6.5.2  Participative Democracy, Involving Individual Citizens

(This is a current extract from the Patterns of Power Repository.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/652.htm)

The voluntary involvement of citizens in the governance of their own local services can be of benefit in ensuring that the community’s wishes are met.  Citizen participation helps to strengthen communities and it can be popular.  Ségolène Royal proposed it during the 2007 French elections.[1]  Paul Ginsborg has advocated a combination of representative and participative democracy to overcome the increasingly prevalent political apathy in western democracies.[2]  Even within a system classified as authoritarian, it is possible to use participatory democracy to enable citizens to influence their governance – as is the case in the Chinese experiments referred to earlier (

But participative democracy with individual citizens has some disadvantages:

·      The appointment of citizen juries, to govern the specialist agencies in each field, is a workable system but it involves people being prepared to give up their time.  People who are inarticulate might be appointed, and they couldn’t then adequately represent their interests or those of others.  And appointed juries suffer from the brevity of their involvement, lacking the time to gain expertise or the opportunity to ensure that recommendations are followed through.

·      If participation is arranged by asking people to attend a meeting if they are interested, the participants will only be those who are politically active or those who feel threatened.

·      The people who become involved in participative democracy are too small a number to claim legitimacy.  They can be seen as just a form of unelected representation.

These problems mean that participatory democracy is not a panacea, but it can nonetheless be useful in some aspects of governance.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                                 

[1] An example of the concept, in a paper entitled Participatory Democracy in the Region Poitou-Charentes, was available in May 2014 at http://www.cpa.zju.edu.cn/participatory_budgeting_conference/english_articles/Marion_Ben.pdf.  

[2] Paul Ginsborg, Democracy.  His summary for the RSA was available in May 2014 at http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/journal/archive/summer2-2008/features/how-to-save-modern-democracy.