(Strasbourg, 26-28 March 2007)


The development of social cohesion indicators - The concerted local and regional approach -

Rapporteur: Valerio PRIGNACHI, Italy
Chamber of Local Authorities, political group : EPP/CD



In 2005 the Directorate General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe developed a Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators. It proposes a method and tools to make this shared responsibility operational, be it at the local, regional, national or European level. It provides stakeholders working in the same territory with an opportunity to share their thoughts, choose their objectives and translate them into indicators in order to clarify and quantify them, monitor their implementation and measure their impact.

In 2006 the Committee on Social Cohesion decided, as an experiment in partnership with the city authorities in Mulhouse, to develop concerted social cohesion indicators in order to examine how local and regional authorities could implement in practice the principles contained in the Guide. This report1 retraces this experience and draws a number of conclusions in the form of recommendations for cities and regions in the member states.

I. Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators: content, issues and application at territorial level

a) Concerted development of indicators as a key factor for social cohesion

According to the Council of Europe’s social cohesion strategy “social cohesion is the capacity of a society to ensure the welfare of all its members, minimising disparities and avoiding polarisation”. Building this capacity must be considered as the responsibility of every sector of society. While it was often considered during the twentieth century that welfare was the responsibility of the State (the “Welfare State”), the economic problems of recent decades and globalisation have shown that this model is no longer adequate and that the welfare of all must become a goal shared by all social actors (hence the notion of a “welfare society”). This means that a cohesive society is a solidarity-based community made up of free individuals pursing common goals by democratic means, the well-being of all providing the fundamental basis for these common objectives2.

The Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators aims to flesh out and operationalise this strategy. The formulation of objectives and shared responsibility among the various social actors for the well-being of all presupposes an ability to define and measure these objectives. It therefore requires dialogue among all the operators involved in order to establish common parameters and transform them into indicators specifying each party’s responsibilities and facilitating joint monitoring and assessment of the results. In that sense the Methodological Guide is an instrument that brings together all the main agencies operating in a given area, enabling them to share a vision of what they want and to make this vision operational and measurable at any given time.

b) Well-being as the starting point for discussing objectives

By defining social cohesion as society’s capacity for ensuring the well-being of all, the Council of Europe’s social cohesion strategy and the Methodological Guide pinpoint well-being as a fundamental objective and starting point for discussions. They thus propose initiating the consultation process with joint reflection on this concept, considering four dimensions of the latter (equity and non-discrimination; dignity and recognition of diversity; autonomy and personal, family and professional development; and finally citizen commitment and participation), and stressing the idea that it is those personally involved, ie the citizens themselves, who are responsible for defining well-being.

Joint reflection on a complete definition of well-being therefore concerns the whole population. It must necessarily be conducted in a given reference territory. To that extent the local or municipal territory is particularly interesting, because it is here that it is easiest to reach all the citizens and implement a genuine bottom-up consultation process.

c) Different levels of application

In view of the complexity of the social cohesion issue, the Methodological Guide sets out four different levels of application, from the most general to the most specific:

These four levels of application of the Guide therefore represent a general framework for analysing and improving social cohesion:

The first two levels therefore represent a coherent whole, while the other two are complementary levels which may be added to the first two, depending on needs.

This is why the proposed implementation procedure follows this logical order. The experiments carried out so far in Mulhouse (France) concern the first two levels, starting with the first. The second level had not yet been completed at the time of drafting this report. We can, however, already draw some initial conclusions and formulate some basic recommendations, particularly on the interest of the proposed approach for social cohesion and local democracy and the principles that are to constitute the main theme for concerted development of social cohesion indicators at the local level. These conclusions and recommendations might be complemented in a second report to be drafted at the end of the process launched in Mulhouse.

II. Methodology and results of the meetings with local partners in Mulhouse

The innovative implementation of the Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators in Mulhouse provided an essential insight into the manner in which this process should be conducted at the local level. It has enabled us not only to test the approach and ascertain its feasibility, but also to specify and clarify the methods of consultation and construction of joint indicators. Whereas the Guide was prepared mainly on the basis of partial tests geared to specifying general indicators or indicators peculiar to a number of specific fields, for the first time in Mulhouse we were able to implement the approach in its entirety. The conclusions to be drawn are many and varied, relating not only to the feasibility and validity of the approach proposed in the Guide but also to a whole set of methodological questions concerning the development of the indicators themselves. The following is a summary of the conclusions:

III. The Guide and local and regional authorities: an instrument of public action?

The application of the Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators in Mulhouse is therefore providing very interesting new prospects for social cohesion and democracy in the local and regional communities. It is demonstrating the Guide’s potential function as an instrument to facilitate consultation, citizen participation and development of references shared with the local population for implementing public or private action in the territory in question.

The experiment carried out shows that a process of this type can be implemented without any major investment. It can be based simply on the voluntary involvement of local operators and be implemented in its entirety in a limited number of meetings, ie in a manner that is not time-consuming for participants.

It is therefore an approach which can easily be transferred to any other territory. Drawing on specific methodological principles for the development of indicators rather than on pre-defined indicators, the approach is applicable to absolutely any context.

Nevertheless, the implementation of this approach presupposes some command of the methods of consultation and consolidation, and of the development and measurement of indicators. The Guide itself does not provide all the elements required for such a command. However, the Mulhouse experiment enabled us to conduct additional methodological clarification on the Guide, thus providing us with a working framework which is now fairly well established. This framework might be the subject of a booklet to be published alongside the Guide, geared to enabling other territories to incorporate the approach with ease.

IV. Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators at local and regional level: Recommendations to the municipalities and regions of Europe

The following initial recommendations, which are vital in affirming local democracy and social cohesion in European municipalities and regions, can be issued at this stage with an eye to local applications of the Methodological Guide to the Concerted Development of Social Cohesion Indicators:

1 The Congress Secretariat wishes to thank the consultant, Mr Samuel THIRION, for preparing this report.
2 The revised Strategy for social cohesion approved by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 31 March 2004, paragraphs 1 and 17.