Taking on Decentralization in Metropolitan Lima

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alternativa poster (Peru)Peru’s Decentralization Framework Law, enacted in 2002, was intended to spur the transfer of responsibilities from the Peruvian government in Lima to local entities. The Law on the Framework for Participatory Budgeting followed in 2003, providing for input from residents on priorities for development in their communities. Neither the public nor local authorities were ready for the task at hand.

This prompted Centro de Investigación Social y Educación Popular ALTERNATIVA, a civic organization working in northern metropolitan Lima, to draft a proposal to prepare municipal officials there for decentralization and participatory planning and to enable the active participation of individuals and groups representing organized civil society. In 2004, IAF awarded ALTERNATIVA $171,695 to be disbursed over two years. The grant was extended by two years and funding increased by $107,360, inter alia, to facilitate the distribution of training materials on citizen participation throughout the country. ALTERNATIVA contributed $26,835 toward its efforts and mobilized another $15,900 from other sources.


Seven years after IAF funding ended, residents of the three municipal districts targeted Ate, Comas and San Juan de Miraflores continue to participate in planning for development and in the allocation of public resources. Key to this success was training in the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Close to 600 residents participated in the sessions; nearly 40 percent of those trained were government officials. The original goal was to train 100 officials and 150 representatives of community organizations.

Not everything else went as smoothly as the training. The complexity of the new laws discouraged some Peruvians from involvement in the process, and elections resulted in the replacement of trained officials by new appointees. But all was not lost as some out-of-office politicians joined civil organizations and continued working toward systematizing participation in planning and prioritizing initiatives to address community needs.

GDF pyramid displaying society, organization and individual level.
The results of ALTERNATIVA’s project were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework (GDF). The GDF measures results on three levels: the individual or family level; the organization or grantee level, and the community or society level. At the lower level of the cone, the project positively impacted the lives of approximately 600 residents in three municipal districts of Lima as measured by indicators such as training, application of skills, communications and leadership. At the mid-level, ALTERNATIVA reported on participative decisions and dissemination. At the upper or community level. ALTERNATIVA reported on its efforts to foster public debate on issues affecting local development initiatives and the budget that sets priorities for spending of local resources.

ALTERNATIVA’s goal was to help the selected districts navigate the challenges as they attempted to comply with the new laws governing the decentralization process. In Comas and San Juan de Miraflores, everyone whom ALTERNATIVA reached had some involvement in the participatory process as private citizens, public officials or members of oversight or coordinating committees or a combination of these positions. Only in Até, where committed authorities were not reelected, did the concept and process of participation not take hold. With civil society’s concurrence, Até’s new officials opted to allocate funds from the central government equally among all juridisdictions rather than to the priorities determined in consultation with the electorate, as envisioned by ALTERNATIVA.


What worked:
ALTERNATIVA clearly succeeded in facilitating the compliance of district authorities with the new laws governing municipalities and the decentralization process.

San Juan de Miraflores formalized the participation process in a municipal ordinance.
  • Comas adopted the process but did not formalize it.
  • The three districts created public forums for deliberation on the use of government resources that provide an example for other locations.
  • A corp of new leaders in civil society and the public sector understands the importance of participation. 

What did not work:
ALTERNATIVA originally envisioned reaching nine districts in northern Lima, one in the east and one in the south before applying the experience to all 43 municipalities in the metropolitan area. This goal was reduced to three districts at the outset of IAF funding; and of them, only San Juan de Miraflores officially incorporated the participatory process to the full extent. The primary obstacle to applying the new laws was the unwillingness of elected officials to yield any authority.


The participatory process is developing in Peru because of laws now on the books but local authorities control the extent of it. Young people are not interested and are insufficiently involved. Is “participative democracy” a worthwhile goal in countries where suffrage or universal elections are open and honest?