We are living in a world where various changes, such as globalization, urbanization and digitalization, are taking place at an increased pace, which is a characteristic of the 21st century. This gives rise to many crises we experience both at local and global scale which often stem from lack of transparency, participation, and accountability. Proper implementation of these principles in institutions and decision-making processes governing people’s social lives will be the key to sustainable development and improving quality of life.

The same holds for Türkiye. In early 2000s, Türkiye undertook a comprehensive public administration reform to improve the governance in this area. In 2003 when the reform process started, the Prime Ministry published a White Paper to explain the reasons for and the scope of the reform. Here, the ideal characteristics of public administration were identified as follows:

“Public Administration should be;

  • Transparent,
  • Participatory,
  • Accountable,
  • Show respect to human rights and freedoms,
  • Uphold rule of law to reduce uncertainties and discrimination,
  • Predictable, flexible and expeditious,
  • Efficient and effective.”

With a view to put this understanding into effect, the 2005 Local Government Reform minimized the legal provisions that enabled central government to interfere with the local governments’ affairs and replaced “administrative tutelage” with “democratic governance” that empowered citizens to participate. Given the fact that over 10 years have passed since the introduction of the Law on Municipalities which provided for the adoption of democratic mechanisms and institutions, we thought it was the right time to research and make an assessment of the extent to which good governance principles were put into practice.

For this purpose, as Argüden Governance Academy, we decided to carry out a study to find out to what extent the concept of “governance” – a topic on the agenda of interested circles for 20 years – was embraced and implemented at the local level. “Governance” is a concept frequently made use at global scale and defined in various ways by major international organization such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union.

Since the beginning, the word “governance” is used together with the adjective “good”. The concept good governance started to be used in Turkish as well, at 1996 İstanbul Habitat II Conference, and was welcomed enthusiastically by the Turkish civil society and the citizens of Türkiye. The Local Agenda 21 Project launched under the initiative of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Türkiye played an important role in the adoption of the concept. The Turkish Interior Ministry’s and municipalities’ partnering with the project facilitated the acceptance of the concept by the government agencies and public institutions.

As mentioned above, the concept of governance and the mechanisms enabling its implementation entered the Turkish legislation with the introduction of the 2005 Local Governments Reform. However, in due course, it was observed that some of the municipalities perceived good governance as a management technique just like ISO 9000 which resulted in lack of adequate care for the democratic essence of good governance. Therefore, in this publication, while at the same time covering the entirety of good governance principles, we utilize “democratic governance” when we wish to underline the importance of the principles of representation, participation, inclusiveness, and fairness.

At the start, we decided to take as basis the municipalities of İstanbul in assessing the governance environment for the below reasons:

  • One out of five persons in Türkiye lives in İstanbul that is the city with the highest population density in the country.
  • İstanbul represents a social composition that reflects the general landscape of Türkiye, which corresponds to its highly cosmopolitan human texture.
  • As a result of the above, there are thousands of civil society organizations in İstanbul active in a variety of fields.

Although the scope of this study, at this stage, is limited to Istanbul and its districts, the approach we provide here is applicable to all district municipalities in Türkiye, even to those in other countries of the world.

Our Approach

While preparing the municipalities’ governance scorecard from a citizen’s perspective, we utilized the information, documents and data that are easily accessible by the citizens. In other words, we went through the information and data shared by the municipalities through their web sites to make an assessment of municipalities’ governance performance. For this purpose, we examined the most recently updated available Strategic Plans, Budgets, Activity Reports, Performance Programs, and information they published on their websites. We also checked for the performance of the municipalities in responding to the “Citizen’s Right to Information” for which we are grateful to Sabancı University students for their cooperation in this part of our study.

We worked closely with neighborhood headmen’s offices which are institutions recognised by the Law on Municipalities, organizing a series of workshops with them, which enabled us to learn from their knowledge and experience. We also obtained their views through the questionnaire we provided.

During the preparation of governance scorecards of municipalities, we also examined the performance of City Councils, which were officially set up within the municipality organizations under the 2005 Local Governments Reform, went through their websites, and made observations in connection with these democratic bodies’ participation in municipal decisions.

In studying Istanbul’s district municipalities, we looked into the subject from three different but complementary perspectives, all of which we considered as integral parts of a whole. The first one is the governance of the processes through which the municipalities provide their services. Municipalities’ activities are performed in four successive or overlapping processes, namely the governance of decision making processes, governance of resource utilization, governance in provision of services, and capacity building within their organizations.

The second perspective was the examination of the processes in the light of the good governance principles, which are defined by international organization by giving priority to the various indicators. In identifying the governance principles we use in this study, we pay attention to cover the framework adopted by the Council of Europe of which our country is one of the founding members, while at the same time taking into consideration our national legislation.

The third perspective we adopted was the municipalities’ performance in applying the learning cycle in their respective organizations. In this context, as regards the above-mentioned processes, we questioned whether or not;

  • The relevant structures were set up in the relevant areas,
  • The practices were carried out in line with these structures and properly integrated to each other,
  • The criteria used for the assessment of these processes are properly identified and learning points were established to put learning cycle into practice.

Detailed explanations in connection with the opinion poll “Headman-Municipality Relations”, the study on the City Councils, and the use of Right to Information are given in the “Methodology” section of this publication, where information is also provided about the principles of good governance and the processes on the basis of which the Governance Scorecards are prepared.

Our Objectives

With this project, we aimed to measure the governance climate in municipalities. By means of the approach developed, we tried to measure the level of implementation of good governance in local governments in Istanbul in line with international norms and legislation. This enabled us to provide a measurement method so that we could identify, in a data-based manner, the areas that needed improvement. Furthermore, the criteria we offer can serve as a guideline for efforts to improve good governance in municipalities. For this reason, we believe our study will be helpful at local level to raise the level and quality of good governance.

We also aim, by providing examples of good governance and indicating on solid grounds areas of improvement, to enable municipalities to learn from each other. The study is not an effort to measure the management performance of municipalities, but to identify the prevalence of good governance culture in municipalities and the ways with which it is put into practice. Our purpose is to encourage municipalities to improve their understanding and adopt good practices by creating an environment where they can mutually learn from each other. Our ultimate purpose is to contribute to municipalities’ success in meeting common local needs and demands in the most democratic, inclusive, effective and efficient way.

The method we used in preparing a governance scorecard involves the means through which the municipalities’ natural stakeholders such as fellow townspeople, headmen, civil society and City Council can take part in the decision making mechanisms of municipalities. Particularly the Guidelines, provided in the Appendix, will help the local actors in questioning all processes carried out in municipalities, in gaining an insight into good governance practices, and in seeking answers to their queries. In this manner, we wish to contribute to creating greater opportunities for local stakeholders’ maximum participation and involvement in democratic governance mechanisms.

In this study, we made use of measurement and assessment methods employed by international organizations such as the United Nations, Council of Europe, and Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We paid special attention to the principles adopted by the Council of Europe of which our country is a founding member. The Valencia Declaration of European Ministers Conference dated 16th October 2007 proved to be very instructive. The Declaration’s “Strategy on Innovation and Good Governance at Local Level” sets three objectives stated below, and our aim with this study is to contribute to the achievement of these important goals:

  1. Citizens are placed at the heart of all democratic institutions and processes;
  2. Local authorities constantly improve their governance in accordance with the principles laid down;
  3. States create and maintain the institutional preconditions for the improvement of governance at local level, building on their existing commitments in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government and other Council of Europe standards.

Our Istanbul District Municipalities’ Governance Scorecard Project is first of its kind in Türkiye among the comparable works in terms of its scope and the approach used. We, therefore, believe it will be useful in many ways if it is taken into consideration, discussed in length, and further developed by the civil society and academia. Such an informed discussion will no doubt contribute to the establishment and promotion of the culture of democracy. Such a democratic questioning and participation built at the local level would help to grow trust in institutions and encourage active citizenship. In this context we hope that our study will generate an environment fruitful for an informed discussion on good governance based on material findings, by the civil society, academia, media and relevant central government agencies, but first and foremost by the citizens and municipalities.

Fikret TOKSÖZ, İnan İZCİ