Disruptive Methods in Participation and Governance - the case of Participatory Democracy
Participatory processes are increasingly employed by governments to explore new opportunities for democratic citizen engagement. These processes go beyond voting, and allow citizens and other stakeholders (e.g. civil society organizations, governments, academia, and/or businesses) to take part in ideating, debating, and implementing initiatives in the public sphere. In participatory approaches, citizens are invited to go beyond voting and contribute to drafting proposals, debating them, and implementing them in collaboration with local governments and other stakeholders.
Participatory budgeting is a common form of participatory democracy in recent years, where citizens vote to determine the allocation of particular funds (determined by local authorities) oriented towards community projects. The projects being voted upon are often co-created and generated from citizens’ ideas, to encourage deliberation amongst the community and more ownership over shared public resources. Firstly introduced by Porto Allegre in 1989, participatory budgeting is increasingly adopted by various countries in all continents. Participatory budgeting is becoming widespread in Europe following its initial popularization in the early 2000s.
Other forms of participatory democracy are similarly adapting to the changing attitudes towards governance, technical developments, and drastic changes in the public sphere (due to societal disruptions like social media proliferation and Covid-19). Participatory democracy, often aided through the use of online voting and deliberation platforms, is currently being applied to various fields in the public domain including environmental monitoring, urban planning, education, and transportation and mobility.
Criticisms of participatory democracy note:
- Limitations and difficulties in including a diverse, representative portion of the population;
- A tendency towards over-reliance on technology (which in turn may exclude certain people from the process);
- The scope (for example, budget, topic, or area) of participation is often limited and pre-determined by authorities;
- The difficulties, uncertainties, and long-term efforts which are inherent in participation.
The field of participatory democracy shows signs of addressing these criticisms in practice. Practitioners interviewed for the case studies below indicated an awareness of the challenges faced in the field. Current projects can and are taking steps to improve participatory practices by:
- Dedicating resources towards identifying people and groups who may traditionally be excluded in participatory practices, and working to include these people (e.g. by hosting live events in a given neighbourhood; collaborating with established community groups; communicating with media that is already familiar with a given group.
- When possible, hosting live meetings rather than working digitally.
- Allowing the boundaries of participation themselves to be a subject of participatory governance (e.g. allowing voters to decide how much budget will be dedicated to a participatory budgeting process);
- Tailoring budgets and project plans to account for experimentation and uncertainty.
- Being critical and realistic: asking questions like “To what extent is this process actually participatory?” and “What can we realistically achieve given our budget and mandate?”
This is an extract of our report on Case Studies for Participatory Mobility. You can read our research via this link: https://casestudies.urbanite-project.eu/