Keywords: local government, sustainability, action research, grounded theory, symbolic interactionism, antinomy, state government, information, Australia, sustainable development
Enhancing the sustainability efforts of local governments
This paper presents empirical work to understand and enhance the sustainability efforts of local governments (LGs). It originates in Australia, and uses grounded theory and action research methods. This work has developed through four action research cycles of reflection, planning, action and observation. The first cycle identified the local-state antinomy: a paradox that constrains local and state government relationships involving conflicts between inside and outside perspectives. The second cycle produced 34 case studies of LG attempts to deliver sustainability outcomes. Comparative analysis across the cases suggested that sustainability information from outside is useful when it combines high external validity with local specificity. The third cycle targeted LGs facing multiple sustainability challenges and produced tailored outside-in reports designed to optimise external validity and local specificity while allowing for mass production. The fourth action research cycle was the delivery of this outside information to LGs, along with a survey to learn more about inside perspectives on sustainability issues. This found strong support for the prototype tailored outside information that is described here.