Identities and Inclusivity: Celebrating Diversity through Local Governance Practices
In the past four decades there have major transformations to New Zealand’s demographic profile, particularly the ethnic diversity of its citizens. Concurrently, there have been significant changes regarding expectations people have of their role as citizens. The nation’s processes of communication and decision making have not yet adequately embraced these shifts. Consequently, as society has become more diverse, elected decision-makers have quickly become even less representative of their constituents than they were before. For this reason, the various tiers of government have started seeking governance strategies to better reflect the diverse composition and identities of their communities. Paradoxically, those who are already most influential in decision-making processes are commonly the ones more likely also to be heard in local efforts at inclusionary participatory governance. In practice, local participatory endeavours regularly bolster the activities of local elites. Hence the research reported in the present paper addresses a number of key questions in this regard. How inclusive are our participatory governance processes? Who participates? How effectively are voices heard? How is account taken of various power relations? How is difference acknowledged? How is conflict managed? To what extent are the processes legitimate and genuine contributors to local democratic engagement in local governance?
The research is grounded via three quite different case studies of local government endeavours in relation to developing local identities and inclusionary practices. It concludes that a continuously expanding demographic pluralism, with an associated myriad of traditions and lifestyles means we should be embracing and valuing (not avoiding or merely tolerating) difference. However, since the ideal inclusive process is difficult, if not impossible to achieve, it is important for practitioners and researchers alike to get better at recognising and responding to the often obscured effects of practices which institutionalise exclusion and to further investigate ways of living well with diversity.
Keywords: Identities, Difference, Inclusivity, Local Governance, Participatory Practices, New Zealand
Dr. Michelle Thompson-Fawcett
Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Otago