Citizen Participation Can We Measure essay

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Further, the view that citizens cannot objectively assess service delivery (and, conversely, that public officials can) has been a limiting factor to the institutionalization of citizen surveys. Watson et al. point out, however, that a disparity between the subjective views of citizens and the 'objective' assessments of service quality provides city leaders with the opportunities to both communicate more effectively and take steps to reduce the disparity.

Citizen surveys have a number of distinct advantages: they identify problems, evaluate services, influence budget priorities, identify citizen preferences, and "send a message to residents that the city government is concerned about their opinions" (234).

In an effort to promote citizen surveys and explore if citizen surveys are actually effective and worth a city government's time, Watson et al. look at the citizen survey creation and tradition in Auburn, Alabama. The first survey conducted, administered in 1985, convinced public officials that surveys served practical purposes (the results were used in the preparation of the city's budget for the forthcoming year) and could be completed within limited resource constraints. By 1989, the survey had become an annual city activity, the survey had been modified a number of times (for greater efficiency and poignancy), the local news media covered it annually, and public officials were submitting questions to be used. Survey results began to consistently be reflected in budgetary priorities and expenditure. When asked, in 1989, of the value of the citizen survey, the majority of Auburn city council members said they either used survey data to influence the setting of priorities or used survey data to set priorities.

Regarding the case study, the authors reach a number of conclusions. Because the survey has become a well-publicized, annual event, it is possible that positive feelings toward the city government are being reinforced. A "plausible case can be made that citizen survey responses are reflected in council budgetary and programmatic decisions" (238). Thus, citizen surveys can be an efficient, functional mechanism for genuine citizen participation, as well as "provide a framework for citizen participation in local government policy and management processes" (238). The most important circumstance for effective citizen surveys is that they be institutionalized, rather than random and not affecting the budget. As a whole, the case study suggests that the citizen survey is an important link between citizens and policy makers.

"Making Bureaucrats Responsive: A Study of the Impact of Citizen Participation and Staff Recommendations on Regulatory Decision Making" by Judy B. Rosener analyzes, through a case study, the effectiveness of citizen participation in regulatory proceedings. Rosener is additionally concerned with the conventional view that regulators generally take their policy recommendations from staff (rather than the public) -- merely "rubber stamping" policies 'predetermined' by their staffs (339).

Rosener used the proceedings of the California Coastal Act of 1972 as her case study. This act was created in response to pressure for coastal resource protection, and further, as a result of previous governmental inaction in response to this pressure. The California Coastal Commission was created to oversee the Act and determine how exactly the coast would be protected. This commission took the form of one state commission and six regional ones, with commissioners part-time and possessing the authority to approve or deny all development projects in the coastal zone. Additionally, a provision of the Act required that a public hearing be held for each permit that might have an "adverse environmental impact" on the coastal zone (340). Each commission had its own staff whose responsibility was to make recommendations on permits.

To determine if citizen participation had an effect on commission decision making and/or if commissioners merely acted as entities to rubber stamp staff recommendations, Rosener tested three hypotheses: (1) more permits will be denied if staff recommends denial, (2) more permits will be denied if citizens oppose the permits in a public hearing, and (3) more permits will be denied if citizens oppose the permits in a public hearing, irrespective of staff recommendations. Rosener obtained her data from 1,816 development permits for which individual public hearings were held.

Rosener found that when staff recommended permit approval, commissioners approved 93% of the time. When staff recommended permit denial, commissioners denied 55% of the time. Rosener found that, in the case of citizens, when there was no opposition to permits, commissioners denied 11% of the time. When citizens did oppose, the denial rate rose to 34%. This figure suggests that citizen participation was effective in commission decision making. In the situation where staff recommended approval but there was citizen opposition, commissioners denied 16% of the time (as opposed to a denial rate of 4% when staff recommended approval and there was no citizen opposition). Thus, the staff was overruled four times as often when met with citizen opposition. This is an additional fact that strengthens the case that citizen participation was actually effective. Moreover, when staff recommended denial in combination with citizen opposition, commissioners denied 66% of the time (as opposed to a 44% denial rate in the case of a denial recommendation and no citizen opposition).

Rosener's findings suggest a number of things. Citizen participation clearly influenced outcomes. This was measured quantitatively. Commissioners do not merely act to rubber stamp their staff's recommendation, as illustrated by the data that a higher percentage of denials occurred in the case of a staff recommendation for approval in combination with citizen opposition than in the case of a staff recommendation for approval in combination with no citizen opposition. Thus, participation influenced voting outcomes independent of staff recommendations.

In sum, Rosener's findings support all three of her hypotheses. The author's findings suggest that "the relationship between staff recommendation and voting behavior is more complex than has been assumed" (344). Most importantly, perhaps, is the finding that the combination of a staff recommendation for denial and citizen opposition significantly increases the possibility that a permit will be denied, as it is "the first quantitative measurement of the influence of these two factors on the voting behavior of regulators" (345).

"Putting More Public in Policy Analysis" by Walters, Aydelotte, & Miller explores the issues surrounding the difficulties of public participation in policy making via two case studies set in Utah. The authors then propose a model for the systematic inclusion of public participation in policy decisions, additionally identifying two variables -- the purpose for public involvement and the nature of the issue -- that need to be understood before public participation can be successful.

The authors first define the prominent beliefs against public participation in policy making: issues are too complex for the public to understand, "incremental decision making" is irrational, the public is uninterested or pursuing self-interest (rather than public interest), there is a basic difference between "the rational pursuit of efficiency" and the "democratic pursuit of participation," an increase in public participation necessitates a redefining of policy makers' responsibilities (read: decreases their power), and citizen participation is "time consuming, expensive, complicated, and emotionally draining" (349-350).

Prominent beliefs for public participation in policy making are as follows: "expert" views should no longer be privileged to allow for a broader range of views and "reliance on administrative discretion in decision making is not consistent with democracy or pluralism" (350).

Walters et al. examine these contrary views -- and how 'valid' they are -- via two case studies: the Utah Wilderness Debate and the Utah Growth Summit. The wilderness debate centered on land use in the West. In the beginning of 1995, the governor of Utah stated that by June, Utah would submit a bill to Congress designating a certain amount of Utah wilderness. Public participation was in the form of county-level public hearings, which eventually recommended one million acres, and regional public hearings, which recommended 5.7 million acres. Utah's wilderness bill to Congress eventually advocated 1.8 million acres of wilderness, but did not gain the support necessary for passage into law.

The Utah Growth Summit concerned growth management. The two major newspapers ran editorials on growth management issues two days before the start of the event. The event began with a television special on growth issues, aired by all television stations and some radio stations in Utah. There were several radio call-in shows for citizen response, a PBS call-in show with the Governor of Utah, and an Internet chat session between residents and the Governor. The Summit is considered by most participants to have been successful, as the public was "broadly involved and sensitized to growth issues," and "numerous policy proposals were put forward and eventually enacted by the Utah State Legislature" (351).

The case studies had two different outcomes. The Utah Wilderness Debate sought agreement, yet did not end the debate. The Utah Growth summit sought to introduce the issue of growth to the Utah public and did so effectively.

Effective citizen participation requires the right citizen participation strategies. The characteristics of the issue in question affect…[continue]

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