The Citizen Handbook
Understanding Citizen Participation
Importance of Citizen Participation
The impact of citizen participation is not just limited to those who participate. The actions a few citizens can have a large impact on an entire community. Therefore, the more citizens participate, the more their government and community will feel the impact of their actions.
Crucial Role of Civic Duty
The foundation of every democracy is the duty of its citizens to participate in the governance process. Citizen participation in governance is a right guaranteed under a country’s democratic system through its constitution and laws. Citizens have an equal level of responsibility under a democratic system. This is especially the case with a devolved government system, like in Kenya, which incorporates citizens in their government’s decision-making process. Therefore, citizens in a democratic system, have a civic duty to be active participants in local government and community affairs.
Benefits of Citizen Participation
There are numerous benefits from active citizen participation. Examples of some of these benefits include:
· Public officials who are better able to understand and respond to the needs of their community;
· Increased credibility between public officials and the community on important issues and services;
· Citizens who feel they belong and trust in their community and local government;
· Alternative views from a greater diversity of citizens contributing to the public debate on issues and decision-making;
· Citizens who are better informed on projects and proposals undertaken by the government;
· Community concerns that are more focused and prioritized for public officials to address;
· Citizens’ diverse and unique skill sets are revealed to government officials and the community;
· A public that is more aware of community concerns and can thus more effectively judge government responses;
· Increased capacity of citizens to contribute to future public debates and decisions impacting their community; and
· Citizens who feel they have greater ownership over government decisions when public officials consult them.
Minority and Marginalized Groups
Marginalized groups (women, youth, minorities, etc.) do not always have access to the necessary resources and local government positions for the public to hear their voices. Citizen participation is one way to ensure minority and marginalized groups have a voice and contribute meaningfully to public debate on local issues and resource allocation. Article 56 of the Constitution provides for representation of minority and marginalized groups in our country’s governance and other spheres of life. It grants them access to special education, economic and employment opportunities. The implications of these new forms of representation and opportunities for marginalized and minority groups are that there is a greater chance that government policies and services will incorporate their concerns.
Citizen participation makes important contributions to the development of civil society, which is a crucial stakeholder in the governance process. Civil society consists of active non-state actors concerned about specific issues or focused on accomplishing specific objectives. Civil society organizations, while sometimes partners with the government, serve as independent stakeholders within the community and thus are critical channels for citizen participation.
It is important that all levels of government ensure proper linkages between government decision-making and service delivery and the civil society. The benefit of these linkages is that civil society organizations can provide alternative views on such things as the community impact from government decisions and policy implementation. Moreover, civil society has deeper roots in local communities than governments, and as such,is a good resource for governments to learn more about specific community needs.