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Monday, 27 August 2012

47. A Design Checklist for Participatory Initiatives

As I've mentioned before, my PhD research is concerned with local government and paticipatory initiatives.  'Participatory initiatives' meaning the citizens' panels, area forums, participatory budgeting projects etc etc that aim to give the public some influence in the local policy process.  

One of the conceptual issues I face is tying down the precise characteristics of these participatory initiatives as they are all so different and are inevitably implemented in different ways.

For a broad typology I draw on Graham Smith's excellent Power Beyond the Ballot: 57 Democratic Innovations from Around the World - a report he produced for the Power Inquiry.  You can download it here.

Smith's typology looks like this:
  • Electoral innovations- aim to increase electoral turnout. Examples include postal ballots, electronic voting, positive abstention, compulsory voting, reducing voting age, universal citizenship
  • Consultative innovations aim to inform decision-makers of citizens’ views.  Examples include public meetings, focus groups, planning for real, community visioning, standing forums, standing citizens’ panels.
  • Deliberative innovations aim to bring citizens together to deliberate on policy issues, the outcomes of which may influence decision-makers. Examples include citizens’ juries, consensus conferences, deliberative opinion polling, America Speaks, national issues forums, study circles, deliberation days.
  • Co-governance innovations aim to give citizens significant influence during the process of decision-making. Examples include Chicago community policing, youth councils, participatory appraisal, participatory budgeting, Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, British Columbia.
  • Direct democracy innovations aim to give citizens final decision-making power on key issues. Examples include New England town meetings, referendum, initiative, recall, citizens’ assemblies selected by sortition.
  • E-democracy innovations aim to use ICT to engage citizens in the decision making process. Examples include e-voting, e-consultation, e-representatives, online deliberative polling, e-petitions, e-referendum, Minnesota E-Democracy, BBCiCan, HeadsUp

In order to help with a more detailed categorisation I've been collecting a list of variables that you can see in the list below.  It is specifically set in a UK local government context but could be easily adapted for other contexts.

As well as its research use it might also be handy as a checklist for councils looking to set up a participatory initiative - a set of choices that can be made at the design stage. It's very much a work in progress - all comments welcome!

Design Variables for Local Government Participatory Inititiatives

  1. Formal decisions are made on behalf of council [routinely, occasionally, never]
  2. Preferences or recommendations are agreed [routinely, occasionally, never]
  3. Preferences or recommendations are reported directly to council or cabinet [routinely, occasionally, never]
  4. The role of local ward councillors [formal, informal, none]
  5. The role of executive councillors [formal, informal, none]
  6. How the membership is chosen [open, restricted (e.g. geographic area, age group), selection mechanism (e.g. nomination, election)]
  7. Membership monitoring (e.g. to check representativeness) [formal, informal, none]
  8. Training for the membership [formal, informal, none]
  9. Set up by [community, council, Other body (e.g. voluntary group)]
  10. Agenda setting. [council, membership, joint]
  11. Expected level of public involvement [1-30, 30-60, 60+]
  12. The method of engagement [face to face, remote, mixed]
  13. Involvement of community groups or other outside bodies [formal, informal, none]
  14. Council wide policy role [formal, informal, none]
  15. Service improvement role [formal, informal, none]
  16. Budgetary role [formal, informal, none]
  17. Resources and support for the initiative [dedicated (e.g. specialist team), Integrated (e.g. built into to other roles), none]


Tim Bonnemann said...

Useful concept. With regard to #11, expected level of public involvement: What do the numbers/ranges mean?

Dave Mckenna said...

Hi Tim - simply the number of people who provide (or who are expected to provide)the 'membership' for the initiative e.g. those who attend a meeting. It's not very profound but is certainly an important issue for local politicians I find.

In survey work I have done 30 comes out as generally the lowest required by councillors for an initiative to have democratic legitimacy - hence the choice of that number. Once you get above 60, particularly face to face, I have found some concerns about manageability.

Sandy Heierbacher said...

Very interesting, Dave! I want to invite you to (1) become a member of NCDD and (2) submit a summary of your ideas (something like this post would be great) for the NCDD community blog at www.ncdd.org/submit. You must be an NCDD member to add to the blog, but you can join as a non-dues member if funds are an issue. You can learn more about the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) at www.ncdd.org/about and join at www.ncdd.org/join if you're interested. I think this would make a great post, and that NCDD members would be interested in taking a look and possibly providing some reactions.

Dave Mckenna said...

Thanks Sandy, I've had a quick look at your website and it certainly does look impressive! Do you have a UK presence or are you just in the US?

I'd certainly be interested in contributing something and will have a look at the membership. I've started following @ncdd so will look forward to keeping up that way.

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