, also known as citizen participation
, is the inclusion of the public in the activities of any organization or project. Public participation is similar to but more inclusive than stakeholder engagement
Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. This can be in relation to individuals, governments, institutions, companies or any other entities that affect public interests. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public's contribution will influence the decision.
Public participation may be regarded as a form of empowerment
and as vital part of democratic governance.
In the context of knowledge management
the establishment of ongoing participatory processes is seen by some in the facilitator of collective intelligence
and inclusiveness, shaped by the desire for the participation of the whole community or society.
Public participation is part of "people centred" or "human centric" principles, which have emerged in Western
culture over the last thirty years, and has had some bearings of education
, public policy
and international relief and development programs. Public participation is advanced by the humanist
movements. Public participation may be advanced as part of a "people first" paradigm shift. In this respect public participation may challenge the concept that "big is better" and the logic of centralized hierarchies, advancing alternative concepts of "more heads are better than one" and arguing that public participation can sustain productive and durable change.
In 1990 practitioners established the International Association for Public Practitioners in order to respond to the increasing interest in the practice, and in turn established the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).
The practice is well established globally and the International Association of Public Participation now has affiliate organizations across the globe.
Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary city residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting is usually characterized by several basic design features: identification of spending priorities by community members, election of budget delegates to represent different communities, facilitation and technical assistance by public employees, local and higher level assemblies to deliberate and vote on spending priorities, and the implementation of local direct-impact community projects. Participatory budgeting may be used by towns and cities around the world, and has been widely publicised in Porto Alegre
, were the first full participatory budgeting process was developed starting in 1989.
Video segment in 2011: "Without people participation development actions fail". - S.Kumar
Around the globe experts work closely with local communities. Local communities are crucial stakeholders for heritage.
Consultation with local communities is acknowledged formally in cultural management processes.
They are necessary for defining the significance of a cultural place/site, otherwise you run the risk to oversee many values, focusing on “experts’” views.
This has been the case in heritage management until the end of the 20th century. A paradigm shift started with the Burra Charter by ICOMOS Australia in 1979
and was later developed by the work of the GCI around 2000.
Today, so called “value-led conservation” is at the base of heritage management for WH sites: establishing stakeholders and associated values is a fundamental step in creating a Management Plan for such sites.
The concept of stakeholders has widened to include local communities.
Various levels of local government
, research institutions
, enterprises, charitable organisations
, and communities are all important parties. Activities such as knowledge exchange
, education, consultation, exhibitions, academic events, publicity campaigns, among others are all effective means for local participation.
For instance, local charities in Homs
have been undertaking several projects with local communities to protect their heritage.
A conservation programme in Dangeil, Sudan, has used social and economic relationship with the community to make the project sustainable over the long term.
In Australia, Indigenous communities increasingly have stewardship of conservation and management programs to care for, monitor and maintain their cultural heritage places and landscapes, particularly those containing rock art.
In some countries public participation has become a central principle of public policy
making. In the UK and Canada it has been observed that all levels of government
have started to build citizen
and stakeholder engagement
into their policy-making processes. This may involve large-scale consultations
, focus group
research, online discussion forums, or deliberative citizens' juries. There are many different public participation mechanisms, although these often share common features (for a list over 100, and a typology of mechanisms, see Rowe and Frewer, 2005).
Public participation is viewed as a tool, intended to inform planning, organising or funding of activities. Public participation may also be used to measure attainable objectives, evaluate impact, and identify lessons for future practice.
All modern constitutions and fundamental laws contain and declare the concept and principle of popular sovereignty, which essentially means that the people are the ultimate source of public power or government authority. The concept of popular sovereignty holds simply that in a society organized for political action, the will of the people as a whole is the only right standard of political action. It can be regarded as an important element in the system of the checks and balances, and representative democracy. Therefore, the people are implicitly entitled even to directly participate in the process of public policy and law making.
In the United States public participation in administrative rulemaking refers to the process by which proposed rules are subject to public comment for a specified period of time. Public participation is typically mandatory for rules promulgated by executive agencies of the US government. Statutes or agency policies may mandate public hearings
during this period.
In recent years loss of public trust
in authorities and politicians has become a widespread concern in many democratic societies. Public participation is a regarded as one potential solution to the crisis in public trust and governance, particularly in the UK, Europe, and other democracies. The idea is that public should be involved more fully in the policy process in that authorities seek public views and participation, instead of treating the public as simply passive recipients of policy decisions.
The underlying assumption by political theorists, social commentators, and even politicians is that public participation increase public trust in authorities, improving citizen political efficacy, enhancing democratic ideals and even improving the quality of policy decisions. However, the assumed benefits of public participation in restoring public trust are yet to be confirmed.
Accountability and transparency
Public participation may also be viewed as accountability enhancing. The argument being that public participation can be a means for the participating communities to hold public authorities accountable for implementation.
In the United Kingdom citizens are used to ensure the fair and humane detention of prisoners. Volunteers comprise the Independent Monitoring Board
that reports on the fair and humane detention of prisoners and detainees.
Environment and sustainable development
In recent years public participation has become to be seen as a vital part of addressing environmental problems and bringing about sustainable development
. In this context the limits of solely relying on technocratic bureaucratic monopoly of decision making, and it is argued that public participation allows governments to adopt policies and enact laws that are relevant to communities and take into account their needs.
The concept and practice of public participation has been critiqued, often using Foucauldian analytical frameworks.
Such accounts detail how participation can be a method of capturing community activity into regimes of power and control although it has also been noted that capture and empowerment can co-exist.
Public participation in environmental governance
With growing complexities of the environmental issues, public participation has come to the fore in academic analysis concerning the contemporary debates about environmental governance
There have emerged a number of arguments in favor of a more participatory approach, which stress that public participation is a crucial element in environmental governance that contributes to better decision making
. It is recognised that environmental problems cannot be solved by government alone.
Participation in environmental decision-making effectively links the public to environmental governance. By involving the public, who are at the root of both causes and solutions of environmental problems, in environmental discussions, transparency and accountability are more likely to be achieved, thus secures the democratic legitimacy of decision-making that good environmental governance depends on.
Arguably, a strong public participation in environmental governance could increase the commitment among stockholders, which strengthens the compliance and enforcement of environmental laws. GIS can provide a valuable tool for such work (see GIS and environmental governance
). In addition, some opponents argue that the right to participate in environmental decision-making is a procedural right that "can be seen as part of the fundamental right to environmental protection".
From this ethical perspective, environmental governance is expected to operate within a framework coinciding the "constitutional principle of fairness (inclusive of equality)", which inevitably requires the fulfillment of "environmental rights" and ultimately calls for the engagement of public.
Further, in the context of considerable scientific uncertainties surrounding environmental issues, public participation helps to counter such uncertainties and bridges the gap between scientifically-defined environmental problems and the experiences and values of stakeholders.
Through joint effort of the government and scientists in collaboration with the public, better governance of environment is expected to be achieved by making the most appropriate decision possible.
Although broad agreements exist, the notion of public participation in environmental decision-making has been subject to a sustained critique concerning the real outcome of participatory environmental governance. Critics argue that public participation tends to focus on reaching a consensus between actors who share the same values and seek the same outcomes. However, the uncertain nature of many of the environmental issues would undermine the validity of public participation, given that in many cases the actors come to the table of discussion hold very different perceptions of the problem and solution which are unlikely to be welded into a consensus due to the incommensurability of different positions.
This may run the risk of expert bias, which generates further exclusion as those who are antagonistic to the consensus would be marginalised in the environmental decision-making process, which violates the assumed advantage of participatory approach to produce democratic environmental decisions. This raises the further question of whether consensus should be the measure of a successful outcome of participation.
As Davies suggests, participative democracy could not guarantee the substantive environmental benefits 'if there are competing views of what the environment should be like and what it is valuable for'.
Consequently, who should be involved at what points in the process of environmental decision-making and what is the goal of this kind of participation become central to the debates on public participation as a key issue in environmental governance.
Citizen science is a coined term commonly used to describe the participation of non-scientists in scientific research.
Greater inclusion of non-professional scientists in policy research is important.
It is academia's responsibly to facilitate the "democratization of policy research". This has several benefits: having citizens involved in not just the contribution of data, but also the framing and development of research itself.
The key to success in applying citizen science to policy development is data which is "suitable, robust, and of a known quality for evidence-based policy making". 
Barriers to applying citizen science to policy development include a lack of suitability between the data collected and the policy in question and skepticism regarding the data collected by non-experts.
Right to public participation
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
states the right of every person to participate in the affairs of his country, either directly or by selecting representatives.
Likewise, the right to political participation means the right under which the ruling authority is committed to providing rights to citizens, including the right to nominate and elect representatives, to hold public office in accordance with the principle of equal opportunities, to participate in private and public meetings, and the right to form and join political parties.
Articles 20 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
make a similar declaration about the right to participate in the management of public affairs.
In some jurisdictions the right to public participation is enshrined by law. The right to public participation may also be conceived of as human right
, or as manifestation of the right to freedom of association
and freedom of assembly
. As such the Netherlands
, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, have public participation and freedom of information
provisions in their legal systems since before the Middle Ages.Democracy
and public participation are closely connected democratic societies have incorporated public participation rights into their laws for centuries. For example, in the US the right to petition has been part of the first Amendment of the US constitution
More recently, since the 1970s in New Zealand numerous laws (e.g.: health, local government, environmental management) require government officials to "consult" those affected by a matter and take their views into consideration when making decisions.
Effective public participation depends on the public having accessing to accurate and comprehensive information. Hence laws regarding public participation often deal with the issue of the right to know
, access of information and freedom of information
The right to participation may also be advanced in the context of equality
and group rights
, meant to ensure equal and full participation of a designated group in society. For example, in the context of disabled people.
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
The Rio Declaration
of 1992 enshrines public participation in its 27 principles. Principle 10 states that "environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level". The Rio Declaration
continues, drawing a close link between access to information
and public participation:
At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
recognised that "disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" and that "persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society."
The Convention makes participation of disabled one of its principles, stating "The principles of the present Convention shall be:...Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;", subsequently enshrining the right of disabled to participate fully and equally in the community, education, all aspect of life (in the context of habilitation and rehabilitation
), political and public life, cultural life, leisure and sports.
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Last edited on 21 April 2021, at 13:00
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