Does It Work?

Proponents of civic activism and participation in general advance a number of perceived benefits of such practice. These were summarised by Involve in their 2005 research People & Participation:

  • Governance – e.g. strengthening democratic legitimacy, accountability, stimulating active citizenship.
  • Social cohesion and social justice – e.g. building relationships, ownership and social capital, equity, empowerment.
  • Improved quality of services – more efficient and better services, especially public services, that meet real needs and reflect community values.
  • Capacity building and learning – for individuals and organisations, to provide a basis for future growth and development and, especially, to help build stronger communities.

It is often difficult to quantify or generalise the benefits of participation as they depend so critically on the quality. Poorly planned or insincere participatory processes can lead to delayed decisions, disempowerment and ‘consultation fatigue’. Equally, well planned participation can be both a means to an end in driving better decisions, and an end in itself through empowerment of individuals and the democratisation of society. Put simply, bad participation is often worse than no participation at all.

 That said, studies of high quality participatory processes have found them to contribute to such benefits as reduced child mortality, increased tax revenue, better allocation of resources, reduced corruption and improved public trust.[1]