Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Local government capacities in rural areas


Local government capacity in rural areas (c) Gitta Schnaut
Local governments play a crucial role in rural development. (© Gitta Schnaut)

Being responsible for various public policies, local governments are crucial actors for safeguarding equal living conditions. To what extent do local governments in rural areas possess the necessary capacities?

Background and Objective

Rural development in Germany involves actors on different political levels. The European Union, the federal level and the Länder set the legal framework, formulate development goals and initiate financial support programs. In the end, however, rural development takes place at the local level, where concrete demands are transformed into strategies and projects, through both specific support programs and everyday policy-making.

This allocation of tasks follows the subsidiarity principle and, more specifically, the German constitution, which stipulates that „municipalities must be guaranteed the right to regulate all local affairs on their own responsibility“ (Article 8). As citizen preferences can vary from one place to another, this set-up is also convincing in light of democratic theory.  

This formal arrangement can create problems, however, if differences in local government capacities result in disparities in the delivery of public services. This particular thread has also been identified by the Commission on Equivalent Living Conditions, a cross-sectoral, multilevel government panel, whose chairs published their policy recommendations in July 2019.

Against this background, the project analyzes the capacity of local governments in rural areas, seeking to generate both conceptual and empirical knowledge. In doing so, special emphasis lies on the role of local government capacities play in safeguarding equal living conditions. 


The project starts by conceptualizing local government capacity. While many analyses focus on financial resources, several other factors may also be relevant, such as the structure of local government, its administrative personnel and expertise as well as its networks with external actors (public or private). Environmental factors, e.g. the task portfolio of local governments, need also be considered. Using relevant strands of public administration and political science literature, the project seeks to develop a comprehensive conceptualization of local government capacity.

The next step is operationalizing the concept. In light of the different sub-questions, the project seeks to identify meaningful and robust indicators for measuring local government capacity. Both steps, conceptualization and operationalization, can benefit from the consultation of practitioners. 

On this basis, empirical analyses of local government capacity in rural areas are to be conducted. Apart from mapping the status quo, the project also seeks to study the impact of local government capacities on living conditions in rural areas.


Data and Methods

The empirical analyses can draw on different data sources and methods. Concept validation can benefit from expert interviews or focus groups. Mapping the status of local government capacity can build on official data or representative surveys. Further evidence on special problems and corresponding solutions can be elicited with case studies. 

Our Research Questions

  • What constitutes local government capacity?
  • What is the status quo of local government capacity in rural areas?
  • How does local government capacity influence rural living conditions?
  • What are options to strengthen local government capacity in rural areas (and beyond)?



7.2020 - 6.2024

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

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