain greater importance. Therefore, local governments are the starting point for applying good governance for inclusive development and sustainable future. Embracing the 7 good governance principles, namely consistency, responsibility, accountability, fairness, transparency, effectiveness, and participation, reinforces social trust for local governments.

Good Governance Principles

Local governments succeeding in the implementation of good governance principles gain the trust of the citizens. Each local government department must take numerous decisions during the period they are mandated. For truly effective results, these decisions should be data-informed and consistent with other decisions taken by different levels and at different times to ensure coherence and alignment with stakeholder expectations. It is also important that a reasonable balance should be ensured between the results expected from a given decision on the one hand, and the resources to be utilized both for implementation and enforcement, and to redress the unfavorable repercussions on parts of the society that may be faced with negative consequences. Care taken to be inclusive and fair both in participation in decision making and in implementation reinforces the trust between citizens and the public authority.

A local government adopting good governance principles has to act responsibly not only in identifying the priorities and mobilizing the resources entrusted to them, but also in protecting the environment and the interests of the future generations.

Local governments are also expected to be responsible not only in decision making, but also in resource allocation, and service delivery towards all the stakeholders with a long-term perspective. Service delivery is not enough, they also have to share information transparently. Only a local government which displays accountability throughout all phases of value creation, can build a relationship of trust between the citizen and the local government agencies. This, in turn, can only be attained if information related to each step is shared in a data-based and transparent manner with the citizens. Engaging the citizens in all these steps in an inclusive manner also helps effective implementation of the decisions and minimizes compliance costs. Local governments engaging citizens in decision making and consultation processes ensure greater representation and participation which in turn produce more inclusive and effective decisions. A commitment to all these good governance principles and their implementation boosts social trust, and generate a climate and a culture where sustainable, inclusive, and effective public management finds opportunity to flourish.

Good governance aims to generate a culture and a climate where sustainable, inclusive, and effective management can flourish.

Municipalities are the institutions which are closest to our lives, the most frequently we get into touch with, and the most directly influencing our quality of life. Therefore, they have to take great care to work in a data-informed, participatory, and cooperative manner in order to meet the citizens’ growing expectations. While making efforts to provide quality service to citizens, engaging them at the same time in decision making processes will enhance the quality of Municipalities’ decisions as well. The quality of participation will increase with the inclusiveness of participation, as well as with the transparency of information sharing before the engagement to help each stakeholder to have an opportunity to properly evaluate the recommendations during the engagement process. To give an example, before inviting the citizens to share their views on a particular topic, publishing the draft working documents and draft policy recommendations, submitting these to their consideration, evaluating their responses and providing them a detailed feedback will enhance the quality of the participatory process.

Integrated thinking in prioritization, planning, resource allocation, and service delivery improves effectiveness of implementation and speed of learning for continuous improvement. Measuring, assessing, and sharing the inputs and outputs, as well as the impact of processes set the ground for continuous improvement, enable learning within the organization.

What gets measured, gets improved. This study aims to measure quality of governance and identify benchmark examples to improve the learning environment for municipalities.

Through the Model that was developed for “The Governance Scorecard of Municipalities” Project, we analysed the environment and culture within which governance in municipalities operated, i.e. the culture of governance. We conducted a citizen centric assessment of a wide variety of processes, governance principles, and their implementation and checked for evidence of continuous improvement by means of how the learning cycle is implemented within the municipality organizations.

This study;

  • Provides a guideline to local government officials and municipalities.
  • Serves as a measurement methodology for supervisory bodies in assessing the governance performance of municipalities.
  • Offers citizens and stakeholders a perspective through which they can follow the progress of the level of social trust for local governments and participate at local decision-making processes.

We are grateful to our Advisory Board Members Prof. Emeritus Korel Göymen, Prof. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, Assoc. Prof. Erbay Arıkboğa and the retired Governor Enver Salihoğlu for their active guidance in keeping our research team follow the relevant academic studies, social and legal context, and measurement practices; to the project leader Fikret Toksöz; and to Dr. Fatma Öğücü Şen and İnan İzci who conducted the research with their meticulous work. We also extend our thankfulness to the Sabancı University whose students took part in the project as volunteering research assistants and to the Federation of Istanbul Mukhtars’ Associations for their support to our research of relations between headmen and municipalities.

Our purpose is to provide a source of reference for leaders and practitioners who pioneer efforts for promoting good governance practices in municipalities. We hope it will support municipalities in their endeavour to enhance citizens’ quality of life.

Dr. Yılmaz Argüden