Community means more than people who live in proximity and occupy the same relative environment. Community, when in reference to terms such as community participation and community engagement, means several orders of interaction and motivation. People who participate in their communities are internally motivated. They care about the community socially, culturally, environmentally, economically, and otherwise; their motivation extends into action that supports their belief in their community. Community participation in many parts of the world may be the best and fastest ways for communities to rectify their own problems and establish firm ties with public administration and government.
Bureaucracy, administration, politics, and other factors often interfere with communities receiving the assistance or allocation of resources necessary to solve a problem. They may be issues, sociological ones for example, that may only find firm resolution if it is generated and executed by the community itself. In countries where there is a clear and apparent history of poor leadership and great disregard for the needs of communities, community participation can serve as a bridge between communities, and between governments and communities if the leadership and/or attitude has changed.
Community participation, that is, the direct involvement/engagement of ordinary people in the affairs of planning, governance and overall development programmes at local or grassroots level, has become an integral part of democratic practice in recent years (see Jayal, 2001). In the case of post-apartheid South Africa, community participation has literally become synonymous with legitimate governance. (Williams, 2006)
Community participation can involve community members in more ways or at least serve as more accurate representatives of a community in government affairs. Community participation as the potential to make citizens feel much more connected with their community as a place and as a group of people who share the same space. Community participation requires the cooperation and fairness of government officials and community representatives in order to maximize the potential for positive change and efficacy. Cooperation and equity are not always the case in community participation, unfortunately.
In short, it would seem that the bureaucratic elites of officials and councilors are determined to impose their own truncated version and understanding of 'community participation' on particular communities. This highly atrophied form of 'participation' seems to be working precisely... (Williams, 2006)
Government officials may be opposed conceptually to community participation because it removes the power from government and puts the power over the community in the hands of those who live there. Government officials may additionally not sincerely participate in community engagement because they are illiterate to the needs of the community and do not endeavor to acquire more accurate information about the community they are helping. Government officials may furthermore not fully go along with community participation because it is a strategy to keep a community from progressing in another direction contrary to a government plan, operation, agenda, etc. Such officials may present danger to citizens in the community who go against them or are too eager, intelligent, and qualified for their own good.
Community participation is a great idea in theory, yet it is not always a great idea in practice. Community participation and community engagements are activities that are not limited to one area of the world. Community participation occurs in Africa, Europe, and South America for example. (Williams, 2006; Lowndes et al., 2001; McNeish, 2006) There are a number of factors that contribute to community participation perhaps resulting in more trouble (and less efficacy) than it is worth or intended. Community participation cannot work without a community. Members of a community must be motivated for some reason, hopefully at least a moderately altruistic one, to serve the community and be willing to take organized, consistent action(s) to improve the community's quality, in the many number of ways in which that could take shape. With lazy, or uncaring community members, community participation is a waste.
Effective community participation additionally needs cooperative and collaborative government officials, bureaucrats, and administrators. Community participation is organized actions coordinated among several groups of people. The best community participation comes when all of those groups communicate well and work together as a team. It may sound redundant, but when community engagement fails, or when anything fails, people want to assign blame, whether it is on a person, group of people, system, idea, or goal. Mistakes are less likely to happen when the factors that make community participation work are identified before the action is underway.
Many citizens, administrators, and politicians are interested in increasing public participation in public decisions. Efforts to do so are currently underway across the country. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that these efforts are not effective. Some efforts appear to be ineffective because of poor planning or execution. Other efforts may not work because administrative systems that are based upon expertise and professionalism leave little room for participatory processes. (King et al., 2008)
Community participation therefore is a sensitive endeavor that can be compromised or sabotaged by a number of factors including people who do not wish to cooperate with others or lack professional attitudes. Community action is not simple and successful community action is not accidental.
…effective, or authentic, public participation implies more than simply finding the right tools and techniques for increasing public involvement in public decisions. Authentic public participation, that is, participation that works for all parties and stimulates interest and investment in both administrators and citizens, requires rethinking the underlying roles of, and relationships between, administrators and citizens. (King et al., 2008)
Community participation, then, has to do more than look good on paper as a plan. It needs to be a living organism, that is flexible, adaptable, and cohesive. Community participation, according to King et al. (2008) is something that interests and stimulates the members of the community as well as the administrators and officials who legislate and serve the community. Community participation is a mutual endeavor. It is not necessarily an "us vs. them" situation. Ultimately community participation is an occasion for people to participate in a community and to participate as a community.
A disadvantage to community participation is that it has a long history of failure. Public participation as a whole does not work. Certainly there are instances of success and achievement, but overall, between the mistrust, misperceptions, avarice, and apathy, public participation is a bit of a long shot. Though, just because something has not yet worked does not mean it is useless, and perhaps required a bit of tweaking.
The traditional methods of public participation in government decision making simply do not work. They do not achieve genuine participation in planning or decisions; they do not provide significant information to public officials that makes a difference to their actions; they do not satisfy members of the public that they are being heard; they do not improve the decisions that agencies and public officials make; and they don't represent a broad spectrum of the public. (Innes & Booher, 2000)
This is yet another disadvantage or reason as to why people may not want to engage in community participation.
Worse yet, they often antagonize the members of the public who do try to work through these methods. Moreover, they pit members of the public against each other as they each feel compelled to speak of the issues in polarizing terms to get their points across -- making it even more difficult for decision makers to sort through what they hear, much less to make a choice. Most often these methods discourage busy and thoughtful individuals from wasting their time in going through what appear to be nothing more than rituals designed to satisfy legal requirements. (Innes & Booher, 2000)
Conventional methodology is ineffective and counterproductive for the reasons stated above. An advantage to using community participation is that when it succeeds, the success provides hope and an example for others to modify and emulate for their own needs.
As most citizens in their communities are not government officials or administrators, readers may infer that the people who want community participation the most are the members of the community. If readers consider the topic of community participation and engagement from multiple perspectives, they may discover that there is more than just one party that benefits from community participation, when sincere community participation is the desired outcome. Community participation is beneficial on behalf of public administration and levels of government. The attitude toward community participation from the government and public administrative perspective has not historically be one of overwhelming support, though, in the 21st century, attitudes as well as the times, are changing.
The role of participation in public administration has historically been one of ambivalence. Although the political system in the United States is designed to reflect and engender an active citizenry, it is also designed to protect political and administrative processes from a too-active citizenry… (King et al., 1998)
Thus, sometimes the government cannot move forward and accomplish its objectives without the cooperation and trust of the community and/or constituency.…