Public Policy

Participatory Governance: A New Way of Treating Public Policy?

There are increasing efforts by governments to involve citizen in government process. The idea about encouraging citizens’ participation in the policy process stems from the wave of democratisation process that is brought on by increased connectivity and the democratisation of knowledge where citizens want to be consulted on issues of public interests.

Participatory governance is an offshoot of the greater demand for democratic participation and it offers several virtues. Participatory governance can empower citizens, improve institutional capacity-building, encourage a more policy competent public and contribute to overall human development. Countries that encourage participatory governance see a more involved citizens , experience improved communications between the government and the governed and ultimately produce better policy design. What is more, participatory governance encourages better economic redistribution, enhance political rights and improve social well-being.

What are the benefits that can come from participatory governance? The first is better service delivery and equity. Many studies have found that citizens’participation can improve the quality of public programmes. It has been shown that education, health and environmental policies stand to gain from quicker and more effective responses as a result of citizens participation. This is because with public participation projects can benefit from localised knowledge, local resources and higher levels of commitment. Evaluation of projects also tend to be better as a result of more transparent and honest monitoring that comes with better deliberation.

Besides being more efficient, public participation promotes greater sense of equity. Rather than having traditional elite-driven policy design, participatory governance involves ground up initiatives which empower those directly affected by such policy leading to more equitable outcomes. Rural development, environmental policy and education policy are some examples that benefit from greater distribution of equity.

Another benefit of participatory governance is that it encourages better political representation and distribution of power. Participatory governance allows for debates and discussions involving all sectors of the population. It facilitates the promotion of democracy and encourages a renewed sense of public interest. In the end, greater democratisation allows for better collation of information, makes for better opinions and in the end better decisions.

By allowing participatory governance, the state inevitably reduces the power gap between the different segments of population. This narrowing of power gap and information between the different segments of the promotion naturally induces greater transparency, accountability and legitimacy to public policies. Co-optation of significant stakeholders in the policy process also greatly improve quality of public service delivery.

Participatory governance comes with certain preconditions. One important condition is the need for government to create conditions for capacity building. That is, to provide citizens with the implements or tools to critically appraise the various public service provisions . A second condition is for states to put in place institutional design that encourages reasoned deliberations. This can come in the form of decentralising decision-making; promoting more horizontal integration of agencies who are involved in projects; and the ability of the bureaucracy to design or restructure in the form of accommodating agencies that encourage such participation even when these agencies do not fall neatly into the traditional administrative setup.

For many developing countries, it remains a challenge to provide for participatory governance. To make for participatory governance states need to tolerate greater political emancipation, greater involvement of the interest groups and civil society, greater voice from non-elites. For developing countries this means making radical changes to the political systems as well as political, social and economic institutional makeup, which, is hugely challenging.

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