Most people experience the impacts of governance, fair or unfair, at a very local level. It is where poor and marginalized people, including women, experience inequalities most keenly – in the way that issues that particularly concern them tend to get de-prioritized and their participation is obstructed. In most political systems it is also at the level of local governance that citizens can, in theory, participate and take action to make changes that affect their lives, livelihoods and communities. In practice, the dynamics of local governance can be complex and challenging to navigate. Local governance involves real people and complex networks of social, religious, and economic relationships, with all the messiness that implies. Development programmes working on governance need to make a thorough analysis of local power relations and how change happens in the local context, in order to shape options and approaches.
• This overview paper draws out the lessons from the case studies in the ‘Local Governance and Community Action’ series on the experience of communities in Nepal, Malawi, Kenya, Viet Nam and Tanzania. Discussed through the lens of Oxfam’s Right to Be Heard framework, with its three key aspects – people claiming rights, institutions willing and capable of delivering rights, and people in positions of power with the will to make it happen – the case studies explore a range of contexts in which local governance dynamics are central to the process of change.
• The case studies cover a lot of ground, but there are gaps and issues that need further work and thought (for example, how to operate effectively in the very different urban context; how to manage risks where local governance is a site of conflict as well as potential collaboration). Oxfam plans to add further studies in this series, and welcomes contributions and discussion.