Department of Economic and Social Affairs Public Institutions
Committee of Experts on Public Administration

What is it?


The principle of subsidiarity holds that, to promote government that is responsive to the needs and aspirations of all people, central authorities should perform only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more intermediate or local level. 

Why is it important?


The central government has the capacity to deliver policy measures, but oftentimes does not have sufficient capacity or experience to know and evaluate individual citizens’ needs. Local authorities are in direct contact with their residents, including the most vulnerable groups, through social workers and their frontline staff, while also producing data. They should therefore be the primary body to evaluate and understand the specific needs of vulnerable citizens and groups. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that localizing the SDGs will be crucial to accelerate their overall achievement and on-the-ground implementation. It therefore calls upon Governments and public institutions to work closely with regional and local authorities, subregional institutions and other local actors, taking into account local conditions and needs. 

Commonly used strategies


Commonly used strategies include fiscal federalism, strengthening urban governance, strengthening municipal finance and local finance systems, enhancing local capacity for prevention, adaptation and mitigation of external shocks, and multilevel governance.

What are some key insights for governments?


Local and subnational governments often lack adequate technological capacity, financing, and support. Governments should therefore empower sub-national and local governments and ensure appropriate fiscal, political and administrative decentralization based on the principle of subsidiarity, including through the delegation of powers and the provision of sufficient financial and human resources.