#5PAPERS – Week 3 Day 5

by Nivek K Thompson

  1. Reference to the Article 

Fung, A. (2015). Putting the Public Back into Governance: The Challenges of Citizen Participation and Its Future Public Administration Review, 75(4), 513-522.

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

Archon Fung is a prolific author in the area of democracy, democratic innovation and participation. This particular article drew my attention because I have been thinking that there may some of the literature in the networked governance area might be relevant to my research interests and the title of this article suggests it addresses the relationship between governance and participation directly.

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

This paper ‘takes stock of claims about the potential of citizen participation to advance three values of democratic governance; effectiveness, legitimacy, and social justice.’ p.512

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

Fung’s article comes in response to the growth in ‘experiments’ in participatory governance and his wish to evaluate the claims made of them.

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

Fung builds on his 2006 article which considered participation and governance from two angles: domain (the independent variables related to design choices) and range (the outcomes sought from design choices). This article looks at trends since 2006 with a focus on range e.g. the values that participation might support and the opportunities and challenges of doing this. He takes an inductive approach to this review.

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

Despite a lack of formal quantification of participatory processes Fung suggests there has been

  • significant growth in participatory innovations, especially supported by the World Bank
  • expansion into new areas of policy and governance
  • growing diversity of actors promoting and supporting these innovations
  • emergence of organizations focused on delivering and supporting innovative forums

However, despite these changes he suggests that the pubic hearing or traditional public meeting still predominate, despite numerous limitations e.g. engage mainly higher socio-economic groups and people highly interested in the topic, citizens mainly listen to officials and have little opportunity to participate and as a result these meetings have little impact on decision-making.

Using the “democracy cube” developed in his 2006 article, which identifies ‘three key variables in the construction of public engagement: (1) who participates, (2) how they communicate and make decisions, and (3) the extend of their influence over social action and public decisions’ and considering the ‘three central democratic values: legitimacy, effective governance, and justice.’ p.515, he looks at the impact of recent [deliberative?] mini-publics.

Considering legitimacy he reviews a number of mini-publics tasked with reviewing and making recommendations about ‘the rules of the game’ e.g. voting systems and electoral boundaries. His view is that engaging citizens to make recommendations or decisions in these areas can enhance the legitimacy because they may:

  • avoid obvious conflicts of interest
  • be more attuned to community attitudes and realities, and
  • result in identification as ‘someone like me’ from other citizens.

Looking next at Effective Governance he defines this as being able to solve the problems facing governments (and communities). He mentions that in his earlier article he considered this from the perspective of single government agencies engaging with citizens to improve their effectiveness. Here is focuses on ‘multisectoral problem solving and individualized engagement.’ p.517

He notes that many of the networked or collaborative governance arrangements established to address ‘wicked problems’ don’t involve citizen engagement, those that do he calls ‘participatory multisectoral problem solving’ p.517 The rationale he advances for engaging citizens directly in collaborative governance endeavours is

  • citizens affected by the issue/s can help officials to better frame the issue/s
  • where ethical or material trade offs are required citizens are well placed to make these calls
  • affected citizens can provide information relevant to the design and evaluation of solutions, and
  • citizens can be engaged in the co-production of solutions.

He provides only one example of this type of activity from New Mexico focused on improving the welfare of children.

In regard to individualized engagement his focus is on problems that are best solved by individual action (‘individual, even personalized, coproduction’ p.518). He gives an example in health care improving knowledge and information sharing amongst patients and between health practitioners. Fung notes that this type of engagement is not often seen as ‘democratic’ however he argues that ‘from a broader vantage, however, democratic governance ought to include a fuller range of activities through which individuals influence organizational decisions and actions – and themselves take action – to protect their interests.’ p. 519

Fung’s final ‘democratic value’ is Justice, which ensures just outcomes through broader engagement, rather than engagement by powerful (political, economic and/or social power) minorities. He notes however that what in one place can deliver social justice and redistribution e.g. participatory budgeting in Brazil can, when transplanted to other places instead support ‘civic education and popular legitimation.’ p.519 He observes that whether enhanced participatory mechanisms also enhance justice (greater equality) may depend on whether the proponents of these mechanisms are seeking this or not. Although it is possible that through achieving the other goals, equality may be enhanced indirectly through making political elites more responsive to broader perspectives than they would otherwise be.

Finally he identifies three challenges to deepening democracy:

  1. leadership – he asks ‘what changes would produce more systematic political, civic, and administrative leadership for participatory innovation?’ p.520, noting that there needs to be incentives for political elites such as electoral support for such initiatives.
  2. role of non-elected citizens – noting ‘the lack of a broad popular articulation and agreement on the role of nonelectoral public participation in contemporary democratic institutions.’ p.520, noting the ‘lack of any background agreement, or even common orientation, on even basic questions about public participation’ p.520
  3. triviality – whilst there has been a proliferation of participatory innovations their reach has been limited – limited influence over outcomes, agendas are constrained, resources supporting the processes are small. These limitations can result in disappointment from citizens who participate and from political elites who mistake these limitations with failures of the participatory process.
  1. What did I learn?

I’m not sure where his ‘three central democratic values: legitimacy, effective governance, and justice’ come from? Whilst he does set out what each of these means and why they are important, I wonder why, with so many different approaches/criteria as to what constitutes ‘quality’ democracy, he choose these three.

His individualized engagement sounds very much like the UK ‘nudge’ work, using education and information to elicit behavioural change. It would be interesting to compare his examples of individualized engagement with the UK work, but as it doesn’t relate to my research that will have to go on the ‘another time’ list.

Fung’s consideration of the aims of proponents of participatory innovations is likely to be relevant to my research. Are political elites undertaking these innovations to enhance legitimacy or efficacy or are they also interested to enhance equality [or from my research perspective – democracy]? This also goes to the idea of what democracies should deliver or need to contain to be considered a ‘quality democracy’. Morlino and other’s work suggests that equality is a key element of democracy because without it democracy can’t exist.

His conclusion that advancing social justice is likely to be the hardest of the three democratic values to achieve speaks directly to the critiques in Democratizing Inequalities.

This paper brings together multiple strands of thinking around the value and potential and limitations of participatory innovations. His writing makes this look easy, whereas when I think about the multiple strands relevant to my research (many of which Fung has addressed in this paper) my mind is a writhing mess! I’m glad I read this paper and will definitely read his earlier paper ‘Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance’ 2006 which was selected as one of the Public Administration Review’s 75 most influential articles.