Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Analyzing Recent Citizen Participation Trends in Western New York: Comparing Citizen Engagement Promoted by Local Governments and Nonprofit Organizations

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Analyzing Recent Citizen Participation Trends in Western New York: Comparing Citizen Engagement Promoted by Local Governments and Nonprofit Organizations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Engaging citizens in the decision-making process is becoming an important priority for many local governments. This article evaluates three citizen engagement events in two jurisdictions in western New York: public forums held by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, Citizen Participation Academy, and Participatory Budgeting Project. Using in-depth interviews with public and nonprofit employees, the article outlines several findings, including a distinctly higher level of effectiveness of engagement strategies when advanced by not-for-profit organizations. The engagement initiated by state and municipal governments reflects authoritarian and bureaucratic models of participation. This study highlights several challenges to the sustainability of citizen involvement at municipal levels, and its results have important implications for other towns implementing participatory tools.

RÉSUMÉ

Pour plusieurs gouvernements locaux, l'engagement des citoyens dans la prise de décision devient prioritaire. Cet article examine cette situation en évaluant trois événements portant sur l'engagement des citoyens dans deux juridictions de l'ouest de l'État du New York, à savoir des forums publics organisés par le Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, le Citizen Participation Academy et le Participatory Budgeting Project. Au moyen d'entrevues en profondeur auprès d'employés des secteurs public et sans but lucratif, cet article fait plusieurs constats, y compris celui d'une efficacité beaucoup plus grande des stratégies d'engagement suivies par les organisations sans but lucratif. En revanche, l'engagement sollicité par les gouvernements des États et des municipalités reflète des modèles de participation relativement autoritaires et bureaucratiques. Cette étude souligne plusieurs défis soulevés au niveau municipal par les tentatives d'inclure la citoyenneté. Les résultats de cette étude ont des implications importantes pour d'autres villes qui s'efforcent d'encourager la participation.

Keywords / Mots clés : Citizen participation; Local government; Nonprofit; Participatory budgeting / Participation citoyenne; Gouvernement local; Sans but lucratif; Établissement de budget participatif

INTRODUCTION

Engaging citizens in decision-making is becoming an important priority for many local governments. Citizen participation Is seen as the core of democratic governance (Pateman, 1970), and It ensures the legitimacy of the political process (Box, 1998; King, Feltey, & Susel, 1998). However, administrators promote participation to varying degrees and some are more innovative than others. Some local administrators carry out participatory responsibilities on their own, while others outsource these functions (Silverman, Taylor, & Crawford, 2008).

Although numerous local participatory tools exist, they still have flaws or are not fully utilized by citizens (Barber, 1984). In 2005, Baker and his colleagues surveyed city managers to examine factors that led to effective engagement. The authors found that properly advertising forthcoming engagement events, ensuring that citizens' comments are taken seriously, and developing effective follow-up mechanisms made the process of participation more meaningful (Baker, Addams, & Davis, 2005). Yet municipalities often only include citizens after decisions have already been made (Yang & Callahan, 2007). Kasymova and Schächter (2014) illustrated that this phenomenon occurs even in the context of municipalities outside/beyond the United States.

Ideally, jurisdictions need to involve residents on a regular basis in order to promote "deep and continuous involvement in administrative processes with the potential for all involved to have an effect on the situation" (King et al., 1998). When It Is properly encouraged, public engagement Is found to be beneficial not only for citizens but for public officials as well (Adams, 2004; Hassett & Watson, 2003; Kuo, 2012; Watson, Juster, & Johnson, 1991). …

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