Citizen Participation

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Principles

Mr Heuberger of Rheinland-Pfalz:

Four conditions for successfulll citizen participation:


  1. The seriousness of the process: the eventual impact and role of the citizen participation process must be clear.
  2. Openness: the process must in principle be open to all citizens.
  3. Transparency: at all stages of the process information must be freely available.
  4. Communication: active communication is cruical for any successful and useful participation.

(http://www.simondalferth.de/blog/2008/06/administration-attempts-at-participation-the-german-experience/)


Discussion

Government by the People

Beth Simone Noveck:

"The notion that government knows best is a myth. Even in the absence of bad intentions or personally corrupt motives, the bureaucrat or politician in Washington simply lacks access to the right information and useful ways of making sense of good science. In a survey of environmental lawyers, for example, law professors J.B. Ruhl and James Salzman found that only 8% of respondents thought that the EPA has sufficient time to search for relevant science and only 6% believed that agencies employ adequate analysis. No matter how civic-minded the government official, she is blind to many opportunities to pursue the public good.

Ordinary citizens have more to offer than voting or answering polls. People can work together to gather and analyze information, and even make decisions. The official no longer needs to be the sole deci-sion-maker. This is a radical idea, but one whose time has come. In the world before the Internet, it made sense to believe that accountability in a democracy could only happen once every few years at the polling booth, where individuals go to throw out unqualified elected officials. While we evolved new measures such as ballot motions and referenda, these also only allow for a thumbs-up or down vote. Ordinary citizens have more to offer than voting or answering polls. People can work together to gather and analyze information, and even make decisions. The official no longer needs to be the sole decision-maker. This is a radical idea, but one whose time has come.

The idea of citizen participation is not new, of course. Proponents of “deliberative democracy” have long argued for what they call the public exchange of reason and advocated for public hearings and town halls —and on-line versions of same —for citizens to talk about the business of government. But those deliberative conversations do not connect to action. They are generally one-off affairs, not tied to governmental practices of agenda-setting, policy-drafting and decision-making. Effective government operations demand ongoing engagement —even if only for a few minutes a day.

Politics is hard and complicated. Most observers think that people are too busy to do the work of professionals in government. But such naysaying misunderstands the issues. The EPA doesn’t need 100,000 people to work on the issue of asbestos or mercury. The congressman doesn’t demand 10,000 citizens in a jury. While some issues attract a huge number of people, obscure (yet important) decisions get made every day in government that could be made better if we used technology to open up participation and oversight to a few dozen experts and enthusiasts, what blogger Andy Oram calls the micro-elite, the five or ten or hundred people who know best, and a percentage of whom will want to contribute to solving community problems or clarifying community knowledge.

Some will counter that more active involvement in government by private citizens self-selecting to participate will only increase the risk of corruption. If we design the practices of 21st-century governance to split up tasks into many smaller fact-gathering and decision-making exercises, we’ll diversify against the risk of defection. It will also make it easier for busy people to do the work of participation. And if we design governmental decisions to be made in groups, group members will keep each other honest and blow the whistle if corruption occurs. In other words, if we start to think about governance as a much more granular and limited set of practices, we can delegate greater power to citizens to gather facts, spend money and make decisions. " (http://rebooting.personaldemocracy.com/node/72)


Political proposals for the U.S.

"Empowering people requires designing and building appropriate technologies and also enacting the best legal and policy framework to change the way government works.

We should begin by:

  1. Employing “social networking” technology to create online networks based on expertise and interest in particular issues and decisions
  2. Delegating government practices like fact gathering and analysis to collaborative, on-line groups. This means getting governmental authorities to communicate their needs to citizens so that people understand what is being asked of them and can supply information to government in manageable and useful ways
  3. Mandating (through Executive Order) that every government agency develop a 21st-century government plan to engage citizens in its decision-making practices and report to OMB and to Congress on its progress. Every agency should undertake at least one pilot program each year
  4. Encouraging corporations, venture firms and philanthropies to support 21st-century government innovations by funding pilot projects for government institutions and awarding prizes for success
  5. Amending the E-Government Act of 2001 that was enacted to enhance access to government information by citizens through the Internet. Funds should be appropriated to institutionalize 21st-century government pilot programs
  6. Mandating (through legislation) that every congressperson and agency head convene a citizen jury to whom she regularly reports, and impose a duty to justify departures from the group’s recommendations
  7. Mandating (through legislation) that the federal government provide information in formats designed for data retrieval and use, so that government information can be easily analyzed, mashed-up, visualized and used by those outside of government. This means offering the data in an open format that does not require special tools for reading, and in a documented, predictable structure that makes it easy to automate queries
  8. Creating a cabinet-level Chief Technology Officer post responsible for articulating and reporting to the nation a vision for 21st-century government and its progress "

(http://rebooting.personaldemocracy.com/node/72)