Facilitative Leadership and the Challenge of Renewing Local Democracy in Italy


  • We would like to thank Ed Page, John Forester, Peter McLaverty, Stephen Elstub, Jonathan Hopkin and three anonymous IJURR reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. An earlier version was presented in a panel of the Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference 2011 in London. We thank the panel participants and organizers for their feedback. We are indebted to all the people in Bologna and Prato who kindly agreed to be interviewed and supported our research; in particular we thank Giovanni Ginocchini, Chiara Sebastiani and Sara Procopio in Bologna, and Massimo Bressan, Paolo Sanesi, Livia Marinetto and Camilla Perrone in Prato for their invaluable help.


Participatory arrangements have become a popular way of addressing modern challenges of urban governance but in practice face several constraints and can trigger deep tensions. Facilitative leadership can play a crucial role in enabling collaboration among local stakeholders despite plural and often conflictual interests. Surprisingly, this style of leadership has received limited attention within debates linking urban governance and participatory democracy. We summarize the main insights of the literature on facilitative leadership and empirically develop them in the context of participatory urban governance by comparing recent participatory processes in two Italian cities. Whereas in one city facilitative leadership gradually emerged and successfully transformed a deep conflict into consensual proposals, in the other city, participatory planning further exacerbated pre-existing antagonism, and local democratic culture was only later slowly reinvigorated through bottom-up initiative. These diverging pathways explain how facilitative leadership is: (1) important for making things happen; (2) best understood as situated practices; (3) an emergent property of the practices and interactions of a number of local actors and (4) a democratic capacity for dealing with continuous challenges. Key to this style of leadership is understanding participatory urban governance as an ongoing democratic process.