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Shared administration of the commons: a new form of civic participation in Italian municipalities

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Shared administration of the commons: a new form of civic participation in Italian municipalities
Bologna - © Lucian Alexe | unsplash

What’s going on?

In Italian municipalities of different sizes, increasing numbers of citizens are taking action to share the governance of commons (or common goods) with public authorities. Citizens are rethinking public squares and streets through tactical urbanism in Milano and Trento, and are involved in the urban regeneration of the historic centre of Genova; they are co-governing public housing in Ravenna, and green areas in Cesena; other examples include the requalification of villas confiscated from the mafia in Bagheria and Bologna, and post-earthquake reconstruction in Ussita. Citizens are also experimenting with circular economy through the shared management of a Reuse and Repair Centre in Genova, and are also providing psychological support during the Covid-19 crisis in Latina; further initiatives include the start-up of cooking workshops to foster cultural integration (for example in Cinisello Balsamo), the renewal and care of mountain trails (for example in Condove), and the co-design of public schools around the country.

Shared administration of the commons

Together with many others, all the cases mentioned are grounded in what has been defined as shared administration (“Amministrazione condivisa”). Shared administration is an organizational model that allows public authorities to collaborate with citizens on matters of common interest. Developed within the legal scholarship, this model materialized for the first time in the municipality of Bologna in 2014 with the adoption of a specific regulation on the commons. Nowadays in the Italian context this regulation constitutes the pioneering legal arrangement that deals with the commons in an institutionalized manner.), this model materialized for the first time in the municipality of Bologna in 2014 with the adoption of a specific regulation on the commons. Nowadays in the Italian context this regulation constitutes the pioneering legal arrangement that deals with the commons in an institutionalized manner.

Originated in political science scholarship, the concept of commons has received a legal definition in the Bologna regulation. This outlines that the commons are all those tangible, intangible and digital goods that citizens and public authorities – also through participative and deliberative procedures – recognize to be functional to the individual and collective wellbeing, and on which together they share the responsibility for their care or regeneration.

The commons, therefore, constitute the object of the collaboration between citizens and public authorities, which occurs in a horizontal and participatory rather than vertical and hierarchical mode by means of the innovative legal instruments of collaboration pacts (“patti di collaborazione”). Indeed, all the examples mentioned at the beginning of the post received their legitimation on the basis of a collaboration pact signed on a case-by-case basis. In such pacts, the civic and the public sides co-design all the aspects of their collaboration concretely. This includes the aim of the collaboration, the common good that is the object of the actions, the concrete tasks, resources and responsibilities of each side, the supportive measures provided by the public authority, the place in which activities are carried out, insurance policies if of relevance, and duration of the collaboration.

Interestingly, to date, the Bologna Regulation has been adopted by an increasing number of local governments of different sizes (around 280), thus enabling the development of a prototype.

Horizontal subsidiarity: the backbone of shared administration

As seen, local governments are proving to be very fertile ground for public-civic collaborations when it comes to the governance of the commons. To that extent, the principle of subsidiarity in its horizontal dimension (Article 118, paragraph 4, Italian Constitution) provides a backbone as it outlines that “the State, regions, metropolitan cities, provinces and municipalities shall promote the autonomous initiatives of citizens, both as individuals and as members of associations, relating to activities of general interest, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity”.

There are three main dimensions worth underlining: the subjects, the object, the action. The subjects envisioned are on one hand public authorities, and on the other, individual or associated citizens be they individuals, informal groups, or organizations (companies, associations, institutions). Secondly, the object consists in “activities of general interest”, which from a vague conceptualization have been given a very concrete meaning by the concept of commons. Thirdly, the foreseen action is public support for the autonomous initiatives of citizens. According to the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, this support should not be considered as a mere possibility, but as a real obligation for public authorities in relation to citizens’ autonomous actions which are in everyone’s interest. This is the reason why the principle of subsidiarity is the backbone of shared administration, and the basis for any institutional support provided in collaboration pacts.

Beyond decision-making: action-oriented participation

Based on the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, the organizational model of shared administration favours models of shared governance of the commons by means of collaboration pacts. Such pacts are paving the way towards a new type of participation that not only aims to included citizens in the decision-making process, but also allows them to take action through first-hand engagement. Civic participation through the model of shared administration of the commons thus gives additional participatory means to people that find themselves outside representative channels, and as such contributes to democratic legitimation and institutional and social innovation. In this way, citizens become actors in the field of the commons thanks to the promotional and collaborative role of public authorities. In conclusion, Italy’s action-oriented type of civic participation that takes place in municipalities within the model of shared administration of the commons and grounded in the principle of horizontal subsidiarity constitutes an important piece of the bigger puzzle of democratic innovations. Furthermore, it points to the key role of local governments in experimenting with innovative forms of civic participation.

Chiara Salati

Chiara Salati

Researcher at the Institute for Comparative Federalism, Eurac Research, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Macerata, with a thesis on the implementation of the principle of horizontal subsidiarity in Italian cities through the commons, from a wider European public law perspective. Her main research interests comprise participatory democracy and democratic innovations, cities and other local governments, subsidiarity, the commons. She is a member of the research group Government and Law and the Metropolitan Legal Lab of the University of Antwerp. Since 2018 she collaborates with Labsus-Laboratorio per la sussidiarietà with action-oriented research on subsidiarity.

Citation

https://doi.org/10.57708/b148266895
Salati, C. Shared administration of the commons: a new form of civic participation in Italian municipalities. https://doi.org/10.57708/B148266895

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