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Innovations in democratic governance-How does citizen participation contribute to a better democracy?

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Over recent decades, many countries have gained experience with referendums, citizens’ forums, citizens’ juries, collaborative governance, participatory budgeting, and other models in which citizens have a more direct say. Citizen participation is usually considered a valuable element of democratic citizenship and democratic decision-making. Many theorists claim that citizen participation has positive effects on the quality of democracy. This article examines the probability of these claims for a large number of cases in different Western countries. Four types of democratic innovation are distinguished and evaluated according to the extent to which they realize positive effects on democracy. The findings show that citizen involvement has a number of positive effects on democracy: it increases issue knowledge, civic skills, and public engagement, and it contributes to the support for decisions among the participants. The analysis also makes it clear that the contribution of participation to democracy differs according to type of democratic innovations; deliberative forums and surveys appear to be better at promoting the exchange of arguments, whereas referendums and participatory policy making projects are better at giving citizens influence on policy making and involving more people. But, as I try to argue, since these positive effects are perceptible only to those taking part and the number of participants is often small or particular groups are underrepresented, the benefits to individual democratic citizenship are far more conclusive than the benefits to democracy as a whole. Points for practitioners This article distinguishes four types of democratic innovation and, for each type, examines the effects of citizen participation on the quality of democracy. It offers a systematic analysis of the contribution of participation to elements of democracy, such as influence on decision-making, inclusion, skills and virtues, deliberation, and legitimacy. The analysis points to a number of positive effects on democracy, but the findings also show that the contribution of participation to democracy differs according to the type of democratic innovations.
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Innovations in democratic governance – How does citizen participation contribute to a
better democracy?
Ank Michels
Introduction
Over the past decades, many countries have gained experience with referendums, citizens’
forums, citizens’ juries, collaborative governance, participatory budgeting, and many other
models in which citizens have a more direct say. Most people would view this as a positive
development. Citizen participation is usually considered a valuable element of democratic
citizenship and democratic decision-making. Also, theorists in democratic theory have argued
that a stronger role for citizens is vital to democracy. In particular, theories on participatory
democracy, deliberative democracy, and social capital, make a number of claims:
participation gives citizens a more direct say, it gives a voice to individual citizens and to
minorities, it encourages civic skills and civic virtues, it leads to rational decisions based on
public reasoning, and it increases the support for the outcome and the process. But the
fundamental question is whether there is empirical evidence to uphold this argument. Does
citizen participation, indeed, contribute to a better democracy?
While many academics have written about involving citizens in policy making,
empirical research about the actual effects of participation is scarce. Empirical studies on, for
example, empowered participatory governance (e.g. Fung, 2006), on deliberative democracy
(e.g. Fishkin, 2009; Hendriks et al., 2007), or on citizen governance (e.g. Van Stokkom,
2003), are mostly case studies on a limited number of cases and focusing on one or two
elements of democracy. The aim of this article is to assess the contribution of citizen
participation to democracy for different types of democratic innovation. In order to evaluate
the impact of citizen participation on democracy, I developed a framework for studying the
relation between citizen participation and democracy. This framework contains elements from
different theories on citizen participation. Furthermore, this study includes empirical evidence
about effects from 120 cases in different Western countries. The focus is on those forms of
citizen participation, which are related to policy problems and which usually are prompted or
facilitated by government.
The article starts out by discussing the theoretical claims about the contribution of
citizen participation to democracy as put forward in theories of participatory democracy,
social capital, and deliberative democracy. This section concludes with a framework for
analysing the relation between citizen participation and democracy. In the second subsection,
four types of democratic innovation will be distinguished. The method of data collection and
analysis is subsequently clarified, after which, in the third section, the framework is used to
analyse the main findings. The article concludes with some thoughts about the implications of
the findings for our understanding of the contribution of citizen participation to democracy.
Theoretical claims about the contribution of citizen participation
The development of complex mass societies in the twentieth century made direct citizen rule
an unrealistic option. Western democracies, therefore, became representative democracies in
which the elected representatives decide. Many political theorists, it should be noted, have
also defended representative democracy, as the most realistic option for modern democracies.
According to Schumpeter, democracy is a ‘method’, and its most essential feature is the
competition for leadership. The role of the people is merely to produce a government
(Schumpeter 1976: 269). And, although the democratic ideal of populist democracy is clearly
present in Dahl's ‘A Preface to Democratic Theory’ (1956), Dahl also argues that we need to
be realistic. In other words, the best we can do is to try to realize a set of conditions that
would be necessary and sufficient for maximizing democracy in the real world (Dahl 1956:
51). In his view, elections are essential to maximizing democracy. While Dahl searches for
conditions in terms of institutions and procedures to maximize populist democracy, others,
and particularly social choice theorists, have shown that it is impossible to define the will of
the majority (Riker, 1982; Rae and Daudt, 1976; Ostrogorski, 1964). As voters vote for party
programmes containing opinions on all types of issues, elections rarely reveal the preferences
of the voters on specific issues.
Some theorists who favour a narrow conception of political participation, emphasize
the negative aspects of participation and regard massive participation even as being
dangerous. Dahl argues that an increase in political activity among the lower socio-economic
classes could lead to more authoritarian ideas and thus to a decline in consensus on the basic
norms of democracy (Dahl 1956: 89). This view is shared by Sartori, who feared that massive
participation of the people could even lead to totalitarianism (Sartori, 1987).
Representative democracy is also being questioned. Complex decision-making
structures, in which many actors interact, and the decline of the representation function of
political parties (e.g. decreasing voter turnout and increasing electoral volatility, see Mair
2005) foster the discussion of the legitimacy of democracy and have raised demands for
additional forms of citizen participation (Cain et al., 2006). Theoretically, the role of citizen
participation in democracy is a discussion mainly conducted by participatory and deliberative
democrats. Although by no means exhaustive, we present the main theoretical arguments in
favour of more direct forms of political involvement of citizens in democracy (see also
Michels and De Graaf, 2010).
Participatory democrats have argued that delegation of decision-making power leads
to citizens becoming alienated from politics. They regard citizen participation as vital to
democracy. This notion derives from Rousseau, whose view that the participation of each
citizen in political decision-making is vitally important to the functioning of the state, laid the
foundation for theories on participatory democracy. According to Rousseau, the basis of the
political system is the social contract. Under this contract, individuals abstain from their own
desires and decide to work together and to be free by making the laws by which they are
governed. Modern theorists on participatory democracy do not want to limit participation to
political decision-making, but stress that participation should also encompass such areas as
the workplace and local communities (Pateman, 1970; Barber, 1984). Barber argues that an
excess of liberalism has undermined our democratic institutions and fostered cynicism about
voting and alienation among citizens. Large groups of citizens never vote, while those citizens
who are politically active mainly participate by electing persons who then do the actual work.
Participatory democrats believe that participation gives citizens a say in decision-
making, and thus enables them to exert influence on the decision-making process. They also
believe that participation has several other functions in democracy. The first is the educational
function: citizens increase their civic skills and become more competent when they participate
in public decision-making. In the second place, participatory democracy has an integrative
function. Participation contributes to the development of civic virtues, citizens’ feeling of
being public citizens and part of their community. As a consequence, they may also feel more
responsible personally for public decisions. And thirdly, participatory democracy contributes
to a greater legitimacy of decisions. As Rousseau already argued, participation plays an
important role in producing rules that are acceptable to all.
Similar views can be found in the work on social capital by the American sociologist
Robert Putnam. In his famous book Bowling Alone (2000), he shows in detail how Americans
have increasingly become disconnected from social structures, such as the church, cultural
organisations, sports clubs, or political organisations. Although there is less evidence of such
a disconnection from social structures in other countries (Trappenburg, 2008), the normative
argument is important here. Putnam considers participating in social networks and voluntary
organisations to be important to life satisfaction and, more importantly in this context, to
democracy (Putnam 2000: 338-40). Citizen engagement in social networks allows individuals
to express their interests and demands on government. It allows their individual and otherwise
quiet voices to be heard, and thus leads to more inclusion.
Networks of civic engagement also make citizens more competent. Those voluntary
associations are schools for democracy, where civic skills are learned. Participants learn how
to debate public issues and how to speak in public or to run a meeting. And, they become
acquainted with civic virtues, such as active participation in public life, trustworthiness, and
reciprocity (giving and taking).
In addition to these arguments, deliberative democrats argue that the essence of
democratic legitimacy is the capacity of those affected by a collective decision to deliberate in
the production of that decision (Dryzek and List, 2003; Gastil and Levine, 2005). According
to theories of deliberative democracy, deliberation rather than voting should be regarded as
the central mechanism for political decision-making (see for example: Gutmann and
Thompson, 2004; Fishkin and Laslett, 2002; Elster, 1998). Theorists differ over where
deliberation should take place and who should be involved. They mention a wide range of
possible deliberative forums, varying from parliament to expert forums and citizen panels
(Akkerman, 2006; Fishkin and Laslett, 2002). However, they all agree that deliberation
involves discussion and the exchange of arguments in which individuals justify their opinions
and show themselves willing to change their preferences. Participants discuss problems and
the proposed solutions to these problems. A deliberative process assumes free public
reasoning, equality, inclusion of different interests, and mutual respect.
Although critics argue that deliberation poses high and unrealistic demands on citizens
(Mutz, 2006), deliberative democrats believe that deliberation yields rational collective
outcomes. Moreover, as each individual has an equal voice and the opportunity to persuade
other participants, deliberation also allows minority and individual voices to be heard.
Furthermore, theorists of deliberative democracy also argue that deliberation contributes to
the legitimacy of decisions (Hendriks et al., 2007).
To sum up, theories of participatory democracy, deliberative democracy, and social
capital assert that citizen involvement has positive effects on democracy. Participatory
democrats emphasize that it gives citizens a say in decision making, encourages civic skills
and virtues, and increases the legitimacy of decisions. The theory of social capital emphasizes
that citizen participation contributes to the inclusion of individual citizens in the policy
process and that it encourages civic skills and virtues. And deliberative democrats assert that
through deliberation, the individual voices of citizens can be heard, rational decisions based
on public reasoning can be made, and the legitimacy of decisions increased.
Hence, citizen participation:
gives citizens a say in decision making (influence)
contributes to the inclusion of individual citizens in the policy process (inclusion)
encourages civic skills and virtues (skills and virtues)
leads to rational decisions based on public reasoning (deliberation)
increases the legitimacy of decisions (legitimacy)
Innovations in democratic governance
Policy-related citizen involvement outside the electoral process may take various forms
(Barnes, 1999; Smith, 2009). We can map these different forms using two key distinctions.
The first distinction, between individual and collective participation, refers to whether citizens
are approached as individuals and asked for individual opinions or votes, or collectively as a
group. The second distinction, between outcome and process, refers to the focus of citizen
participation. Some types of democratic innovation focus on the outcome and guarantee that
decisions will be taken seriously, whereas others focus on the process itself. In the latter type,
opinion formation is more important; there is no guarantee that decisions will be taken
seriously. Combining these two distinctions, four types of democratic innovation can be
distinguished: referendums, participatory policy making, deliberative surveys, and
deliberative forums (see table 1).
Table 1 about here
Referendums give individual people a direct vote in political decisions. Referendums
may be binding or non-binding (the consultative referendum). In deliberative surveys or
deliberative polls, just as in referendums, individual opinions are asked about a particular
issue. But unlike referendums, there is no direct relation with decision making. A random,
representative sample of the population is first questioned on a particular issue. Members of
the sample are then invited to gather to discuss the issue at stake. After the deliberations,
during which people have had the time and the opportunity to become more informed and
more engaged by the issue, the sample is again asked the original questions in order to see if
opinions have changed (see e.g. Fishkin, http://cdd.stanford.edu).
In contrast to both referendums and deliberative surveys, participatory policy making
and deliberative forums approach citizens more as a group and less as individuals.
Characteristic to participatory policy making, or interactive governance, is that there is a clear
relation with decision making in the sense that citizens and stakeholders are being asked to
advise government. The main aim is to hear opinions or to involve people in policy making
before taking decisions. Usually, a large group of people is involved. In contrast to
participatory policy making, deliberative forums are designed with the aim of being
deliberative, which means that the focus is on following the ideal deliberative procedures;
opinion formation and the exchange of arguments are more important than decision making.
Usually, only a small group of people takes part and tries to reach consensus in a deliberative
forum.
The distinction between the different types of democratic innovation forms the starting
point for analyzing the effects of participation. This study is first of all an empirical test of
normative theories that assume that participation matters to democracy. It is also an
explorative study, which tries to assess the effects of each of the various types of participation
on democracy, without specifying hypotheses beforehand. However, if we look at the design
and focus of participation (outcome versus opinion formation), we may expect to find a strong
influence on policy making for those democratic innovations that are aimed at decision
making (referendums and participatory policy making), and a greater emphasis on
deliberation for the deliberative forms.
In order to assess the effects of participation for each of the four forms, I collected
cases from various advanced democracies. I started my research by performing a scan of
relevant publications and websites published between the beginning of 2000 and the end of
2009. The selection also included initiatives that were completed in the 1990s, but on which
only after 1999 was reported. I used key words such as citizen participation, public
participation, citizen governance, referendums, and deliberation. I extended the number of
cases by performing keyword searches in other languages, by following up on references in
articles and reports, and by talking to experts in this field. It should be noted that, although
there are many studies on participation, most studies furnished information on only a few
democratic effects. After the initial selection of cases, I then selected those cases that included
information on at least two effects on democracy.
The data were obtained from two types of sources. The first were academic articles in
academic journals and books. Articles on the effects of citizen participation on elements of
democracy were found within different academic fields, including public administration and
policy science, political science, and psychology (see table 2 for examples of academic
journals). A second source comprised evaluation reports that had not been published in the
form of academic articles. Mostly, these evaluation reports had been executed and published
by research institutions, often in cooperation with the government or by government order
(table 2 presents some examples).
The same concepts were not always used to describe similar types of participation.
For example, what we call participatory policy making in this study, was also found to be
referred to as interactive policy making or governance, citizen governance, or citizen
participation in decision making. Referendums included popular initiatives and both binding
and non-binding (consultative) forms of referendums. Likewise, deliberative surveys were
also referred to as deliberative polls. Deliberative forums included different types of forums,
such as citizens’ juries, citizens’ conferences and dialogues, consensus conferences, and
planning cells. In total, the study comprised 120 cases: 20 referendums, 37 participatory
policy making cases, 22 deliberative surveys, and 41 deliberative forums.
Table 2 about here
Table 2 presents basic information about the cases in this study and the sources from
which I obtained the data. A large number of cases came from Australia, the Netherlands, and
the United States. The study also included Britain, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and a
number of other countries. As table 2 shows, of the 37 participatory policy making cases in
this study, 24 cases are Dutch, which may be due to the fact that participatory policy making,
or interactive governance, is particularly prominent in the Netherlands, especially at the local
level, where it forms part of a long tradition of cooperation and consensus forming
(Duyvendak and Krouwel, 2001). The information in the table also shows that although there
is a large variety of policy topics, the dominant topics vary according to type of citizen
participation: for example, whereas infrastructure and reconstruction of the city centre is a
dominant issue in cases of participatory policy making, more abstract issues, such as gene
technology and environmental issues dominate within the category of deliberative forums.
The analysis of this study is completely based on what is reported in the evaluation
reports and studies. A complicated factor of such a meta analysis is that the quality of the
studies varies. Sometimes thorough scientific research and justification form the basis for the
study. In other cases, the presentation of the data consists of a selection of descriptive
statistics and some interview quotes. Moreover, it is often difficult to compare the data of the
underlying studies, because the operationalisation of concepts may be different in different
studies. In order to minimize the problem of different interpretations and to make it possible
to draw more general conclusions, the first step was to operationalise the concepts in the
normative theories on participation and democracy, such as influence, inclusion, and
deliberation, into measurable criteria for evaluation. The starting point was the existing
evaluation criteria that were used in the reports and studies, on the basis of which I developed
my own interpretation of the concepts into criteria for evaluation. The second step, then, was
to assess each case in the light of these criteria. This approach, which will be discussed further
in the analysis below, made it possible to find patterns and to draw conclusions on the basis of
more than just one or a few cases, and thus to gain insight into the different effects of
participation for the various types of democratic innovation.
Assessing the effects of participation
In this section, the effects of citizen participation on influence, inclusion, skills and virtues,
deliberation, and legitimacy will be discussed. After a description of the criteria for analysis, a
presentation and discussion of the main findings follow.
Influence
Influence is usually not used as a criterion as such in evaluation studies. However, in almost
half of the evaluation reports in this study, some indication of what has been done with the
recommendations or vote of the participants in terms of policy is given. Influence in this study
is therefore defined as having an impact on policy.
In order to assess an impact on policy, the evaluation reports reviewed should contain
some indication of a policy change or policy continuance that is congruent with the
recommendations of the participants. Often, the report makes no mention of the impact on
policy, as can be seen in the table below. The figure between brackets indicates the number of
analysed cases, whereas N refers to the total number of cases for which information about the
impact on policy was reported. In particular, information is often lacking about the impact on
policy of deliberative surveys and deliberative forums. The reason for this is that the specific
role of deliberative forums and surveys is hard to define. The forum is often one actor among
others, and policy change a result of a mix of various processes and actors. As a consequence,
impact on policy is often not mentioned as an evaluation criterion for these types of
participation.
In those cases where we do find an impact on policy, we cannot always be sure
whether this change is a direct effect of the recommendations of the participants. Other factors
may also have played a role, and it could very well be that changes in policy might have been
carried out, even if the participants had recommended otherwise. Impact on policy, therefore,
refers to a connection between participation and policy, but does not tell us much about the
causality of the relation.
Table 3 about here
Table 3 shows that participation in referendums has the strongest impact on policy.
The general pattern is that the vote of the majority is followed. Even non binding
referendums, such as the Dutch referendum on the constitutional treaty, have a clear impact
on political decisions.1 The impact on policy is less strong in cases of participatory policy
making. Although the aim of participatory policy making is to involve citizens in the process
of policy making, in one third of the cases there is no connection between the policy decision
and the recommendations of the participants. In 16 cases, the evaluation studies provided no
information on the impact on policy. This may be due to the fact that evaluation studies on
citizen involvement in policy making are usually conducted not long after the policy process
has taken place, at which time policy implications tend not yet to be clear.
The policy impact of participation is again much lower for deliberative surveys and
deliberative forums. Little information was available on deliberative surveys; only three cases
were turned up. The information on deliberative forums was more plentiful. The impact of the
forums on policy appears to be low; in only 38% of the cases was there an impact on policy.
A number of these cases concerned current issues, for example in the field of infrastructure.2
Cases showing no policy impact were often deliberative forums on more abstract issues, such
as genetic testing and other ethical issues.3
To conclude, citizens participating in referendums and, to a much lesser extent, in
participatory policy making, have influence, in the sense that they have an impact on policy.
This differs from participation in deliberative surveys and deliberative polls where the impact
on policy is low.
Inclusion
Inclusion refers to the inclusion of individual citizens into the policy process. Studies do not
use the concept of inclusion, but instead use two different types of criteria that may be
regarded as two aspects of inclusion: access to the forum and the representativeness of the
forum. In this study, therefore, inclusion first refers to the openness of the forum to all
citizens. Is everyone allowed to take part or is there a selection of participants? And,
secondly, inclusion refers to how representative the forum is. How representative is the forum
for the population at large (age, sex, education), and have no relevant groups or interests been
excluded from participation?
As can be seen in table 4, information about inclusion can be found in a large number
of studies. Although openness of the forum is often not used as an evaluation criterion as
such, information about the openness of the forum can be found in the description of the case.
By contrast, in most studies, representation is used an explicit evaluation criterion.
Table 4 about here
When we compare the impact of citizen participation on inclusion for the different
categories of participation, there are some striking findings. Referendums are far more open to
everyone than any of the other categories. The reason we found open access to referendums in
90% of the cases instead of 100% is due to the fact that two cases were not referendums in the
strict sense, but were instead opinion surveys, representing the direct voice of the people
without being decisive.4 In both cases, a selection of people was invited to give an opinion on
the issue at stake. With respect to representation we cannot draw conclusions, since there are
only two cases that provide information.
Participatory policy making projects often were seen to be open to everyone to join (in
68% of the cases). However, this open access appears to conflict with the criterion of
representation. In only 33% of the cases were the participants representative of the population
at large. Young people and people from cultural minority groups often remained
underrepresented.5
By contrast, deliberative surveys were shown to be highly selective and representative,
using stratified random sampling techniques to select participants. Stratified random sampling
selects for particular characteristics, such as sex, age, and region. As a consequence, the
participants form a representative sample of the population at large.
Only a fraction of the deliberative forums were open to everyone (10%). And
although selecting participants was usually an important aspect of the design of deliberative
forums, the impact on representation (63%) was less than for deliberative surveys.6 Some
forums were too small to be representative. Others had difficulties in finding participants
among the less educated. One of the reasons might be that deliberative forums demand much
from participants in terms of verbal and intellectual qualities. Participants are expected to
exchange arguments and discuss opinions.
So, whereas referendums and cases of participatory policy making are more open than
deliberative forums and deliberative surveys, representation is higher for the deliberative
types of cases, in particular for deliberative surveys. With respect to inclusion, participation in
referendums and participatory policy making was found to contribute to the inclusion of more
people than deliberative surveys and forums do, but also more often to the exclusion of
particular groups.
Skills and virtues
This category consists of three elements: knowledge, skills, and virtues. Although knowledge
is not mentioned as such in democratic theories, it is either part of the skills or competences of
citizens or it is assumed to be a condition to come to rational decisions. In this, as in most
studies, knowledge refers to the knowledge of a particular issue, and is measured by
examining the difference in knowledge with respect to a set of questions concerning a
particular issue before and after participation. More in particular, an increase in the percentage
of respondents correctly answering questions about the issue, is understood to reflect an
increase in knowledge. However, since increase in knowledge is not measured separately for
each individual, we cannot assess whether an increase means that a small number of people
know much more about the issue or that a large number of people know a little more. The
development of skills and virtues in participation processes are gauged in different studies in
different ways. Some studies ask individual participants if and to what extent civic skills,
political engagement and interest have increased. Other studies ask more open questions about
what participants have experienced and learned and how that has changed their attitude
towards politics. In this study, skills are understood to refer to civic skills, such as debating
public issues and running a meeting. Civic virtues, finally, pertain to public engagement and
responsibility, political interest, the feeling of being a public citizen, and willing to be active
in public life.
Table 5 about here
Table 5 shows that there is some, but not much information about knowledge, skills
and virtues in the studies in hand. The contribution of citizen participation to knowledge,
skills, and virtues shows a similar pattern for referendums, participatory policy making,
deliberative surveys, and deliberative forums. In the large majority of cases, at times even up
to 100%, there is an increase in knowledge, skills, and virtues. However, we must guard
against overhasty conclusions. The information on referendums and participatory policy
making was, after all, derived from only a small number of cases.
More information was able to be found for deliberative surveys. An important
assumption of the deliberative survey (and of deliberative forums) is that people will be able
to formulate more well-considered opinions after they have had the time and the opportunity
to become more informed, and thus acquire more knowledge about the issue. In about half of
the deliberative surveys in this study, knowledge was an explicit evaluation criterion.7 In
100% of the cases, indeed, there was a clear increase in knowledge.
Deliberative forums show a similar pattern with respect to knowledge. Again, an
increase in knowledge was found in 100% of the cases. In addition, we also saw an increase in
civic virtues in almost all cases. Participants in deliberative forums indicated that they have
become more politically engaged and that political interest has increased.8 The impact on
civic skills is less unambiguous. An impact on skills was reported in 66% of the cases. In the
other cases, participants observed no increase in civic skills.9
Deliberation
Deliberative democrats, in particular, claim that citizen participation in deliberative settings
may contribute to rational decisions based on public reasoning. Whether or not decisions are
rational is difficult to assess. The focus in this subsection, therefore, is on the quality of public
reasoning. Based on the criteria that are used in the evaluation studies, deliberation in this
study first refers to the exchange of arguments and to the willingness to hear other points of
view and to debate issues, and second, to the shift in preferences (are people willing to change
opinions). Information about deliberation mainly relates to deliberative surveys and
deliberative forums, as can be seen in the table below. This is due to the fact that academic
experts in the field of deliberative democracy, who were particularly interested in how well
these forums performed from a deliberative point of view, carried out most of these studies.
Whether a shift in preferences took place is often an explicit evaluation criterion in these
studies, which is measured by asking participants to give their opinions on a particular issue
before and after deliberations. And although deliberation is not an essential aspect of the
design of referendums and participatory policy making, the study of these cases offered
information, albeit largely descriptive on this issue.
Table 6 about here
The different types of democratic innovation affect deliberation to varying degrees. A
number of referendums revealed evidence of opinion shifting during the referendum
campaign.10 In the case of referendums, a change of opinion might not be the result of a
discussion between voters, but instead be the result of the referendum campaign and the
interaction between political parties, public debate and the reflection of the debate in the
media.
The evidence that participatory policy making can affect deliberation is mainly based on
perceptions of the participants themselves. In about one third of the cases reported, there was
evidence of a positive effect on the readiness to exchange arguments. However, this did not
automatically result in all cases to a willingness to change opinions.11 A shift in preferences
could only be found for 2 cases.
By contrast, the evidence was relatively straightforward for deliberative surveys and
deliberative forums. The vast majority of cases showed a clear impact on the exchange of
arguments and a shift in opinions. Strikingly, in only 8 out of 22 cases of deliberative surveys
did the studies explicitly report on the exchange of arguments. The reason for this is that
deliberative surveys assume an exchange of arguments; it is part of the design.
To conclude, with respect to the contribution of participation to deliberation, deliberative
surveys and forums are more effective when it comes to encouraging the exchange of
arguments and the willingness to shift preferences compared to referendums and, to a larger
extent, to participatory policy making.
Legitimacy
Does citizen participation contribute to the legitimacy of decisions? Since the level of analysis
in this study is the case, we cannot draw conclusions about the effects of participation on
legitimacy at the level of the political system. In other words, we do not know whether
participation by a group of people contributes to a broad support for political decisions and
political institutions among the population at large. Legitimacy in this study, therefore, is
defined as the extent to which participants and other key actors support and accept the process
and the outcome in that specific case. Other actors include, for example politicians, the media
and interest groups. When we look at the evaluation studies at issue, support is often
measured by asking people how positive or negative they are about the process and outcome
and whether they accept the decisions and conclusions. Sometimes, interviewees are asked to
reflect upon their experiences with the project, leaving room for all sorts of answers,
including the issue of legitimacy. In all cases, legitimacy is perceived legitimacy from the
perspective of the interviewees.
Table 7 shows that the information on this issue is limited to cases of participatory
policy making and deliberative forums. For deliberative forums information is also available
about the support for the process and outcome by other actors.
Table 7 about here
The general picture is that those who participate are positive about the process and the
outcome (an impact was reported in 84% of the cases of participatory policy making and 87%
of the deliberative forums). This finding contrasts with the support reported for other actors.
In only 50% of the participatory policy making cases were other actors supportive of the
process and outcome, a percentage that was even lower for the deliberative forums (33%).12
It may well be that groups of people who are not involved in the process feel more free to be
critical. In addition, studies have also shown that groups can feel disappointed at having been
excluded from participation. This disappointment is then masked by the development of a
critical attitude.
Conclusion
Many theorists claim that citizen participation has positive effects on the quality of
democracy. This article examined the probability of these claims for a large number of cases
in different Western countries. The data were obtained from existing evaluation studies. This
approach may have a number of possible weak points, such as the comparability of different
cases. Furthermore, because I selected only case studies that assessed at least two effects on
democracy, I may have missed other interesting examples because information was lacking.
And, finally, it is sometimes difficult to measure the relation between participation and
democracy, as the discussion of influence makes clear. Nevertheless, this approach made it
possible to find patterns and to gain insight into different effects of participation for the
various types of democratic innovation.
This study shows a number of patterns in the way participation affects democracy.
First, with respect to the cases for which information was reported, the findings show that
citizen participation has a positive effect on the development of knowledge, skills and virtues,
no matter which form of citizen participation is examined. Moreover, involved citizens
generally have positive attitudes about the process and the outcome, whereas those who do
not participate are less supportive.
But the analysis also makes it clear that, with respect to other criteria, the contribution
of participation to democracy differs according to type of democratic innovation. The main
difference is between participatory policy making and referendums on the one hand and,
deliberative surveys and deliberative forums on the other hand. The distinction in focus
(outcome and decision making versus process and opinion formation) appears to be crucial in
understanding the contribution of different forms of citizen participation to democracy. In the
first place, citizens participating in referendums and participatory policy making have more of
an impact on policy than do participants of deliberative surveys and deliberative forums.
Moreover, there appears to be a tension between the quality and the quantity of participation.
Whereas deliberative forums and surveys are better at promoting the exchange of arguments,
referendums and participatory policy making projects are better at involving more people.
This conclusion, that type of democratic innovation matters, could also be phrased in terms of
the theories that formed the basis for the analysis. The argument of participatory democrats
that participation gives citizens a say in decision making appears to be accurate in the case of
referendums and participatory policy making. Likewise, the emphasis on public reasoning by
deliberative democrats applies more frequently in respect of deliberative surveys and forums.
What are the implications of this for our understanding of the relevance of citizen
participation to democracy? How does citizen participation contribute to a better democracy?
One of the contributions of citizen participation is that it has positive effects on the individual
skills and virtues. It thus contributes to democratic citizenship. Secondly, in as far as there are
(other) positive effects of participation, such as on deliberation and legitimacy issues, these
effects are only able to be perceived with regard to those taking part. Because the level of
analysis in this study is the case, we cannot draw conclusions about the contribution of citizen
participation to democracy as a whole. We do not know whether citizen participation projects
also lead to more support, deliberation, or skills among those that do not take part. However,
what we do know is that the number of people becoming involved represents a relatively
small portion of the population and that particular groups are often underrepresented. Thus,
citizen participation has a number of positive effects for those that participate. It encourages
civic skills and virtues, increases the legitimacy of decisions, and either encourages
deliberation or gives citizens an impact on policy. But, as long as large groups are excluded
from participation, doubts about the benefits to democracy as a whole will persist.
1 Michels, A. (2009)’Ideological positions and the referendum in the Netherlands’, in: M. Setälä and T. Schiller
(eds.), Referendums and Representative Democracy. Responsiveness, accountability and deliberation. London &
New York: Routlegde, pp. 56-74.
2 See for examples www.21stcenturydialogue.com and Gregory, J., Hartz-Karp, J. and Watson, R. (2008),
‘Using deliberative techniques to engage the community in policy development’, in: Australian and New
Zealand Health Policy, 5 (16) for cases on infrastructure in Australia.
3 See Zimmer, R. (2003) ’Begleitende Evaluation der Burgerkonferenz ‘Streitfall Gendiagnostik’. Karlsruhe:
Fraunhofer-Institut fur Systemtechnik und Innovationsforschung; Bertilsson, M. (2004) ‘Governance of Science
and Technology: the Case of Denmark’, STAGE, Discussion Paper 31, Copenhagen.
4 See www.activedemocracy.net (the New-Zealand case on televoting) and www.partizipation.at (the case in
Austria on health and pollution in Graz). The difference with a deliberative survey is that in these cases there is a
direct relation with decision making.
5 For example: Edelenbos, J. and R. Monnikhof (2001) Lokale interactieve beleidsvorming. Een vergelijkend
onderzoek naar de consequenties van interactieve beleidsvorming voor het functioneren van de lokale
democratie. Utrecht: Lemma; Bodd, J. & De Graaf, L. (2007) ‘Interactie in actie: Een kwantitatief en kwalitatief
onderzoek naar 38 interactieve projecten van de gemeente Eindhoven’. Fontys Hogeschool Social Studies
Eindhoven & Tilburgse School voor Politiek en Bestuur.
6 See for example citizen juries and forums in Spain (Font, J. and Blanco, I. (2007) ‘Procedural legitimacy and
political trust: The case of citizen juries in Spain’, in: European Journal of Political Research, 46 (4), pp. 557-
589), in Ireland (French, D. and Laver, M. (2009) ‘Participation Bias, Durable Opinion Shifts and Sabotage
through Withdrawal in citizens’ juries’, in: Political studies, 57 (2), pp. 422-450), in the Netherlands (Van der
Kolk, H. and Brinkman, M. (2008) ‘Kiezen voor een nieuw kiesstelsel. Deel 1: De selectie van het Burgerforum
Kiesstelsel 2006’. Enschede: Universiteit Twente), and in Australia (Gregory a.o., idem; Wallington, T.,
Lauwrence, G. & Loechel, B. (2008) ‘Reflections on the Legitimacy of Regional Environmental Governance:
Lessons from Australia’s Experiment in Natural Resource Management’, in: Journal of Environmental Policy
and Planning, 10 (1), pp. 1-30.
7 See for examples in Britain, United States, Hungary, Australia, and Italy: cdd.stanford.edu/;
www.21stcentrurydialogue; www.peopleandparticipation.net/.
8 Examples are deliberative forums in Finland (Grönlund, K., M. Setälä & K. Herne (2007) ‘Deliberation and
Civic Virtue. Learnings from a Citizen Deliberation Experiment’, Paper presented at the research seminar
“Political Participation and Modes of Democracy”, International IDEA, Stockholm, 10 December), in the
Netherlands (Huitema D. and R. Lavrijsen (2006) ‘Burgerparticipatie en politieke betrokkenheid’, in: D.
Huitema, S. Meijerink, J. Ragetlie & B. Steur (2006), De boel bij elkaar houden. Amsterdam: Rozenberg, pp.
81-84), and Australia (citizensparliament.org.au).
9 For example: the Finnish forum on nuclear energy (Grönlund a.o., idem), and the Dutch citizens’ forum on
electoral reform (Van der Kolk, H. (2008) ‘Kiezen voor een nieuw kiesstelsel. Deel 2: Informatieverwerving,
meningsvorming en besluitvorming binnen het Burgerforum Kiesstelsel in 2006’. Enschede: Universiteit
Twente).
10 For example: Leduc, L. (2009) ‘Campaign tactics and outcomes in referendums: a comparative analysis’, in:
M. Setälä & T. Schiller (eds.), Referendums and Representative Democracy. Responsiveness, accountability and
deliberation. London & New York: Routlegde, pp. 139-161, and Font, J. & E. Rodriquez (2009), ‘Intense but
useless? Public debate and voting factors in two referendums in Spain’, in: M. Setälä & T. Schiller (eds.), idem.
11 See for example: Wijdeven, T. & De Graaf, L.(2008) ‘Met vertrouwen van start in het Groningse Nieuw
Lokaal Akkoord, Over werken vanuit vertrouwen in de buurt (deel 2)’. Tilburg: Tilburg University, Tilburgse
School voor Politiek en Bestuur, and Bodd, J. & De Graaf, L. (2007), idem.
12 As for example in the Australian case on gene technology (Hendriks, C.M. (2004), Public Deliberation and
Interest Organisations: A study of responses to lay citizen engagement in public policy. Thesis Australian
National University, Canberra.), the Irish case on waste management (French, D. and Laver, M. (2009), idem),
and the Spanish case on urban planning (Font, J. and Blanco, I. (2007), idem).
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Tables
Table 1: Forms of citizen participation
Individual Collective
Outcome / decision
making
Referendums Participatory policy making /
interactive governance
Process / opinion
formation
Deliberative surveys Deliberative forums
Table 2: Cases and sources
Referendums
(N=20)
Country Canada (3 cases); Switzerland (2); other countries,
such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany (15)
Policy topic Constitution (9 cases); other topics, such as the
Euro, abortion, local issues (11)
Sources Academic articles (18) in for example: Public
Choice; British Journal of Political Science;
European Journal of Political Research
Evaluation reports (2) by Forschungsgesellschaft
Mobilität and municipality of Graz (Austria); New
Zealand Commission for the Future (New Zealand)
Participatory
policy making
(N=37)
Country Netherlands (24); United States (5); other countries
such as United Kingdom, Austria, Germany (8)
Policy topic Infrastructure and reconstruction city centre (13);
safety and quality of life in neigbourhoods (11);
public land management (6); other topics such as
noise pollution (7)
Sources Academic articles (16) in for example: Public
Administration Review; Journal of Urbanism
Evaluation reports (21) by e.g. ‘Instituut voor
Publiek en Politiek’ (Netherlands); Fontys
Hogeschool and Municipality of Eindhoven
(Netherlands); Zebralog and Municipality of Essen
(Germany)
Deliberative
surveys (N=22)
Country Australia (6); United Kingdom (5); United States
(5); other countries, such as Denmark, Italy (6)
Policy topic Transportation and infrastructure (4); constitutional
issues (3); environmental issues (2); other topics
such as education, regional development (13)
Sources Academic articles (5), in e.g. Australian Journal of
Psychology, Scandinavian Political Studies
Evaluation reports (17), by e.g. Center for
Deliberative Democracy (United States); 21st
Century Dialogue (Australia)
Deliberative
forums (N=41)
Country Australia (10); United States (5); Germany (5);
United Kingdom (4); Denmark (3)
Policy topic Gene technology (8); environmental issues (7);
infrastructure (5); urban/regional planning (4);
other topics such as health and nuclear energy (17)
Sources Academic articles (21), in e.g. Political Studies;
Journal of Community and Applied Social
Psychology; Policy Science; Adult Education
Quaterly; Journal of Environmental Policy and
Planning
Evaluation reports (20), by e.g. NewDemocracy
Foundation (Australia); Fraunhofer-Institut für
Systemtechnik und Innovationsforschung
(Germany); STAGE Network Science, Technology
and Governance in Europe (Denmark)
Table 3: Influence
Impact % N
Referendums 93 14* (20)**
Participatory
policy making
66 21 (37)
Deliberative
surveys
33 3 (22)
Deliberative
forums
38 17 (41)
* indicates the total number of cases for which information about the impact on policy was
reported. ** refers to the number of analysed cases.
Table 4: Inclusion
Openness Representation
Impact % N Impact %
N
Referendums 90 20 (20) 50 2 (20)
Participatory
policy making
68 34 (37) 33 24 (37)
Deliberative
surveys
5 21 (22) 94 18 (22)
Deliberative
forums
10 38 (41) 63 30 (41)
Table 5: Skills and virtues
Knowledge Skills Virtues
Impact
%
N Impact
%
N Impact
%
N
Referendums 82 6 (20) 100 1 (20)
66 3 (20)
Participatory
policy making
50 2 (37) 100 4 (37)
80 5 (37)
Deliberative
surveys
100 10 (22) 100 2 (22)
100 4 (22)
Deliberative
forums
100 10 (41) 66 9 (41)
95 10 (41)
Table 6: Deliberation
Exchange of
arguments
Shift in preferences
Impact % N Impact % N
Referendums 0 1 (20) 90 10 (20)
Participatory
policy making
36 11 (37) 28 7 (37)
Deliberative
surveys
100 8 (22) 90 21 (22)
Deliberative
forums
93 16 (41) 92 13 (41)
Table 7: Legitimacy
Support participants Support Others
Impact % N Impact % N
Referendums 100 1 (20) 0 (20)
Participatory
policy making
84 14 (37) 50 4 (37)
Deliberative
surveys
100 5 (22) 0 (22)
Deliberative
forums
87 15 (41) 33 15 (41)
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