International Observatory on Participatory Democracy

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The Citizen in Regulation

A report for the Local Better Regulation Office

Executive Summary

Citizen Participation in Public Services

-          This chapter reviewed the existing literature on the perceived benefits of citizen participation in public services and explored where evidence indicates that citizen involvement may be applied in the context of local regulation to improve regulatory outcomes.

-          It was found that direct citizen participation is valued as a democratic end in itself, as well as a means of improving public services. It is coming increasingly to the fore, as the popularity of other forms of participation diminishes (voting and membership of political parties, for example) but willingness to engage may, to some extent, be determined by external conditions, such as the economic climate.

-          Policymakers and practitioners need to grasp the opportunity to bring citizens into the decision-making process, when conditions are conducive. Due attention should be paid to what the public values and, as far as possible, to embracing those values, but exactly how public officials respond to citizen participation is under-researched. What research has been undertaken reveals a concern by officials that they may currently lack the necessary skills for facilitating participation as part of their daily practice.

-          Recent models of participation tend to focus on collaborative and deliberative rather than adversarial politics. Deliberative participation – bringing citizens together to discuss, share and modify issues and opinions – has emerged as one of the most important engagement strategies in recent years and is consistent with the idea of the Big Society.

-          While desirable, ‘representativeness’ is elusive, and with increased diversity is unlikely to become any easier to achieve. Lack of representativeness should not however discourage policymakers and practitioners from seeking ways to involve citizens and improve accountability but as some individuals have greater capacity to engage than others, public officials will need to ensure that new ways of producing services such as regulation do not exacerbate existing inequalities.

-          A caveat. The evidence for improved outcomes arising from the use of citizen participation is patchy but what systematic reviews are available suggest decisionmaking, service quality, and sense of community are all enhanced.

-          The evidence base for citizen participation with local regulators is thin. More work is needed to understand how local regulators perceive their local communities and how local communities perceive local regulators – within the context of the responsibilities of local authorities as a whole – as a basis for leveraging the potential gains from bringing the citizen into regulation, where they live – at the very local level.

The Citizen and Co-production

-          This chapter reviewed the existing evidence base in relation to concept of coproduction; the process of involving the users of goods and services in their design, management, manufacture and/or delivery.

-          Co-production is both a means of maintaining or improving provision and, like citizen participation, an end in itself. The concept combines both the collaborative provision of goods and services and community development. Co-production therefore addresses individuals both as consumers of goods and services and citizens embedded in their local communities.

-          Co-production can improve efficiency as providers tend to become more sensitive to user needs when co-producing with them, but citizens should not be treated as experts. Their role is as citizens, to express their aspirations, values and concerns and to act as a co-productive partner where appropriate. To do otherwise can diminish the value placed on professional knowledge, which in turn may lead to suboptimal outcomes for citizens.

-          Regulation is a difficult concept to grasp and so in co-producing regulation, it is important to focus on the positive benefits and what the public values (safer streets rather than the detail of rules and regulations on alcohol sales, for example). In a true co-production model regulation can be defined not solely as constraining action – a means of minimising the risk to harm to citizens – but also enabling – optimising the quantity and quality of goods and services to the public.

The Citizen in Co-regulation

-          This chapter reviewed the existing evidence base in relation to co-regulation, a process which, at its most basic level, entails sharing regulatory responsibilities between the state and regulatees.

-          It combines aspects of both statutory regulation (regulators are authorised by legislation) and self-regulation (regulatees determine the detail of how to comply with the principles laid down in the legislation or by the regulator.). However, unlike voluntary self-regulation, by trade bodies for example, co-regulation operates within a legislative framework which empowers the regulator to take action in cases of noncompliance.

-          In both co-regulation and voluntary self-regulation the citizen has a potential role to play a role as a co-productive partner, for example by monitoring compliance with standards (the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme, for example) and by using, providing and disseminating information on the quality of goods and services (the ‘Trip Advisor’ model, for example)

-          The co-production of regulation by regulators, regulatees and citizens may enhance regulatory regime legitimacy – by demonstrating citizens are incorporated into the decision-making process, and can lower compliance costs – by demonstrating to regulatees that they too are central to the process. However, it relies on high levels of trust being generated and maintained between the various participants. There is a risk of reputational loss for the regulator if trust diminishes, for example due to fear of regulatory capture.

-          Given the need to manage the process of bringing in the citizen to regulation,perhaps co-manager is a better term than co-producer. It may more accurately describe the real role of the regulator in such a regime.