Single-tier councils must establish new relationships with the communities they serve, Douglas Sinclair, secretary-general of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said last week.
Outlining his vision of a reformed local government structure to a Scottish Community Education Council seminar, sponsored by The TES Scotland, Mr Sinclair said councils would have to create a variety of new mechanisms, such as local referendums, public hearings and citizen's charters to involve communities.
"The future of local government depends on the strength of local democracy," he said. It was vital to tap into communities' civic pride.
Charlie McConnell, the SCEC's director, called for local government "to be on tap, not on top". Tenants' groups, youth groups or community councils had to have access to council staff, many of whom would have to work more closely with the public.
"By and large, it is not apathy but cynicism that stops people getting involved. People often get involved but give up," Mr McConnell said. Residents in disadvantaged areas and housing schemes were generally more active than those in middle-class areas, he suggested.
A further five seminars on community governance linked to the reform of local government will take place over the next few weeks.