Appreciative Democracy: The Feasibility of Using Appreciative Inquiry at the Local Government Level by Public Administrators to Increase Citizen Participation

Article excerpt


Many scholars and practitioners argue that there is a growing need for public administrators at the local government level to engage the citizenry they serve and to increase citizens' participation in their own governance (1). Within the context of this argument is a call for new, innovative ways to increase citizen participation. New approaches are necessary because it is argued that the current strategies are inadequate. Often, these strategies do not truly engage the citizenry or they are perceived to be unfair or frustrating (e.g., DeLeon & DeLeon, 2002). The challenge is avoiding the cited deficiencies of contemporary strategies while at the same time finding an approach that meets scholars' and practitioners' requirements for successful citizen engagement found in the current literature.

Denhardt and Denhardt (2003) have suggested that there is a new movement (2) occurring in public administration in the United States today. They call this movement the New Public Service (NPS) (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). The NPS focuses on serving citizens, delivering democracy, continually striving to meet the public interest, fostering democratic ideals, renewing civic engagement, and ultimately creating a better life for people living in the polis (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). The Denhardts (2003) argue that this movement "is now being manifest in the way we interact with political leaders, in the way we engage with citizens, and in the way we bring about positive changes in our organizations and communities" (p. 4).

Although it is not an unprecedented idea, the NPS has marked a recent resurgence in scholarship directed toward normative values that center on the role of the public administrator, his or her relationship with the citizens he or she serves, and actively engaging the citizenry in authentic discourse and participation (3) (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003). The Denhardts (2003), in the context of the NPS, have called for an "affirmation of the soul" of public administration (p. 4). They want administrators to seek out ways to serve citizens while at the same time promoting the common good; consequently, improving the quality of life for all (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2003).

Endeavoring to answer this call, the purpose of this research is to determine if public administrators at the local level can use Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) to increase citizen participation to enhance local government by exploring the feasibility of such an approach. The value of this research is that it will assist practitioners by educating them to the potential benefits or detriments of using an Ai approach to increase citizen participation and offering the approach as a tool to assist them in local governance in general. This study addresses a gap in the local government practitioner literature.

The main question addressed by this article is as follows. In what way, if any, can Appreciative Inquiry be useful in increasing citizen participation at the local government level to improve local government? In short, this question explores whether Ai is feasible for public administrators at the local level regarding increasing citizen participation. This article first explores the citizen participation and Ai literatures. Second, it discusses the research strategy and design employed herein. Third, this paper reports ten themes identified from the data. Fourth, this article offers some findings for consideration.


There are a multitude of techniques being used to increase citizen participation at the local government level. These various strategies include normative theories of public participation that focus on issues of competence and fairness (Webler & Tuler, 2000), citizen advisory councils, citizen panels, public surveys (e.g., Crosby, Kelly, & Schaefer, 1986; Kathlene & Martin, 1991; King, Feltey, & Susel, 1998; Parsons, 1990), and public forums (Farrell, 2000) as well as citizen juries (Hendriks, 2002). …