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Solace blog

7th October 2016

Global challenges need local responses

The benefits of being networked

With over 11,000 members, based in 40 countries around the world, the USA-based International City Managers Association (ICMA) is the largest professional body of its kind. Solace has a long-standing Affiliation Agreement with ICMA (as we do with our sister associations in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). We are active participants also in the new European City Managers network.

The benefits for Solace members of these global links are significant and were amply demonstrated at the ICMA’s recent 102nd Annual Conference in the United States. It was here that senior representatives from a wide range of countries in all five continents came together to share insights and stories about the forces driving change in local government worldwide.

What was fascinating to watch was how quickly we all identified five common themes affecting both our current responses and our strategic thinking about the likely future challenges for the sector.

Common global forces of change


– devolution/dumping of responsibilities (without the necessary funding by cash-strapped national/state governments)

– funding constraints and expectations of “more for less”, as public demand grows

– lack of capability and the need to replace an aging workforce with younger “Millenials”, not least as future leaders

– pressure for structural change, to integrate or share services, create a greater economy of scale and reduce costs


Environmental Sustainability

– urgent need for investment in infrastructure renewal and housing supply

– adaptability to climate change and improved resilience to civil disasters and emergencies


Population Shift

– health and care support for the growing number of the elderly

– the rise of the four-generation family with likely inter-generational competition for limited public resources

– rapid urbanisation and the sustainability of shrinking rural communities

– large-scale economic migration and refugee crises, with consequent risks for social cohesion

– growing social and economic polarisation of society


The Technological Revolution

– the growth of digital technology, AI, and the “internet of things”, with the disappearance of many traditional types of work and the growth of e-Government


Democratic Deficit

– weakening public trust in a representative democracy, political parties, and “establishment” politicians

– low election turnout by voters and its effect on the democratic legitimacy in decision making/leadership

– the rise of single-issue politics, identity politics, “participatory” democracy (use of referenda and plebiscites), and demagogues with populist promises of quick fixes


First responses can make a life or death difference

In both developed and developing countries, the local government sector appears to be beleaguered by unreasonable pressures and expectations. Nonetheless, the sector is growingly confident that its crucial role in fostering and protecting the quality of life is becoming better understood and appreciated by both local communities and by national/state governments.

As a result of this, the response of local government professionals is now an assertive one, as we seek to mitigate the impact locally of large-scale, global changes, which often lie beyond our direct control. In many ways, we are the “First Responders” to these global forces, and our interventions make an essential difference for many people in a turbulent and uncertain world.

The need for professional and ethical leadership

As well as sharing ideas, learning case studies, and examples of evidence-based best practice, the members of the ICMA International Committee also increasingly use a common language to describe our unique role in local government. Looking at the challenges that lie ahead, there was much talk of our active “Place Making” or “Place Shaping” role, as we find effective ways to make our local communities more resilient, confident and vibrant. We are all convinced that success in this requires the highest level of professional (and political) leadership locally.

This, in turn, depends on the ability to blend global thinking with a deep understanding of the particular dynamics of the local places in which we live and work. As well as common values of genuine public service, we share the sense of obligation to develop the leaders of tomorrow. What we lack, still, is a global framework to enable us to exploit the potential of our growing collaboration to do this effectively…but we are working on it!

Kim Ryley is a Past-President of Solace and is Vice-Chair of the ICMA International Committee.

By Kim Ryley, Chair of Solace in Business