Examining Citizen Participation: Local Participatory Policy Making and Democracy

Local Government Studies


Citizen participation is usually seen as a vital aspect of democracy. Many theorists claim that citizen participation has positive effects on the quality of democracy. This article examines the probability of these claims for local participatory policymaking projects in two municipalities in the Netherlands. The article focuses on the relations between citizens and government from a citizens' perspective. The findings show that the role of citizens in these projects is limited, serving mainly to provide information on the basis of which the government then makes decisions. Nevertheless, the article argues that citizen involvement has a number of positive effects on democracy: not only do people consequently feel more responsibility for public matters, it increases public engagement, encourages people to listen to a diversity of opinions, and contributes to a higher degree of legitimacy of decisions. One negative effect is that not all relevant groups and interests are represented. The article concludes that for a healthy democracy at the local level, aspects of democratic citizenship are more important than having a direct say in decision-making.