#5PAPERS – Week 2 Day 1

by Nivek K Thompson

1.Reference to the Article 

Oregon University (2003) Planning Analysis: The Theory of Citizen Participation [http://pages.uoregon.edu/rgp/PPPM613/class10theory.htm]

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

I’m interested in getting an overview of how academics conceptualise citizen involvement (public/political participation) and the title of this document suggests it will provide that.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

This document aims to provide an overview for students of Planning Analysis about the origins and history of citizen participation.

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

Principally a review of the literature.

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

Review the literature.

  1. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

This paper identifies two main approaches to citizen participation in decision-making:

  1. Technocratic ‘defined as the application of technical knowledge, expertise, techniques, and methods to problem solving’
  2. Democratic ‘citizen involvement activities in relation to government planning and policy making’

In regard to technocratic approaches they identify a key limitation being the fact that most issues requiring a decision are not simply technical and include social issues and hence values based decisions.

The analysis also considers so-called ‘Public Participation in Rational Policy Making’, which supports a more technocratic approach. They quote Kweit and Kweit (1986: 25) ‘In a democracy, it is the public that determines where it wants to go, and the role of its representatives and bureaucratic staff is to get them there. In other words, ends should be chosen democratically even though means are chosen technocratically.’

Basically the author/s argue for a more inclusive approach to planning decision-making and provide an overview of how this might best be achieved. They identify a key feature for successful citizen engagement as being ‘the disparity between the planner’s and the participant’s expectations is minimal’ noting that differences in expectations are the cause of most conflict in relation to planning decisions.

They use Arnstien’s Ladder of Citizen Participation, although they don’t explicitly comment on the labels for different types of participation. They recommend Priscoli and Homenuckm’s six goals or objectives for public consultation (1986:70) to – build credibility, identify public concerns & values, develop consensus, create ‘unsurprised’ apathetics, produce better outcomes and enhance democratic practice.

  1. What did I learn?

The theories/approaches to citizen participation identified don’t specifically address the level of influence citizens should/can have in the final decision, although they mention different approaches without explicitly conceptualising or evaluating them. Without some commitment to influence then citizen participation can simply be ‘window dressing’. And certainly won’t address concerns about the democratic deficit, particularly from the citizen perspective.

Kweit and Kweit quote is interesting as it lines up with something I was reading recently (can’t remember where) suggesting that all major policy decisions should be made by referendum with elected politicians only being responsible for identifying and overseeing implementation. Although these author/s suggests that the division could be Congress (Parliament) and an agency rather than and the people and the politicians.

Unfortunately the webpage has a heading ‘References’ but doesn’t actually provide any.

I didn’t learn much from this, although I will follow up a couple of the references.