The Citizen Handbook
Understanding Citizen Participation
What is Citizen Participation?
Citizen participation or 'public participation' is an action or series of actions a citizen takes to participate in the affairs of his or her own government and/or community. When done correctly, citizen participation can bring the government closer to its citizens, produce more transparent public policies and decisions, and enable citizens to hold government leaders more accountable. In order for a democratic government to function properly, citizens need to participate actively in decision-making, policy formation, and service delivery. Citizens also need to understand their rights and ways to use them effectively.
Participation as a Two-Way Process
Citizen participation is a two-way process where the government provides opportunities for citizen involvement and citizens to choose whether to utilize those opportunities based on their level of concern, interest, and desired outcome. It is in the interest of governments, therefore, to encourage active participation from citizens and to ensure that citizens are educated on public issues so they can make valuable contributions to their decision-making process.
Participation as a Group
Citizen participation is in its most potent form when citizens act together and utilize their collective voice to impact government policies and decisions regarding their community. As a group, citizens can more effectively articulate their concerns and build consensus on solutions to issues in a way they would otherwise be unable to do on their own. Discussed later on in this chapter is the process of organizing a citizen group and ways in which citizens can work with other like-minded citizens on a particular set of issues.