Skip to main content
Danish Centre for Rural Research - CLF

Local community associations play an important role in the development of local areas in Denmark

Local community associations such as citizens' associations and local councils are widespread in Denmark, and a new study shows that the associations contribute with engagement, idea creation and resource generation in relation to developing local communities.

By Camilla Wissing Mortensen, , 3/7/2022

On January 1, 2007, a new municipal structural reform came into force that brought significant changes to the public sector.

271 municipalities were transformed into 98 new and larger ones, and while the average municipality size increased from 159 to 440 square kilometers, the number of local politicians in the municipal councils decreased from 4600 to 2500.

The change had an impact on the local communities, who experienced both a greater physical and mental distance from the municipal political system:

- Prior to the reform, local democracy was more manageable and center-periphery relationships were less prominent. The size of the municipalities after the reform has made it more difficult for a local politician in an average Danish municipality to maintain insight into all of the municipality's local communities, says rural researcher Annette Aagaard Thuesen from the Danish Centre for Rural Research.

As part of the reform, municipalities were therefore tasked with 'broadening the democracy' and finding new ways to involve citizens. Some municipalities solved this task by establishing a local council structure with local community associations as citizens' associations and local councils.

And local community associations actually have a significant impact on local democracy in Danish local areas. This is according to a new study conducted by Annette Aagaard Thuesen together with Associate Professor Klaus Levinsen and three student assistants from the sociology programmes in Esbjerg.

A rural phenomenon

The study is based on a survey of the local community associations in Denmark and shows that local community associations exist in the vast majority of municipalities in Denmark, 81 out of 98 to be exact. The associations are most often located in the rural areas of the municipalities, and the majority are formed on the initiative of people in the local area, while the rest are set up by the municipalities.

- In most municipalities, community associations are a rural phenomenon. They are often general associations elected or recognized by the citizens in the community and mostly based on voluntary engagement. They primarily take care of tasks related to the development of the local area, explains Annette Aagaard Thuesen.

About the study

 The study is conducted by Annette Aagaard Thuesen, Klaus Levinsen, Sanne Pedersen, Louise Bjørklid Levinsen and Marie Feddersen.

The study pays particular attention to the rural perspective, but has been nationwide and uncovers a specific form of organization in all of the country's local communities.

The study is based on a survey sent to the presidents of all citizens' associations, local councils and similar local community associations in Denmark, both in rural and urban areas. A total of 1,468 local community associations received the questionnaire and a response rate of 58 percent was achieved.

It was produced with support from the Rural District Pool's research and information funds.

Read the full study here (Danish)

(If you have problems with the link, write to to receive the report as a pdf. You can also receive a physical copy by writing to: We send while stocks last).

The associations are particularly concerned with the topics of 'beautification, building renovation and urban renewal', 'traffic and transportation', 'nature and outdoor life' and 'cultural initiatives', and many focus on activities that strengthen community cohesion. 37 percent of the associations, however, do not have an actual development plan.

Local democracy in practice

In addition to handling tasks related to the development of the local area, it is often the local community associations that engage in dialogue with the municipality about this development - and according to Annette Aagaard Thuesen, contact with the municipality is an essential prerequisite for the associations' role in local democracy:

- "Democracy is expressed when local actors are actively involved and have the opportunity to participate in local political decisions. Not only through hearings and dialogue with politicians and political institutions, but also by local actors themselves taking the initiative for proposals and changes, explains the rural researcher.

Meetings between the local and municipal levels are therefore an indicator of whether local democracy exists in practice, and the study paints a picture that this is indeed the case.

- "A large proportion of local community associations participate in regular meetings with the municipality," says Annette Aagaard Thuesen, but points out that it is the municipality rather than the associations that initiate the meetings.

An equal interaction

Annette Aagaard Thuesen points out that an essential prerequisite for establishing and maintaining a constructive collaboration between local community associations and municipalities is that the associations find the interaction equal and feel that they are involved when decisions of importance to the local area are made. However, the study shows a certain skepticism among the associations, emphasizes Annette Aagaard Thuesen:

- Almost a fifth of the associations believe that they interact with the municipality on an equal footing, while 38 percent believe that this is not the case.

The same skepticism is evident in the associations' assessment of whether the municipality takes them into account when making decisions of importance to the local area. Only just over a fifth of the associations believe that this is the case, while 41% believe that they are consulted to a lesser extent or not at all.

Local community associations

Local community associations go by a variety of names, with 'civic associations' and 'local councils' being the two most common. Civic associations are typically older than local councils, located further away from the town hall and in more sparsely populated areas.

Among the community associations, it is mainly the local councils that have been formed in the period after the structural reform in 2007. The associations are mainly formed on the initiative of citizens in the local area, but the local councils are to a greater extent than the citizens' associations formed on the initiative of the municipality or jointly with the municipality.

- On the other hand, things look a little better when the associations assess the municipality's ability to provide information on issues of importance to the local area. Here, just over a quarter of the associations are satisfied with the level of information, and just over a third believe that municipal politicians and administrative staff are knowledgeable about the role of the associations, says Annette Aagaard Thuesen.

This may be one of the reasons why 72 percent of the associations still state that they are generally satisfied with the interaction with the municipality. Not surprisingly, the researchers found strong statistical correlations between each of the different aspects of the collaboration and the associations' overall satisfaction with the interaction:

- The more the associations feel that they are taken into account, that they have an equal interaction with the municipality and that the municipality recognizes the volunteers' efforts, the more satisfied the associations are with the collaboration with the municipality, states Annette Aagaard Thuesen.

The local role of associations

The rural researcher underlines that the study generally shows that there is a lot of commitment, idea creation and resource generation in relation to developing the local communities, and that the local community associations are very important for democracy in the local areas:

- Associations are both social, cultural and political actors in civil society, and some of the associations' activities involve the municipality's political and administrative actors. For example, the associations are the voice of the local community's citizens when special cases and interests need to be represented to the municipality.

The study also shows that the relationship between local community associations and the municipal political system can be of great importance for both the realization of the associations' activities and wishes and the realization of the municipality's policies and goals. It also shows that municipal actors can actually use the associations to gather and disseminate information about conditions in different parts of the municipality's local areas.  

- In other words, community associations have both a developmental and a democratic role in local democracy. A well-functioning organization in local community associations can mean that space is created for 'getting things done' in the local community. The associations can also help to ensure that citizens feel heard and have access to exert their influence in the local community, says Annette Aagaard Thuesen.  

You can read the full study here (Danish)

(If you have problems with the link, please write to to receive the report as a pdf).

The researchers recommend

In the video below, the researchers provide 3 recommendations for a good collaboration between municipalities and local community associations:


Has proximity disappeared?

In the study, the researchers also investigated the extent to which the associations have experienced closures or deterioration of public and private services in their local areas. Listen to Annette Aagaard Thuesen talk about the results in the video below.


Key figures from the study

  • Association boards are relatively active, with half holding between 6-10 board meetings per year. However, one of the most prominent challenges for associations is recruiting new board members.

  • The associations mainly have contact with the citizens in their local area several times a year or once or several times a month.   

  • The topics the associations work with can be summarized in the three main areas: 'Social and cultural activities', 'political and strategic activities' and 'environment, climate and transport'. The latter two in particular also relate to the topic of democracy and participation.

  • Almost two-thirds of the associations state that they have some form of village plan/local development plan in their area. Associations formed by the municipality are more likely to have a development plan than associations formed by the local community.

  • Associations that have a local development plan are typically more active in each of the three topic areas than associations that do not have a development plan.

  • Associations with the designation local council and similar associations find it slightly easier to influence municipal decisions than citizens' associations and similar associations do. On the other hand, local councils and similar associations find it more challenging to ensure the visibility of the association in the local area.

  • The associations' dissatisfaction is particularly related to the association's finances, perceived lack of municipal responsiveness, weak organization and lack of self-efficacy. Satisfaction is about concrete results, fruitful cooperation with the municipality, good organization and a sense of self-efficacy and recognition.

You can read the full study here (Danish)

Meet the researcher

Annette Aagaard Thuesen is a rural researcher and researches, among other things, village development, local council organization and democracy.


Meet the researcher

Klaus Levinsen is an associate professor and researches citizen participation, voluntary organizations and democracy.


Editing was completed: 07.03.2022