Multilevel Local Democracy

This colloquium is being renewed at the end of this year.

Although the government-governance turn has become mainstream in public administration and political science , the democratic implications of multi-actor and multi-level governance do not receive much attention in either of these disciplines. Public administration and political science tend to focus more on the structure and functioning of governance networks, largely neglecting questions about democratic responsiveness, control and accountability in these networks.

At the same time, there is a lively debate about democratic innovations, especially among political scientists. The empirical and theoretical work in this field concentrates on participatory and deliberative alternatives to representative democracy, not taking into account the democratic problems that are involved with decision-making in governance networks.

This double blind spot for democratic governance applies as well for the study of local government, local governance and local politics. This is remarkable, because in most policy-domains it is at the local level where policies are actually implemented and have an impact in the daily-life of citizens and civic organizations. Because of this local government is networked by nature. More than other government levels, the local government has a long tradition of power sharing among governmental, political, social and economic elites and a strong legacy of collaborative policymaking. More than other government levels, present-day local government is embedded in policy making processes at regional, national and EU levels. Thus, local government essentially has a multi-actor and multi-level character.

This implicates many democratic challenges. Representative democracy and its participatory and deliberative alternatives are more or less rooted in local government, while political decisions are being made in governance networks of local governments, neighborhood organizations, local businesses, universities, pressure groups, national departments, EU agencies, and so forth. The democratic anchorage of these multi-actor and multi-level networks is the core theme of this research colloquium.

The theoretical focus of the research colloquium will be on understanding multilevel local democracy, which includes local implementation of devolved national policies and EU law and the democratic functioning of local governance and regional policymaking.

  • To improve collaboration between Dutch and Flemish university institutions within the disciplines of Public Administration and Political Science, working on local governance, regional governance, EU governance and multilevel governance.
  • To put multilevel local democracy on the Dutch and Flemish research agendas within the disciplines of Public Administration and Political Science.
  • To develop a theoretical framework for studying multilevel local democracy.
  • To bridge the gap in this field between on the one hand, researchers who study (multilevel) local governance issues and on the other hand academics (political and legal scholars) who focus on representative and participatory democracy. 
  • To organize meetings with the colloquium members three times a year in order to discuss progress of the academic debate which is central to the colloquium, and to discuss progress towards meeting the colloquium objectives. The first meeting will be organized at the institute venues of colloquium members. We make a budget request to facilitate and support the meetings (rent of space, refreshments’ costs). In addition, we would like to spend the NIG contribution to our colloquium for inviting (covering costs for travelling and accommodation) an inspiring scholar in this field, who will critically reflect on our work and progress and contribute to our discussion from a broader or different perspective and will enlarge our network outside NIG territory. Our second meeting will be a workshop organized at the ‘Politicologenetmaal’, the annual conference of the Dutch-Flemish Political Science Association. Our third annual meeting will be the panel session organized at the annual NIG work conference. All meetings are, in essence, open for attendance by NIG members (however, on the condition that requests are permitted by the panel chairs on behalf of the research colloquium members).
  • To organize panel sessions at the NIG work conferences 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and to organize workshops at the aforementioned ‘Politicologenetmaal’.
  • To organize panel sessions at international conferences, such as ECPR, EGPA and EURA.
  • To publish proceedings on the academic debate within the research colloquium. Therefore, we request budget to publish one edited volume on the central theme of this colloquium, to be published towards the end of the colloquium duration (2022). Next to this publication, we also strive for journal publications in international peer-reviewed academic journals.
  • Publication of one edited volume with proceedings of the academic debate (contributions by panel session members and their colleagues). We strive to have the book published at an ‘A’ of ‘B’ publisher (e.g., Springer, Palgrave McMillan, or Routledge).
  • At least two special issues in refereed international academic journals (in ‘A’ or ‘B’ journals).
  • At least ten conference papers by research colloquium members.
  • At least ten published journal papers by research colloquium members, published in peer-reviewed international academic journals.
  • At least one coordinated research grant proposal by the colloquium members (e.g., at NWO).
  • Contributions to the NIG research agenda, annual work conferences and participation in other academic forums (e.g., EGPA, ECPR).

This colloquium  is linked to the NIG research themes ‘multi-level governance and Europe’, ‘multi-actor governance in complexity’ and ‘political institutions and democracy’, with a focus on the latter two themes. The colloquium focusses on the democratic aspects of multi-actor governance in complexity.


Prof. dr. Marcel Boogers (University of Twente, Public administration, Faculty Behavioral and Management Sciences)
Dr. Hans Vollaard (Utrecht University School of Governance)