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LOCAL AGENDA 21
Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with
regard to sustainable development. It is a product of the UN Conference on Environment and
Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the
UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can
be executed at local, national, and global levels. The "21" in Agenda 21 refers to the
21st century. It has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences.
2.0 SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The realities of life on our planet dictate that continued economic development as we know
it cannot be sustained. This is so because present-day forms of economic activity are rapidly
under-mining two other development processes that are essential for human life and
civilization: the process of ecological development and the process of community
development. Ecological development reproduces the biological wealth and climatic
conditions necessary for life on our planet. Community development reproduces
communities, families, educated and responsible citizens, and civilization itself. The
compromising of these processes by current economic activities is destroying both the
viability of human communities in a growing number of areas of the planet and the quality of
human life in many other communities and neighborhoods throughout the world.
Sustainable development, therefore, is a program of action for local and global economic
reform—a program that has yet to be fully defined. The challenge of this new program is to
develop, test, and disseminate ways to change the process of economic development so that it
does not destroy the ecosystems and community systems (e.g., cities, villages,
neighborhoods, and families) that make life possible and worthwhile. No one fully
understands how, or even if, sustainable development can be achieved; however, there is a
growing consensus that it must be accomplished at the local level if it is ever to be achieved
on a global basis.
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3.0 THE IMPORTANCE
Services can only be provided over the long term through the establishment and
maintenance of various service systems. These systems have a number of components, such
• infrastructure (e.g., public transit systems, sewerage systems);
• programs (e.g., health clinics, public safety);
• procedures (e.g., development approval processes);
• management routines (e.g., repeated activities such as waste collection or building
• management interventions (e.g., pollution control).
4.0 THE ELEMENTS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PLANNING
The scope of municipal planning and management is traditionally constrained by a variety
of factors, including: political jurisdiction; limits in legislative or constitutional authority; the
professional standards of key management disciplines; technology; and financial resources.
While these constraints focus the municipal planning task, they also prevent methodical and
routine consideration of many social, economic, and environmental developments that are
outside the municipal purview (e.g., national infrastructure projects, land markets, labor
legislation, terms of trade). As the impacts of these developments increase (e.g., population
migration, depletion of water resources, loss of industries, youth unemployment), the lack of
methodical consideration of such impacts in municipal planning can severely undermine the
performance of municipal service systems and related infrastructure.
The purpose of sustainable development planning is to broaden the scope of factors
considered in municipal planning and decision making within the context of the legal,
technical, and financial constraints upon municipal activities. The sustainable development
planning approach presented in this Guide combines the principles and methods of corporate,
community-based, and environmental planning to create a public-sector, strategic planning
approach that reflects the imperatives of sustainable development.
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Strategic planning has been used extensively in the private sector to provide corporations and
businesses with long-term visions and goals, and short-term action plans to achieve these
goals. Strategic planning is seen as a means to rally the collective resources of a firm around
specific strategies designed to increase the firm’s competitive advantage in the arena where it
Community-based planning has been used extensively in the development field to engage
local residents and service users in participatory processes to develop and implement local
service projects and programs.
Environmental planning, with its different assessment methods, was developed in the 1970s
to ensure that development projects take environmental conditions and trends into
consideration, and that the managers of such projects identify and take measures to mitigate
the specific environmental impacts of a development activity.
As a hybrid of these three planning traditions, sustainable development planning makes use
of the different planning methods and tools of each tradition in assisting communities to:
• equally factor economic, community, and environmental conditions into the design of
development projects and service strategies;
• fully engage relevant interest groups and, in particular, service users in the
development of service strategies that meet their needs; and
• create service strategies that can be sustained because they focus on underlying
systemic problems rather than problem symptoms, and because they consider long-
term trends and constraints.
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5.0 COMMUNITY-BASED ISSUE ANALYSIS
Involving local communities in the analysis of development and related service issues is
essential to the optimal solution of problems. Municipal investments are more likely to
succeed and win public support if they are responsive to the articulated needs, concerns, and
preferences of service users. Service strategies can also benefit from the knowledge and
resources that local residents and institutions can themselves contribute to solving problems.
At the same time, the process of issue analysis can be used to educate stakeholders about
technical conditions and constraints for service delivery, such as ecosystem carrying
capacities or financial constraints.
Community-based issue analysis typically involves two components. First, a process is
established to gather and discuss the knowledge and wisdom of local residents about local
conditions. Second, technical assessments are undertaken to provide stakeholders with further
information that may not readily be available to them. Popular knowledge and technical
research are then reviewed together by the stakeholders. Using this information, they aim to
establish a consensus about local problems.
Community-based issue analysis provides two additional benefits. First, the process can help
the local community to establish priorities for action. As resources are very limited in most
communities and not all problems can be effectively addressed at the same time, priority-
setting can be very important for the success of local action plans. The combined use of
technical assessments and participatory issue analysis also permits the community to
establish “baseline” data and indicators against which progress and future changes in
conditions can be measured.
6.0 ACTION PLANNING
Following the identification and analysis of priority service issues, partners can begin the
process of creating Action Plans. The action planning process has three basic components:
• Action Goals: Action goals are the specific aims that the community wishes to strive
towards to achieve its vision for the future. They should translate the Community
Vision into focused directives and resource allocation priorities. They are used to
guide organizations, experts, or professional staff to develop specific programs, and in
this way they serve as an intermediate step between a Community Vision statement
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and specific measurable targets for improvement of conditions related to
• Targets and Triggers: After action goals are established, professional staff should work
with stakeholders to define specific targets to be achieved within specified time
frames. Planning efforts benefit greatly from the establishment of concrete targets.
These targets permit managers to evaluate both the adequacy of actions being taken
and the progress made in implementing an Action Plan. Triggers are unique forms of
targets. They are agreed-upon future conditions that trigger further action by
stakeholders when addressing a problem. For example, a community with air
pollution problems may not be able to agree at present to establish restrictions on
private automobile use, but they could agree that when local roadway use reaches a
certain level they will institute a system of road pricing, such as toll collection.
• Action Strategies and Commitments: It is essential that an Action Plan specifies the
action strategies and commitments of different stakeholders in order for them to work
as partners in achieving the different objectives of an Action Plan. Action strategies
and commitments should be very precise and contain specific projects, time schedules
for implementation, and commitments to allocate money, time, and human resources.
Ideally, these action strategies will include commitments by service users to contribute to
implementation. It is recommended that action strategies be designed to commence
immediately. This is especially important because the sustainable development planning
process will inevitably raise community expectations for action and change.
7.0 IMPLEMENTATION AND MONITORING
The implementation of partnership-based Action Plans requires adjustments in standard
operating procedures and, oftentimes, some institutional reorganization. Pre-existing
administrative procedures, divisions of responsibility among municipal departments, contract
arrangements, and other practices must be adjusted to allow for the active participation of
service users and partner institutions in the implementation of an Action Plan. While the
municipality institutes internal reforms to support partnership approaches, external projects
and/or service partnerships must be formalized. Agreements that outline the responsibilities
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and investments of each partner are required, including specific work schedules and methods
for ongoing monitoring of work. The Stakeholder Group or municipality may consider it
necessary to establish a new organization or institution to coordinate the implementation of
certain aspects of an Action Plan.
Monitoring begins during the implementation phase; not afterward. Accurate documentation
of both implementation activities and their impacts should be kept regularly, in order to allow
for the evaluation of action strategies, service approaches, and their impacts on local
conditions. Such documentation is extremely valuable, and at times necessary, to identify the
causes of problems that arise during the institution of new service approaches.
8.0 EVALUATION AND FEEDBACK
Monitoring is primarily useful for internal management purposes. Evaluation and feedback
are used for both internal and external purposes. It is necessary to maintain accountability
among the stakeholder participants in the implementation of an Action Plan. Evaluation and
feedback are also used to inform the general public about progress in meeting specific targets,
and to signal when the Action Plan must be altered in the face of change.
An effective evaluation and feedback system provides regular information to both service
providers and users about important changes in local conditions and progress towards targets;
with this information, the actors can adjust their own actions and behaviors. Evaluation
information is used to guide planning and resource allocation (budgeting) processes so that
these processes are kept accountable to the Community Vision and its action objectives. If an
Action Plan fails to correct problems or to satisfy prioritized needs, the feedback system
triggers further planning or action.
In summary, the sustainable development planning approach presented in the Local Agenda
21 Planning Guide is a participatory planning process. It can be used to improve municipal
sector performance, to mobilize and focus resources available in a community, and to address
the sustainable development challenge at the local level. Since the Guide emphasizes
partnership approaches to service delivery, values the concerns of residents and validates
their role and contribution in development, and addresses the need to preserve environmental
and community systems, it will almost certainly contribute to the implementation of Agenda