Public participation
Public participation is a political principle or practice, and may also be recognised as a right (right to public participation). The terms public participation may be used interchangeably with the concept or practice of stakeholder engagement
Stakeholder engagement
Stakeholder engagement is the process by which an organisation involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or can influence the implementation of its decisions...

 and/or popular participation.

Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public's contribution will influence the decision.

Public participation may be regarded as a way of empowerment
Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, racial, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities...

 and as vital part of democratic governance.

In the context of knowledge management
Knowledge management
Knowledge management comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences...

 the establishment of ongoing participatory processes is seen by some in the facilitator of collective intelligence
Collective intelligence
Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks....

 and inclusiveness, shaped by the decire for the participation of the whole community or society.

Public participation is part of “people centred” or "human centric" principles, which have emerged in Western
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 culture over the last thirty
years, and has had some bearings of education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

, business
A business is an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, where most of them are privately owned and administered to earn profit to increase the wealth of their owners. Businesses may also be not-for-profit...

, public policy
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

 and international relief and development programs. Public participation is advanced by the humanist
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 movements. Public participation may be advanced as part of a “people first” paradigm shift. In this respect public participation may challenge the concept that "big is better" and the logic of centralized
hierarchies, advancing alternative concepts of “more heads are better than one” and arguing that public participation can sustain productive and durable change.

The role of public participation in economic and human development was enshrined in the 1990 African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation
African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation
The African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation was adopted in February 1990 at the "International Conference on Popular Participation in the Recovery and Development Process in Africa", Arusha, Tanzania....


Public policy

In some countries public participation has become a central principle of public policy
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

 making. In the UK it has been observed that all levels of government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

 have started to build citizen and stakeholder engagement
Stakeholder engagement
Stakeholder engagement is the process by which an organisation involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or can influence the implementation of its decisions...

 into their policy-making processes. This may involve large-scale consultation
The Consultation served as the provisional government of Mexican Texas from November 1835 through March 1836 during the Texas Revolution. Tensions rose in Texas during early 1835 as throughout Mexico federalists began to oppose the increasingly centralist policies of the government. In the...

s, focus group
Focus group
A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging...

 research, online discussion forums, or deliberative citizens' juries. There are many different public participation mechanisms, although these often share common features (for a list over 100, and a typology of mechanisms, see Rowe and Frewer, 2005).

Public participation is viewed as a tool, intended to inform planning, organising or funding of activities. Public participation may also be used to measure attainable objectives, evaluate impact, and identify lessons for future practice.

In the USA public participation in administrative rulemaking refers to the process by which proposed rules are subject to public comment for a specified period of time. Public participation is typically mandatory for rules promulgated by executive agencies of the US government. Statutes or agency policies may mandate public hearings during this period.

Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary city residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting is usually characterized by several basic design features: identification of spending priorities by community members, election of budget delegates to represent different communities, facilitation and technical assistance by public employees, local and higher level assemblies to deliberate and vote on spending priorities, and the implementation of local direct-impact community projects.
Participatory budgeting may be used by towns and cities around the world, and has been widely publicised in Porto Alegre
Porto Alegre
Porto Alegre is the tenth most populous municipality in Brazil, with 1,409,939 inhabitants, and the centre of Brazil's fourth largest metropolitan area . It is also the capital city of the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. The city is the southernmost capital city of a Brazilian...

, Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, were the first full participatory budgeting process was developed starting in 1989.

Public trust

In recent years loss of public trust in authorities and politicians has become a widespread concern in many democratic societies. Public participation is a regarded as one potential solution to the crisis in public trust and governance, particularly in the UK, Europe, and other democracies. The idea is that public should be involved more fully in the policy process in that authorities seek public views and participation, instead of treating the public as simply passive recipients of policy decisions.

The underlying assumption by political theorists, social commentators, and even politicians is that public participation increase public trust in authorities, improving citizen political efficacy, enhancing democratic ideals and even improving the quality of policy decisions. However, the assumed benefits of public participation are yet to be confirmed.

Accountability and transparency

Public participation may also be viewed as accountability enhancing. The argument being that public participation can be a means for the participating communities to hold public authorities accountable for implementation.

Participatory development

In economic development theory the school of participatory development
Participatory development
Participatory Development seeks to engage local populations in development projects. Participatory development has taken a variety of forms since it emerged in the 1970s, when it was introduced as an important part of the "basic needs approach" to development...

. The desire to increase public participation in humanitarian aid and development has led to the establishment of a numerous context-specific, formal methodologies, matrices,
pedagogies and ad hoc approaches. These include conscientization and praxis; Participatory action research
Participatory action research
Participatory action research – or action research – is a recognized form of experimental research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of...

 (PPA), rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA); appreciation influence control analysis (AIC); “open space” approaches; objectives oriented project planning (ZOPP); vulnerability analysis and capacity analysis.

Environment and Sustainable Development

In recent years public participation has become to be seen as a vital part of addressing environmental problems and bringing about sustainable development
Sustainable development
Sustainable development is a pattern of resource use, that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come...

. In this context the limits of solely relying on technocratic bureaucratic monopoly of decision making, and it is argued that public participation allows governments to adopt policies and enact laws that are relevant to communities and take into account their needs.

Public Participation is recognised as an environmental principle, see Environmental Principles and Policies
Environmental Principles and Policies
The book Environmental Principles and Policies: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, written by Professor Sharon Beder, examines six key environmental and social principles that have been incorporated into international treaties and national laws...

, and has been enshrined in the Rio Declaration.

Public Participation in Environmental Governance

With growing complexities of the environmental issues, public participation has come to the fore in academic analysis concerning the contemporary debates about environmental governance
Environmental governance
Environmental governance is a concept in political ecology or environmental policy related to defining the elements needed to achieve sustainability. All human activities -- political, social and economic — should be understood and managed as subsets of the environment and ecosystems...


There have emerged a number of arguments in favour of a more participatory approach, which stress that public participation is a crucial element in environmental governance that contributes to better decision making. It is recognised that environmental problems cannot be solved by government alone. Participation in environmental decision-making effectively links the public to environmental governance. By involving the public, who are at the root of both causes and solutions of environmental problems, in environmental discussions, transparency and accountability are more likely to be achieved, thus secures the democratic legitimacy of decision-making that good environmental governance depends on. Arguably, a strong public participation in environmental governance could increase the commitment among stockholders, which strengthens the compliance and enforcement of environmental laws. In addition, some opponents argue that the right to participate in environmental decision-making is a procedural right that “can be seen as part of the fundamental right to environmental protection”. From this ethical perspective, environmental governance is expected to operate within a framework coinciding the "constitutional principle of fairness (inclusive of equality)", which inevitably requires the fulfillment of "environmental rights" and ultimately calls for the engagement of public. Further, in the context of considerable scientific uncertainties surrounding environmental issues, public participation helps to counter such uncertainties and bridges the gap between scientifically-defined environmental problems and the experiences and values of stakeholders. Through joint effort of the government and scientists in collaboration with the public, better governance of environment is expected to be achieved by making the most appropriate decision possible.

Although broad agreements exist, the notion of public participation in environmental decision-making has been subject to a sustained critique concerning the real outcome of participatory environmental governance. Critics argue that public participation tends to focus on reaching a consensus between actors who share the same values and seek the same outcomes. However, the uncertain nature of many of the environmental issues would undermine the validity of public participation, given that in many cases the actors come to the table of discussion hold very different perceptions of the problem and solution which are unlikely to be welded into a consensus due to the incommensurability of different positions. This may run the risk of expert bias, which generates further exclusion as those who are antagonistic to the consensus would be marginalised in the environmental decision-making process, which violates the assumed advantage of participatory approach to produce democratic environmental decisions. This raises the further question of whether consensus should be the measure of a successful outcome of participation. As Davies suggests, participative democracy could not guarantee the substantive environmental benefits ‘if there are competing views of what the environment should be like and what it is valuable for’. Consequently, who should be involved at what points in the process of environmental decision-making and what is the goal of this kind of participation become central to the debates on public participation as a key issue in environmental governance.

Right to public participation

In some jurisdictions the right to public participation is enshrined by law. The right to public participation may also be conceived of as human right, or as manifestation of the right to freedom of association
Freedom of association
Freedom of association is the individual right to come together with other individuals and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests....

 and freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests...

. As such the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 and Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, have public participation and freedom of information
Freedom of information
Freedom of information refers to the protection of the right to freedom of expression with regards to the Internet and information technology . Freedom of information may also concern censorship in an information technology context, i.e...

 provisions in their legal systems since before the Middle Ages. Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 and public participation are closely connected democratic societies have incorporated public participation rights into their laws for centuries. For example, in the US the right to petition has been part of the first Amendment of the US constitution since 1791. More recently, since the 1970s in New Zealand numerous laws (e.g.: health, local government, environmental management) require government officials to "consult" those affected by a matter and take their views into consideration when making decisions.

Effective public participation depends on the public having accessing to accurate and comprehensive information. Hence laws regarding public participation often deal with the issue of the right to know
Right to know
"Right to know", in the context of United States workplace and community environmental law, is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. It is embodied in federal law in the United States as well as in local laws...

, access of information and freedom of information
Freedom of information
Freedom of information refers to the protection of the right to freedom of expression with regards to the Internet and information technology . Freedom of information may also concern censorship in an information technology context, i.e...


The right to participation may also be advanced in the context of equality and group rights, meant to ensure equal and full participation of a designated group in society. For example in the context of disabled people.

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

The Rio Declaration of 1992 enshrines public participation in its 27 principles. Principle 10 states that "environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level”. The Rio Declaration continues, drawing a close link between access to information and public participation:

"At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided."

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities...

 recognised that "disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" and that "persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society."

The Convention makes participation of disabled one of its principles, stating "The principles of the present Convention shall be:...Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;", subsequently enshrining the right of disabled to participate fully and equally in the community, education, all aspect of life (in the context of habilitation and rehabilitation
Physical medicine and rehabilitation
Physical medicine and rehabilitation , physiatry or rehabilitation medicine, is a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with physical impairments or disabilities. A physician having completed training in this field is referred to as a...

), political and public life, cultural life, leisure and sports.

See also

  • Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action (PCHP)
    Progress in Community Health Partnerships
    Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action is a peer-reviewed medical journal published quarterly by the Johns Hopkins University Press. In each issue, one article is selected for a “Beyond the Manuscript” podcast....

  • Deliberative democracy
    Deliberative democracy
    Deliberative democracy is a form of democracy in which public deliberation is central to legitimate lawmaking. It adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere...

  • Involve (think tank)
    Involve (think tank)
    The Involve Foundation is a leading UK based charity focused on public participation.-Background:Involve is based in Central London with Simon Burall as Director and is governed by a board chaired by Ian Christie and including Geoff Mulgan amongst the trustees.Involve was founded in 2004 by...

  • Neighborhood planning
    Neighborhood planning
    In 1915, Robert E. Park and E. W. Burgess introduced the idea of "neighborhood" as an ecological concept with urban planning implications . Since then, many concepts and ideas of a neighborhood have emerged...

  • Public participation in patent examination
    Public participation in patent examination
    The involvement of the public in patent examination has been proposed and is currently used in some forms to help identifying relevant prior art and, more generally, to help assessing whether patent applications and inventions meet the requirements of patent law, such as novelty, inventive step or...

  • Participatory economics
    Participatory economics
    Participatory economics, often abbreviated parecon, is an economic system proposed primarily by activist and political theorist Michael Albert and radical economist Robin Hahnel, among others. It uses participatory decision making as an economic mechanism to guide the production, consumption and...

  • Participatory GIS
    Participatory GIS
    As defined by the participants in the Mapping for Change International Conference which took place in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2005, Participatory GIS is an emergent practice in its own right; developing out of participatory approaches to planning and spatial information and communication...

  • Participatory justice
    Participatory justice
    Participatory justice is the use of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration, in criminal justice systems, instead of, or before, going to court...

  • Strategic lawsuit against public participation
    Strategic lawsuit against public participation
    A strategic lawsuit against public participation is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition....

  • Visual preference survey
    Visual preference survey
    A visual preference survey is a technique for obtaining public feedback on physical design alternatives. It is often used when designing zoning codes, planning redevelopment, and conducting urban planning research....

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