The list, announced by communities minister Hazel Blears yesterday, is made up of councils of a variety of sizes from across England.
The programme, called Advancing Assets for Communities, will see up to 40 disused local authority buildings snapped up by community groups. The councils will share a budget of £400,000 to fund the administration of the scheme.
The move follows a review by Lewisham Council chief executive Barry Quirk that concluded there were no major barriers preventing the transfer of run-down council premises into community ownership. Lewisham Council is one of the 20 authorities.
The Development Trusts Association, Community Matters, the Local Government Association and Action with Communities in Rural England, are working together to draw up guidance on how community groups can be supported in taking the transfer of the properties.
Jess Steele, head of consultancy at the DTA, said the move would "support the long term viability of community anchor organisations".
The 20 councils involved in the pilot are: Ashfield, Birmingham, Cheshire, Cumbria, Dacorum, Devon, Forest Heath, Hastings, Kirklees, Lambeth, Leeds, Lewisham, North Tyneside, Nottingham, Peterborough, Restormel, Sheffield, Tower Hamlets, Tynedale and Warwick.