Citizen Participation and Performance Measurement: Operationalizing Democracy through Better Accountability

By Halachmi, Arie; Holzer, Marc | Public Administration Quarterly, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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Citizen Participation and Performance Measurement: Operationalizing Democracy through Better Accountability


Halachmi, Arie, Holzer, Marc, Public Administration Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of citizen participation in the context of the interface between the public and government, accountability and the governance process. We assert that greater involvement of citizens in designing the collection, the analysis, the dissemination, and the proper consumption of performance measurement data is a promising strategy for enhancing two important aspects of governance, namely accountability and taxpayers' satisfaction. Genuine, as different from symbolic, citizen participation, we avow, is a valuable tool for increasing trust in a government for two reasons. First, it can provide government planners and program managers a true and accurate data about taxpayers' priorities and preferences between highly desired but mutually exclusive courses of action (Tompkins, Herian and Hoppe 2010). Second, such involvement can provide program managers with important feedback about ongoing operations while boosting the credibility of government's reports about various aspects of its operations. This assertion is consistent with the recent proposal of Aghion, Algan, Cahuc and Shleifer (2008) that unilateral government regulation, to the extent that it constrains productivity, is strongly and negatively correlated with the creation of social capital. According to that proposal, "the correlation works for a range of measures of social capital, from trust in others to trust in corporations and political institutions, as well as for a range of measures of regulation, from product markets to labor markets to judicial procedures."

Citizen participation is seen in this paper as a promising way of cultivating social capital, in the broad sense, given the declining cost and new opportunities for such involvement as a result of developments in information technology in general and interactive forms of e-government in particular. As noted by Kim and Kim (2010: 87), "e-government can positively increase process-based trust by improving interactions with citizens and their perceptions of responsiveness.

The paper starts by placing the need for citizen participation in the current reality of growing demands for accountability. As documented by several publications (Whiteley and Sanders 2005; Global Forum 1999) this reality is articulated through questions by taxpayers and the media about government priorities and the procedures used to attain its various objectives. The paper goes on to discuss the functional aspects of citizen participation as a mean to increase trust, transparency and the quality of data used to make decisions about service levels, procedures and priorities. The paper concludes that with citizen participation it is possible not only to expand on the 1960's slogan "maximum feasible participation" for a more democratic governance process, but to affect government productivity, citizens' satisfaction, transparency and trust in government.

THE CURRENT CONTEXT OF ACCOUNTABILITY

AND CITIZENS' PARTICIPATION

The notion that citizen participation is an important element of the democratic governance process is not new. A case for it was argued with the slogan from the 1960's Maximum Feasible Participation (Moynihan 1969; Rubin 1969). Yet, it should be noted that its wide use in America during the 1960's and 1970's was meant mainly to foster true democracy. For all practical purposes, it was geared to facilitate participation by the poor and minorities that have been left out of the governance process. To be sure, citizen participation was not intended primarily for fostering productivity, better government or accountability. The academics writings on citizen participation during the Johnson Administration (e.g., Strange 1972) coincided with the research interest about agenda setting (e.g., Bachrach and Baratz 1962) and community power (e.g., Hunter 1969). This "coincidence" supports our assertion that at that time citizen participation was used more for operationalizing the concept of greater democracy through a more inclusive participation in the decision making process than as a way of addressing issues of accountability, responsiveness, and public sector productivity.

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