What Constitutes Effective Citizen Participation in Local Government? Views from City Stakeholders

By Berner, Maureen M.; Amos, Justin M. et al. | Public Administration Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

What Constitutes Effective Citizen Participation in Local Government? Views from City Stakeholders


Berner, Maureen M., Amos, Justin M., Morse, Ricardo S., Public Administration Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

Citizen participation in local government has been advocated as a way to enhance communication between government and citizens, build public support for local government goals, and develop public trust in government (Wang, 2001). However, research has shown increased citizen input can alternatively lead to a variety of perceived negative consequences such as increased staff work load, additional resource allocation, increased levels of public scrutiny, negative media coverage and increased levels of apathy or distrust of government (Callahan, 2002). Thus not all participation efforts are equal in terms of their impact or outcomes. In considering the nature and scope of citizen participation, it is imperative to have some basis for understanding what constitutes effectiveness.

Arguments in favor of citizen participation are rooted in normative theory, and as a result, discussions of what constitutes "effective" participation are likewise normatively-based. Yet we should be equally (if not more) concerned with how the stakeholders of participation--practitioners, elected officials, and citizens--understand effective citizen participation. This article advances our understanding of citizen participation efforts in local government by offering a multi-dimensional conceptualization of effective citizen participation as articulated by those most directly involved in the process: elected officials, local government staff, and citizens. Perceptions of citizen participation in the local government budget process were captured through a series of forty telephone interviews in four cities across North Carolina. In addition to asking what key stakeholder groups mean by "effective" citizen participation, we also explore where these understandings converge and diverge. In other words, we examine to what extent expectations among the groups are different or similar.

FRAMING CITIZEN PARTICIPATION

Citizen participation in government is fundamental, as is the dispute over the extent and means participation. Daniel P. Monyihan (1969) argued that the maximum feasible participation goals of early anti-poverty efforts had actually resulted in maximum feasible misunderstanding. The experience of Community Action Programs in the 1960s and the controversy over how to define and implement the idea of participation by social program recipients led to a series of influential articles debating the basis for participation, which was widely interpreted at the time as a way to provide empowerment for low-income or minority populations (see, for example, Strange, 1972; Krause, 1968; Van Til & Van Til, 1970).

Current debates are no longer focused on class and power discussions prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, there seems to be widespread agreement in the field of public administration, as well as popular support for, the idea of creating more avenues to develop and foster citizen participation in local government (King, Feltey, & Susel, 1998; Bingham, Nabatchi, & O'Leary, 2005). There are now a multitude of resources available for designing citizen participation processes. (1) There is also a substantial amount written on civic attitudes toward government decisionmaking, rife with assumptions that participatory processes have the power to change these attitudes (Gastil and Levine, 2005).

Of course the idea of public participation is appealing, but perhaps more complicated than we imagine. Skelcher (2007) suggests we argue for democratic processes often without understanding if they actually improve public service performance. However, to understand if democratic processes actually improve public service performance, we need to define what we mean by improving performance; we need a definition of effectiveness. We find that a number of researchers are trying to define effectiveness, but none take their cue from stakeholders within the process itself.

Sherry Arnstein's classic ladder of citizen participation (1969) shapes much of discussion of participatory processes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

What Constitutes Effective Citizen Participation in Local Government? Views from City Stakeholders
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.