Critical trends of citizen participation in policymaking. Insights from Portugal

Roberto Falanga


Falanga, R. 2018. “Critical trends of citizen participation in policymaking. Insights from Portugal”. In Changing Societies: Legacies and Challenges. Vol. ii. Citizenship in Crisis, eds. M. C. Lobo, F. C. da Silva and J. P. Zúquete. Lisbon: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 295-318.
Worldwide, citizenry mistrust in governments, governors, and international financial markets is posing great challenges to democracy. Disaffection grows against the spread of ethnic, political, and religious intolerance, paired by the rise of populist instances that threaten human and civil rights worldwide. Within this turbulent scenario attempts to recover the relationship between citizenry and political institutions have been urged by a wide range of agents having different financial and political influences over the state.
Mechanisms of citizen participation in policymaking have emerged as one of the instruments aimed at strengthening democracies. In the last three decades participatory processes have spread around the world, mainly in the form of participatory budgets. In this span of time, discourses and practices of citizen participation have changed while models of governance have been demanded to effectively adapt to the global scenario. Surprisingly, changes in citizens’ participation and their relations with the global political and financial framework have been weakly addressed by scholars. The intricate relationship between global agencies influencing national and local governments in the enactment of citizen participation is the object of analysis in this chapter.
To explore this issue, light will be shed on the convergence of international and transnational agencies on the promotion of a global citizen participation agenda that matches and reproduces some of the neoliberal values. The dissemination of participatory processes is approached from a critical perspective by pointing out three main trends emerging from this global convergence: the detachment of local participatory practices from global issues; the shift toward technocratic approaches in detriment to political-oriented practices; and the scarcity of evaluation in contrast to the mushrooming of pilots. In the second part of the chapter the expansion of citizen participation in Portugal will be analysed in light of this framework. Considering the high number of participatory processes currently implemented in the country and celebrated internationally, the discussion will contrast national evidence with the three global critical trends in citizen participation.
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