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Social inclusion and participatory democracy: from the conceptual discussion to local action

In order to keep feeding the debates on how to put citizen participation at the service of social inclusion, the Committee has edited and printed the study "Social Inclusion and Participatory Democracy: From the conceptual discussion to local action", carried out in collaboration with the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Inspired by local policies presented in the Committee’s Inclusive Cities Observatory, the added value of the study lies in its capacity to inspire a renewed approach on municipal policies of participatory democracy and social inclusion.

"Claiming cities as common goods face to commodification and competitiveness"

According to the publication, although local governments are far from being "leading political players" in a globalized world, cities are nonetheless "the main battlefield in the fight for democracy, participation and inclusion" and local governments have "more leeway to maneuver to develop their own strategies and policies than they did just 30 or 40 years ago".

Throughout its first three chapters, both the concept of inclusion and that of participation are studied (respectively) as a “as a regulatory ideal and political project in 21st-century urban societies” and “a spearhead for inclusion in the democratic system”.  On the basis of these assumptions, the study makes an assessment of the various dimensions of social inclusion (as occupation, recognition, bonding…) as well as a critical analysis of the contradictions and weaknesses in the so-called “discourse of inclusion”.

A special emphasis is devoted to what the text calls "excluding and exclusion producing democracies": a historically rooted phenomenon leading to "explicit and implicit (forms) of exclusion in contemporary democracies”. In order to promote a real culture of participation in exchange, the text assesses several models and visions of democracy, taking into account relevant concepts such as consensus, purpose, civil society engagement or the deliberative quality of participatory processes.

In conclusion, an inventory of normative and operational instruments is offered in regard to innovative local policies on social inclusion and participation. A city can pursue comprehensive goals such as to "develop and approve a local plan for social inclusion (...) with resources, a firm commitment at the level of participation and a clear system of indicators" as well as focus on egalitarian participation (how to eliminate the so-called "socio-demographic biases of participation") or even empowerment by focusing on the most excluded.