Different governments from across the globe operate with different governing approaches. In the contemporary times, democracy is the most popular style of governing citizens within the political atmosphere (Roberts, 2015). It is again notable that different democracies adopt different social and cultural structures and traditions which represent the value and behaviors of their citizens. The distinctions among the different democracies are usually base on the manner in which they develop and adopt citizen/community participation (Roberts, 2015). In essence citizen participation in government is the foundation of democracy because democracy is defined as a government for the people, and by the people. The participation of the people refers to their involvement in public decisions (Roberts, 2015). This is what results in the democratic decision making process (Roberts, 2015). This paper explores the democratic decision making policy from the perspective of citizen/community participation. The paper first defines effective citizen/community participation, and then it discusses the factors that contribute to effective as well as ineffective citizen participation. Thereafter the paper talks about the mechanisms that enhance community participation in democratic decision making. This is followed by discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of enhancing citizen participation in the democratic decision making processes.
Democratic decision making definition
Effective Citizen/Community Participation
Citizen or community participation is usually aimed at ensuring that the decisions made and policies adopted by the government serves the interests of the general public (Jimenez-Gomez & Gasco Hernandez, 2016). Through the participation, the citizens are able to voice their concerns, ideas and suggestions on matters that directly affect them. Therefore, the effectiveness of their participation refers to the extent of which they are able to influence policy decisions in their country (Aladalah, Yen, & Lee, 2015). Hence effective citizen participation indicates the influence that the general citizen population has on the priorities of their government. It is important for effective citizen participation to be in place within democratic countries because social, economic and cultural environment constantly evolves, and so does the demands and needs of the citizens (Bengtsson & Christensen, 2016). The citizen participation helps steer the direction of policies towards their needs and wellbeing.
The effectiveness of citizen or community participation can be measured with regards to the impact that it has on the decision making processes, and or the outcomes of decisions and actions (Stansbury, 2004). It can also be evaluated from the perspective of the group that benefits the most, and by how much it benefits. The groups that benefit from the participation of citizens include the government and the citizens (Stansbury, 2004). Countries that are democratized usually have and respect the rights and duties of their citizens and this is what prompts them to accord the citizens with opportunities to actively participate in policy making processes (Stansbury, 2004). This in turn allows the citizens to shape the community and environment that they live in.
Democratic decision making process
Factors that contribute to effective/ineffective Citizen Participation
The environment that the government creates for citizen participation as well as the encouragement that the citizens receive to participate in particular political or public spheres influence the effectiveness of their participation (Bracken, Grable, O'Brien, Sobrero, & Warren, 2009). For instance, the government can encourage participation through representative groups. The citizens are then in charge of selecting the members who represent them in the various interest groups (Tudor, 2009). Examples of the interest groups can be legislatures, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) human rights groups, local community leaders, and or community representatives among others. The involvement of the stakeholders in the policy making process directly promote effective citizen participation (Jimenez-Gomez & Gasco Hernandez, 2016). When it comes to particular issues which are sensitive and directly affect each and every individual within a jurisdiction, citizen participation is enhanced through means of voting. Example of such an issue can be the selection of the president or local leader. The participation of the citizen under circumstances will involve voting because voting accords each individual with the opportunity to decide who they want to be their leader (Huang & Feeney, 2016). Majority votes is usually considered as the voice and decision of the citizens, hence it is respected. This also means that barriers to voting rights of the citizens limit the effectiveness of citizen participation.
Another factor that contributes to effective citizen participation is transparency and accountability of the decision making process (Stansbury, 2004). Accountability and transparency help build trust among the citizens. With lack of trust, citizens can never respect any policy decisions and this usually drives dissent. It is also essential that the decision making authority is clear (Dryzek, 2002). This is because if it is not clear there is bound to be confusion and stakeholders will never agree on the appropriate decision to be made because the different stakeholders serve the interests of different groups with differing perspectives, ideas and needs (Dryzek, 2002). Transparency also involves ensuring that decisions as well as any other issues that affect the public are made known to the public. This entails publicity and it is usually aimed at ensuring that policies as well as government decisions are well known to the public (Dryzek, 2002). This is essential because lack of awareness contributes to ineffective citizen participation. Both awareness and participation can be improved through public education and public interaction techniques (Dryzek, 2002).
Democratic decision making characteristics
Specific Mechanisms That Enhance Community Participation in Democratic Decision Making
There are some specific approaches that can be used to enhance the manner as well as the extent of which citizens participate in the democratic decision making process. One such approach is through enhancing information access (Bracken, Grable, O'Brien, Sobrero, & Warren, 2009). Access to relevant information from by the government increases public participation. This is because information creates awareness and awareness increases involvement. In the contemporary times, information access has been enhanced in the internet platform (Bengtsson & Christensen, 2016). A majority of the globe’s population are usually very active in the internet, especially when it comes to social media websites. As a result, the government can use the platforms to create awareness and spark debates within the citizen population (Aladalah, Yen, & Lee, 2015). Additionally, they can use the internet websites, particularly the websites of specific government departments, to avail the citizens with pertinent information about issues that affect them. The digitised information help facilitate access and it also increases transparency and accountability (Aladalah, Yen, & Lee, 2015). This is what translates into enhanced community participation in decision making processes.
Other than increasing information access, consultation can be used as another approach to improve citizen participation. Consultation can be achieved through citizen engagement (Dryzek, 2002). The engagement can be facilitated by surveys aimed at collecting information about the opinion and concerns of the citizens about specific initiatives. This can again be conducted through online surveys because getting to physically collect the views of the citizens can be time consuming and costly (Dryzek, 2002). The consultation can also be achieved through the involvement of interest groups as the main stakeholders and representatives of the general public. This shows that the approach of creating awareness and increasing participation is achievable through the creation of partnership between stakeholders and the government (White, 1994). The partnership can include development partnership.
Public hearing is a public participation strategy that works to ensure that the public contributes to the democratic decision making process (Tudor, 2009). The hearings can be conducted at local government levels and it can focus on particular groups. For instance, its effectiveness is based on how well it involves the people who are most affected. For example, if there are to be legislative changes regarding the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages, the public hearing can target alcohol consumers as well as alcohol producers and traders (Bengtsson & Christensen, 2016). This perspective shows that effective public hearing entails organising the community into groups with regards to the issues that are to be discussed. The issues can range from business, health, agriculture, public safety and education (Huang & Feeney, 2016). The hearing will guarantee that awareness is created and also that important information is collected.
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