Ladder of Citizen Participation by Article Review

Excerpt from Article Review :

4). Moreover, citizenship should include, as a fundamental right -- in this concept of citizenship -- the right to participation itself. The right to participation affords social rights, as individuals cannot realize social rights without first exercising rights to participation.

Gaventa then goes on to discuss the different meanings and expressions of rights and citizenship. Sometimes, he writes, where citizenship is "universally assured," it's often not realized by the poorest of the poor (p. 6). More generally, ethnic, religious, geographic, and gender identities often frame the meanings and expressions of citizenship. Citizenship is also mediated by a "culture of privilege and patronage," as well as gender and social status. New theories in citizenship must be explored to overcome these problems (p. 6).

Apart from the different forms that citizenship takes across the globe, traditional boundaries between the state, civil society and the private sector are becoming increasingly ambiguous, necessitating a reframing of the roles of governments, the corporate sector, and citizens.

Gaventa finishes his peice by stating that one of the most important goals for understanding citizenship is to understand how rights and citizenship "are shaped by differing social, political, and cultural contexts" (p. 9). Further, it is important to keep in mind that newer, rights-based approaches, as those discussed in this article, are not inherently pro-poor. What's necessary is to understand the perceptions of poor people themselves, and to create spaces for citizen participation that are relevant to the citizens in question.

"Improving Performance and Accountability in Local Government with Citizen Participation" by Gibson, Lacy, & Dougherty examines the role of the citizen in a democratic society and calls for a shift in the public participation paradigm. Specifically, Gibson et al. call for a shift from the "expert/professional" political model to one in which the citizen is a part of every aspect of governance (p. 1).

Traditionally, two trends have dominated "the political participation landscape" since the early 19th century (p. 1). One has been the expansion of the field of participation to groups previously excluded. The other has been the evolution of institutions to a focus on minimizing costs associated with direct involvement, thus leaving the citizen in a secondary role regarding setting agendas, developing budgets, implementing programs, or evaluating outcomes.

Gibson et al. offer an alternative paradigm, where citizens have significant voices at the strategic vision level, residents are heavily encouraged to participate and are fully informed with the knowledge to make their participation meaningful, and public officials are engaged more frequently and effectively. In their paradigm, the meaning of 'accountability' is rethought as well; it's broadened to include not only financial accountability, but accountability for fairness, accountability for performance, and accountability for personal probity.

The authors then explain four, current broad models of citizen engagement. The managerial model -- the most common -- is top down, follows a rigid sequence, is linear in its application, and fails to provide for meaningful stakeholder participation. The legislative model -- the second most common -- is used to create an action agenda to direct organizational decisions, and usually results in three actions: development of an agenda, the "buy in" (by the community) of the agenda, and "the legitimization of decisions made by the community's governing body" (p. 6) The third model, the limited community participation model, is characterized by a Blue Ribbon Commission, which meets for a specified time period, writes a report, and dissolves. Community input is limited. The final model is the community empowerment model, which takes its foundation in "extensive community participation" and functions as an "empowerment process to develop a community agenda and engage the residents of the community over a long period of time" (p. 7).

By examining a number of case studies -- where citizen participation is being practiced -- Gibson et al. come up with a number of factors that contribute to success of the participation process. Flexibility must exist in engagement processes; a community should be able to modify its process in response to internal and external changes. Community planning processes must have "widely accepted measures of success or progress;" residents must see the results so they can know their participation is meaningful (p. 9). Renewal mechanisms must be a part of planning processes for long-term functioning. There must exist a "progress review board or independent oversight committee" to monitor progress and present it to residents (p. 9). Good leadership must also exist, and the hiring of good leadership must be treated as personnel decisions "with the same interest and concerns used to hire fulltime staff" (p. 9). In sum, or generally, Gibson et al. has found that community planning combined with benchmarking and performance monitoring builds trust among residents and keeps residents interested and motivated in further participation.

The authors are optimistic about the potential of electronic media to strengthen the engagement process. Moreover, there have been a growing number of community groups, neighborhood associations and civic associations during the past two decades. "The engaged community...is only in its infancy" (p. 10). However, it continues to grow, and is starting to become more a part of "the more formalized infrastructure of civic engagement" (p. 10).

"Innovations in Accountability and Transparency through Citizen Engagement" by John Gaventa is an overview of a workshop regarding accountability and transparency held at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in summer, 2008. The workshop met to discuss the future direction of accountability and transparency and it continues to grow in many different parts of the world. These agendas can be seen growing at civil society organizations, which have recently launched a host of initiatives to foster better accountability and transparency; at large-scale bilateral and multilateral aid organizations, and at private foundations and philanthropists, whose donations are "growing in importance" (p. 2).

Participants at the workshop identified a number of key factors driving the current accountability and transparency agenda: "the need for democracy to deliver" -- previous generations have sought the creation of democracy, and now that they have been created, there is now the pressure for those democracies to deliver; "the shift to new aid modalities" -- new approaches in aid have created the need for transparency to ensure that aid is well spent; "the pressure to show results" -- with more resources fueling the aid, there exists more pressure to show concrete results; and "the need to repair 'the leaky pipes' of service delivery" -- in counties where economic growth is occurring and national budgets are growing, basic services could (currently, they are not) be provided to impoverished citizens with the help of greater transparency (pp. 3-4).

Workshop members then went on to identify strategies for accountability. Consensus lies within a number of key trends. First, practitioners of accountability typically use a number of strategies, rather than just one strategy. Second, information is a key part of enabling accountability, yet much more could be done to use the newest information technologies. Third, there are a number of new approaches to funding, such as pooled and long-term funding approaches.

From there, the workshop produced six general areas on which needed work. The first is proving that accountability and transparency initiatives actually lead to "broader outcomes" (p. 6). Few academic studies exist on this topic. Specific gaps in research lie in questions such as how to build transparency in conflict settings, how to "build and test the theory of change that rests behind work for greater accountability and transparency," and more (p. 6). The second area that needs work is the development of "new strategic emphases and directions" (p. 7). Three main points arose from this goal: linking to new issue areas -- expanding transparency and accountability efforts to new areas (such as taxation); "drilling down in existing issues" -- focusing multiple accountability strategies on already existing issues; and expanding to new areas -- shifting the concentration of accountability and transparency work to countries which are hardly receiving any focus. The workshop's third area that needs attention is developing a broader demand for accountability and transparency -- without demand, "strategies will not find popular roots to maximize effectiveness, sustainability, and impacts" (p. 8). More resources should be poured into the fourth area, joining transparency and sustainability strategies, as well. Joining strategies can take agendas to a larger scale, both horizontally -- more groups in more places, and vertically -- linking groups for greater change. The workshop's fifth area of focus is on building donors' accountability; as aid organizations and philanthropists call for more accountability in their recipients, "legitimate questions increasingly arise to their own accountability" (p. 10). The final area that needs work is in the process of "developing innovative funding mechanisms," a process fundamental to the growth of the field (p. 11).

After defining what needed to be worked on, the workshop focused on how to move forward. Follow-up commitments were formed: the creation of an ongoing, interactive web space for participants to continue sharing ideas; the naming of follow-up task-groups to…

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