Elected Officials and Democratic Processes – Examples of Democracy in Local Government

Elected officials and democratic processes: What is shared by Hatikva neighborhood, Gush Etzion Regional Council, La Gomera in the Canary Islands, and the Institute for Democratic Education in Israel?
A Q&A with Yotam Tron and Michal Gilboa-Atar, the Co-CEOs of The Institute for Democratic Education in Israel, on local democracy, examples of procedures practiced in democratic cities, and busting related myths
נבחרי ציבור
Following up on questions about the terms “democratic city” and “local democracy,” it is time to explain them in detail, provide real examples, and uncover the common practices for forming democratic processes in local governments.
How do you create a democratic city in your municipality?
Elected officials, we are here to answer your questions!
Question: What does the term “Democratic City” mean?
Answer: A democratic city is an expression of a partnership between the citizens and the local municipality in terms of the decision-making that influences their daily lives at their local municipality. When the local government wants to accommodate its residents’ needs, it must establish an honest and couragous dialogue with them. A democratic city is really a dialogue that incorporates tools, such as public participation, local democracy, and social activism.
Question: Why do I need this?
Can’t I make decisions with the rest of the elected officials?
Answer: Technically, you can. But the democratic city aspires to provide useful and relevant solutions for all the residents while including them in the decision-making process, along with all the other local elements: leaders, the education system, and the community itself. Thus, better decisions and solutions are produced, which are suitable for everyone – the residents, whose overall well-being can improve due to these changes, the elected officials, who will be able to accommodate the citizens’ needs, thus becoming more popular and revered, and the community, which will restore its trust in the decision-making procedures in their local municipality.
Question: Public participation sounds complicated. Is it?
Answer: Not necessarily. These are professional tools that provide milestones. Municipality personnel can be trained on how to use them, and, with the right guidance, they are easily implemented and are very practical.
נבחרי ציבור
Question: Has it ever worked?
A democratic city that promotes public participation
can this really work?
Answer: Of course! A democratic city is a general term describing different programs that encourage public participation and application of local democracy at the municipality level! Many local and worldwide municipalities have joined this cause. Here are some examples:

Training Local Authorities
For Local Democracy

This includes lectures, workshops, and tools for the municipalities in various topics: public trust, a dialogue with interested parties, shared planning, democratic leadership, and more. 83 leaders and elected officials have already graduated from the lectures and workshops.

Shades of Hope

Co-facilitated by The Tel Aviv Municipality and The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco in Hatikva neighborhood. A group of local residents maps the neighborhood’s needs, initiates projects, and creates change in different fields – businesses, growth, education, and religious identity.

Gush Etzion
Regional Council

In cooperation with Yaffa, the CEO, an in-house training program was facilitated to train municipality personnel to lead public participation as an integral part of their work plan and their relationship with council’s residents.

“Inclusive Budgeting”

In Pittsburgh, the local government used inclusive budgeting to restore public trust. Such procedures enhance democracy, promote democratic leadership, and create a network of democratic communities.
Naturally, additional processes emerge constantly. We are partners in the processes taking place in the local municipality relating to the COVID-19 health crisis, leadership, and shared decision making
Question: Are there worldwide examples of such processes?
Answer: Indeed, there are cities and countries that facilitated local democratic and public participation processes with their residents. During the process, the barrier of public mistrust was removed, which lead to partnership and reciprocity between residents and elected officials. A sustainable, creative. and learning community was formed in different walks of life. A great example of this is the process we facilitated on the island of La Gomera.
What is La Gomera?
The island of La Gomera, located in the Canary Islands, is a magical island where we enabled a shared journey to create an in-depth educational change, facilitating a cross-grid collaboration with the local community, the municipality, and the island’s ministry of education. The journey began by forming an initial connection between the Institute and one of the mothers of the local community of parents. Shirley Miloh, a resident of the island, who takes an active role in the parents’ committees and different initiatives in the villages of Santiago and Alejaro, decided that something has to change in the island. The issue school dropouts became prevalent and extreme. Therefore, she convinced the political leadership and the top high-ranking individuals in the island’s ministry of education to cooperate and contacted the Democratic Institute to lead a deep reaching misison.
And did you succeed there?
Following a dialogue with the Institute, an analysis, and a detailed mapping of the current situation on the island, it was decided to facilitate an “education week” on the island, with the participation of a myriad of interested parties, including parents, children, teachers, and others. During this week, some of the Institute’s managers participated in an educational delegation on the island to initiate educational and social change. Their goals included forming the island’s future educational image while empowering the local educators in the villages, and of course, forming awareness to the current situation in the community, encouraging motivation and the will to change the current status quo, and establishing long term cooperation mechanisms between the community and the municipality. At the end of the initiation week, the residents referred to the week as being successful, brimming with educational and social influence.
“Usually, we are a closed society and are afraid of change. I hope to inspire others with the change that we want to create here,” said one of the teachers about the island. “Following the process, I felt that the future holds a lot creativity for me. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I know that my work will include taking actions with others”
says one of the students in the program. A democratic process in the community sprouts democratic leadership and sparks future growth and a broad spectrum of possibilities for the partnership between local authorities and residents.
נבחרי ציבור
In addition to the project in the Canary Islands and the inclusive budgeting in Pittsburgh, there are public participation and local democracy processes applied around the world in different municipalities. In Minneapolis, Boston, and Cambridge University they used the COVID-19 health crisis as an opportunity and initiated public participation and a democratic city through creating new decision-making platforms, initiatives, and even an urban planning project that combines real estate and democracy. These procedures, especially during the COVID -19 crisis, restore public trust in the local government, implement transparency and dialogue as top values, and form a deep bond between the residents and elected officials.
In conclusion, a democratic city is a city that is based on principles of democratic culture: dialogue, inclusion, cultural diversity, community accountability, and social engagement. The democratic city has many advantages, such as creating a dialogue between the local government and the public, making good and pertinent decisions, shared decision making that benefits both sides, and at the end of the day – forming trust between the municipality and the public.
Do you have any questions that we haven’t answered?
Would you like to learn more about the democratic city? Contact us!

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