Local and regional governments should start citizen participation in decision-making practically, not formally


Local and regional governments in Latvia do not provide for their participation in many matters important to citizens, as one concluded in the audit report of the State Audit Office of Latvia “Citizen participation: an untapped opportunity for quality decision-making in local and regional governments”. This behaviour of local and regional governments has resulted in low-quality decision-making and an elevated risk that the consequences of not involving citizens in decision-making will be felt in the long term.


  • When involving citizens, local and regional governments operate without a strategic vision. As a result, citizens are not involved in prominent issues, while citizens are not communicated with in such a way that they learn about opportunities to get involved or want to do so in other cases.
  • Much needs to be done to promote youth participation and civic activity now and in the future.
  • Due to the lack of effective participation, the infrastructure that the local and regional governments built for 70 million euros is not accessible to a part of the population, that is, people with mobility, vision, hearing and mental disabilities, without the help of other people.

“Everyone feels the consequences of the lack of citizen participation, as it results in municipal decisions that do not meet the needs of the population, are incomprehensible to citizens, or have been made hastily. When deciding what kind of infrastructure to build in a local and regional government, the consequences of involvement of an inferior target group are felt especially hard by people with disabilities caused by functional disorders,” emphasized Edgars Korčagins, Council Member of the State Audit Office of Latvia. “At the same time, local and regional governments play an essential role in working with young people to bring our future citizens to a democratic and inclusive administration in a timely manner, with targeted and active involvement. Unfortunately, the audit concludes that local and regional governments do not facilitate a more civically active young generation both before the administrative and territorial reform and after the merger,” explained E.Korčagins.

When talking about full citizen participation, the involvement of citizens is essential in five successive stages. Except for the elaboration of development and territorial planning documents, in which citizen participation is regulated by law and is mostly ensured in local and regional governments, the State Audit found full-fledged work of local and regional governments with citizens only in the first stage: (1) identification of needs and problems, in other issues relevant to citizens during the audit. In its turn, the involvement of citizens in the stages of (2) searching for solutions and (3) developing specific projects, was stated only in some cases. Unfortunately, (4) decision-making on drafted solutions and (5) evaluation of the impact of these decisions take place completely without the involvement of citizens.

Lack of citizen participation results in unbalanced decisions

The audit findings show that local and regional governments do not ensure sufficient citizen participation in the implementation of development planning documents, in decisions about sectoral strategies, binding regulations, etc. It is also confirmed by the amendments made to the binding regulations very soon after their approval, which had to be done to prevent the consequences of not involving the citizens. For example, citizen participation was planned in only 3 cases out of 10 strategies in different sectors in the local and regional governments included in the audit sample in the audited period. In their turn, citizens were involved in the development of only 38 binding regulations out of 538 binding regulations.

For the infrastructure to meet the needs of the population truly, it is essential to involve the population in issues related to the establishment of the infrastructure. However, the audit has established that citizens are involved in these issues insufficiently. The local and regional government included in the audit sample have created such an infrastructure for at least 70 million euros that forces some of the municipal residents, that is, people with mobility, vision, hearing and mental disabilities, to accept not leaving their house or not attending local institutions, being constantly dependent on the help of other people.

For instance, a ramp with a 17% slope was built in group apartments in the Tirza Rural District of Gulbene Region, although a permissible slope of ramp for independent use is 5% that is three times less. In their turn, the group apartments do not have sufficient visual contrast that would help people with visual and mental disabilities to navigate in space in the Rucava Rural District of Southern Kurzeme Region. It is not possible for a person in a wheelchair to enter the building either independently or with the help of a support person and two people are needed to enter the building due to a door mechanism in Social Care Centre Pērle in Cēsis.

In near future, the local and regional governments included in the audit sample plan to implement infrastructure projects worth at least 21 million euros. However, audit findings raise concerns about whether this infrastructure will be used respectfully and accessible to all residents.

Ineffective communication without feedback

85% of the surveyed residents of local and regional governments in Latvia do not participate in decision-making processes because of a lack of information or it is difficult. According to the results of the survey during the audit, population lacks confidence that their opinion is taken into account. The audit has concluded that the work of local and regional governments without a strategic vision for citizen participation resulted in the selection of ineffective communication channels, for example, individual local and regional government only post information on the website of the local or regional government when inviting people to participate in the planning of the territory, or about what will be located in the specific territory. In addition, local and regional governments often use complicated sentence structures, professional vocabulary, specific sectoral terms, and general phrases in their communication with citizens, which citizens cannot perceive without in-depth understanding. Also, the visually impaired residents do not know about the possibilities of citizen participation at all in most local and regional governments because the accessibility of information is not provided. The opportunities to find out about participation activities are also significantly limited for those residents of local and regional governments who do not use digital communication channels, as local and regional governments do not publish a large part of calls in newsletters and/or other printed materials. Local and regional governments do not provide for the involvement of citizens even in cases where amendments are being drafted to decisions in the elaboration of which citizens have previously been actively involved.

In general, timely and sufficient feedback to citizens about the results of consideration of their proposals in local and regional government is almost never provided. It is not provided either in cases where it would be necessary to promote confidence in the population (e.g., following population surveys) or in cases where it is determined by laws and regulations.

The voice of young generation might not be heard

The audit has concluded that the work of local and regional governments with youth is not sufficient to shape an active young generation. Although the obligation of local and regional governments to work with young people has been in force for 10 years, the work goes on without clear goals and tasks in most cases. In the absence of reliable data on age, place of residence, interests and needs of young people, the activities of local and regional governments in the field of youth are often based on assumptions. Accordingly, this creates the risk of overspending resources on activities that do not have a significant impact on improving the situation in the field of youth participation, and not conducting activities that have a high potential for youth involvement. For example, mobile work with the aim of ensuring face-to-face participation of young people in places where there are no youth centres rarely happens. In its turn, when communicating with young people, local and regional governments do not consider the media usage habits of young generation, resulting in no desire of the latter to participate in the activities offered by local and regional governments.

Local and regional governments also do not create conditions for youth councils to fully participate in the research and analysis of the interests and needs of young people or in the development of proposals. Instead, youth councils function more as event organizers.

At the same time, the State Audit Office of Latvia has detected irregularities in the current state policy because it was allowed that important creators of civically active young generation, namely, local and regional governments, did not fulfil the obligations set out in the regulation for 10 years. In Guidelines for Children, Youth and Family Affairs 2022-2027, the goal set that 15% of young people highly value their opportunities to influence decision-making in local and regional governments to be achieved by 2027, according to the auditors, is not ambitious enough, especially taking into account that a low level of involvement of young people in the work of local and regional governments creates a situation that without listening to young people and being aware of their interests, decisions are made about things that they will have to live with in the future.

State Audit Office recommendations #PēcRevīzijas

The 11 local and regional governments included in the audit sample: Jūrmala and Rēzekne City Municipalities, Ādaži, Cēsis, Southern Kurzeme, Dobele, Gulbene, Kuldīga, Limbaži, Madona and Rēzekne Regional Governments, are provided 116 recommendations for facilitating citizen participation. The deadlines for their implementation vary from 1 September 2023 to 2 January 2025.

Key recommendations of the State Audit Office #PēcRevīzijas

Anticipate the participation of citizens in all matters relevant to them and in all stages provided for in best practice;

  • Ensure that calls for participation are easily perceived and well visible, including with diverse communication channels that reach all population groups;
  • Provide timely and justified feedback in all cases of citizen participation;
  • Promote youth participation opportunities including the development of youth policy and the participation of young people in it, regular data collection and policy reassessment according to current data, regular mobile work, as well as improving digital work competencies of employees involved with youth.

Additional info

Audit report

About the State Audit Office of Latvia

The State Audit Office of the Republic of Latvia is an independent, collegial supreme audit institution. The purpose of its activity is to find out whether the actions with the financial means and property of a public entity are legal, correct, useful and in line with public interests, as well as to provide recommendations for the elimination of discovered irregularities. The State Audit Office conducts audits in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions INTOSAI (ISSAI), whose recognition in Latvia is determined by the Auditor General.

100 years of AUDIT STRENGTH

On 16 August 2023, the State Audit Law will turn 100 years old. With the adoption of this Law, the State Audit Office from a formal de facto institution founded on 2 December 1918 became a de jure independent, collegial supreme audit institution of the Republic of Latvia. The State Audit Office is one of the independent state institutions enshrined in the Satversme (Constitution) of Latvia. The Constitution was signed by Roberts Ivanovs as the secretary of the Constitutional Assembly, who was then confirmed as the Auditor General. He worked as the first Auditor General for 12 years. His signature confirmed the text of our Constitution alongside that of Jānis Čakste.

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