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Participatory Democracy Pros and Cons

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The ways in which the government interacts with its citizens can have a large impact on the type and amount of citizen participation it yields. As more grassroots efforts become popular and effective in government affairs, local governments have evaluated different ways to get the most valuable information out of their citizens. Two different structures, participatory governance and deliberative forums, can attract different types of participants and offer different types of results. Employing participatory policy making and engaging the public is expected to diminish the differences between citizens and governmental bodies, help the government solve policy issues with a wider array of opinions, and increase the support for the movement or policy (Michels, 2012). Although governments practice these two separate types of structures all over the world citizen participation in government affairs has been contested based on the how much citizen participation can be too much (Callahan, 2007).

Those who engage citizens in policy and decision making are often concerned about the amount of time, costs, and lack of prior knowledge of the subject. On the other hand, some local government entities promote citizen participation to help increase accountability, gauge priorities within the community, and build a relationship within the community (Callahan, 2007). More recent studies of citizen participation employ a mix of both deliberative and citizen governance tools in order to receive a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. This also allows them to have a variety of ways to collect diverse opinions (Kim & Schachter, 2013).

Deliberative Structure

Deliberative forums can be employed through a number of different methods, but ultimately many of these methods are time consuming, instigating much thought and deliberation throughout the process (Michels, 2012). These methods include juries, conferences, planning cells, and surveys (Michels, 2012). Typically a random sample is taken to get diverse opinions to converse about matters that concern the public; there is a facilitator to help with discussion, and the citizens are then allowed to deliberate in smaller group sessions. It has been argued that this method should be used rather than voting for policy decision making due to the collaborative decision but ultimately falls short due to unrealistic demands from both the citizens and the government (Michels, 2012). Although the deliberative process will happen with or without citizens present, it is expected that the public administrations are taking on a more community friendly role to facilitate dialogue. Thus, including this type of approach is now seen as “the right thing to do” (Callahan, 2007).

When exploring how much training there is for public employees and citizens for deliberative participation, less than ten percent said “a lot” (Callahan, 2007). This is worrisome, as a misguided or uneducated entity may not know how to facilitate discussion and yield fruitful results. As a result, citizens may have negative experiences, and may be discouraged from returning to engage in participation. Qualitative data is a great source of information to have and can give insights into more community needs than a general quantitative survey, but it may be hard to derive a consensus from participants. Other issues that could derive from a public meeting with diverse opinions revolve around the need to conform. This often occurs if there is too much pressure from one viewpoint. It is important to hear all viewpoints and have a great facilitator to make sure there is fair representation. Additionally, although it is expected to yield more qualitative data and facilitates more dialogue, these types of participatory processes lead the public to participate less. Overall, this method seems to be more appropriate for the beginning stages of a public process to engage all and possibly review a facet that may have not been apparent before.

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Participatory Governance

Participatory governance, also known as interactive governance, expects citizens to participate willingly and voluntarily in the pre process before the decision is made (Michels, 2012). Citizens are involved in changing and recommending different policies and employ their influence on policy making in general (Michels, 2012). This method is open to everyone, aiming to include a diverse amount of opinions and capture a representative view in the process (Michels, 2012). As this method is generally open to everybody, Callahan argues that participatory governance promotes a sense of community and helps build respect for government decision making and other residents (Callahan, 2007). Participatory governance can also show tangible results or reflect how much influence the citizens had by implementing or changing policy (Michels, 2012). However, in evaluating participatory governance, it was found that those who participate in the decision making seem content with the decision whereas those not involved have mixed reviews and generally do not reflect as positively on the decisions (Michels, 2012). Furthermore, it was found that in some cases the results and wants of the citizens were not implemented and do not seem to be considered in the final decision (Michels, 2012). Other researchers reported citizen’s frustration with the idea that the citizen’s participatory group will have a major say and this type of system is ultimately just another bureaucratic check mark of the process (Irvin & Stansbury, 2004).

Furthermore, researchers argued that there is not much exchange of ideas or freeness to reciprocate ideas due to the design of the method as well as lack of fair representation (Michels, 2012). In some countries, such as India, governments must include all social classes and genders in decision making while there is reserved seats to secure inclusion and funding reserved for training for both the citizens involved and the facilitators (Gaventa, 2004). These rules help ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. However, they can also harm the same populations they intend to help, as citizens who participate are not compensated for their time in the process. This, ultimately, hinders their social and recreational time as well as their potential economic opportunities. This method, where it is not mandated to include certain people or classes, can attract those that have strong feelings towards a topic and may not be as rational. This type of citizen might also be less likely to hear the opinions of others, thereby discouraging marginalized people from giving their input. Additionally, 42% of city managers claimed they used citizen participation to help build accountability although approximately 3% actually involved citizens in measures (Callahan, 2007). This might imply that most city managers do not take citizen participation as seriously and could possibly be wasting unpaid citizen time. Overall, citizens governance is a more accessible way to involve citizens, and results in tangible results for the public.


Citizen Participation in Local Policy Making: Design and Democracy by Ank Michels was the most informative article that discussed both types of citizen participation while also evaluating examples. This article also does a great job of comparing and contrasting the different ways that deliberative and citizens governance are employed and how they have different strengths and weaknesses. Citizen Participation: Model and Methods by Kathe Callahans’ article discusses the amount of citizen participation that is perceived to be appropriate for each situation. This article provides great insight towards citizen participation from both the government and the citizen perspective. It’s value stems from its ability to discern how citizen participation has changed as ewell as how it is affecting public administrators roles in office. John Gaventa’s article “Strengthening Participatory Approaches to Local Governance: Learning the Lessons from Abroad,” shows how citizens can make a difference, and suggests that there needs to be a change in government structure. By exploring how developing and developed countries handle citizen participation differently, Gaventa inspects the positives and negatives of the current state of participatory governance across the globe. This perspective was quite insightful due to the comparison of both developed and developing countries, revealing that some developing countries are more progressive.


Deliberative citizen engagement and participatory government structures have the same goal: to engage citizens and integrate their needs into policies and decisions. These two methods differ vastly in which one seeks the citizens out while the other expects the citizen to do the engaging. Both structures can be time consuming for government agencies, but ultimately have the potential to yield productive results for the government and its citizens that translate into direct policy change. Overall, both methods also aim to include all residents and make sure their is equity in opinions within the community. This progressive goal will possibly need some restructuring of government policies to include more minority members. Such restructuring might include paid positions to ensure lower income opinions, and establishing that the representation chosen reflects the area’s demographics.

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Participatory Democracy Pros and Cons. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Participatory Democracy Pros and Cons.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022,
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