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

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).

In general, governance structure, population size, and budgetary resources influence how municipalities use engagement tools (Berry, Fortney, Bablltch, & Mahoney, 1984; Dalehlte, 2008; Ebdon, 2000; Fölscher, 2007; Franklin & Ebdon, 2002). The level of trust in the political system impacts participation as well (Berman, 1997; Cortner & Moote, 1999). More citizen involvement can result in an improved trust in government.

As different jurisdictions are promoting engagement with various amounts of success, it becomes imperative to evaluate what contributes to the success of citizen involvement in different-sized communities. We evaluate this problem by looking at three engagement tools used in the city of Buffalo and the town of Tonawanda. The following are the three central research questions of this study: First, how are participatory tools Implemented and who participates? Second, what factors influence the success of engagement? Third, what is the level of effectiveness of these mechanisms? The findings of this article could potentially broaden the research on drivers of participatory processes in jurisdictions. The results will contribute to and inform best practices in citizen engagement.

LITERATURE OVERVIEW

A growing number of studies examine diverse citizen participation tools. But most engagement tools are not legally mandated, with the exception of citizen participation in public hearings (Berner, 2001; Berner & Smith, 2004). As a result, a larger number of existing studies focus on the analysis of citizen participation in hearings (Adams, 2004; Franklin & Ebdon, 2008). Goldfrank & Schneider, 2006; Paul, 2007; Vodusek & Biefnot, 2011). Theoreticians demonstrated several successful outcomes when an engaging process was used (Avritzer, 2000; Carr & Halvorsen, 2001). Successful engagements became common for some communities in South America and Eastern Europe (Hartay, 2011; Sintomer et al, 2008). As Sintomer, Herzberg, & Rocke (2008) have pointed out, engaging residents in European cities contributed to improving the communication between citizens, administrators, and political elites.

Citizen surveys are another widely studied participation tool among public administration researchers (Gao, 2012; Miller & Miller, 1991; Rivenbark & Ballard, 2012; Swindell & Kelly, 2000; Van Ryzin & Charbonneau, 2010; Verscheide & Rogge, 2012). …

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