April 6, 2012
Guest Post by Dan Luca
When it comes to involve and engage citizens in the decision-making process on a European level, there is confusion about terminology.
Some see “asking the interested citizens what they prefer” as active public participation. It is not: “asking the interested citizen” falls under consultation. Consultation is a top-down professional or bureaucrat-led process. At best, consultation produces choices from which the selected consultants can choose. Worst case scenario: community preferences are ignored, because they do not fit some preconceived model of “what the public needs”, designed in the minds of bureaucrats, politicians and professionals.
Participation is a process of setting up structures, within which professionals or bureaucrats become facilitators of a broad-based deliberative process. Participation is more difficult and time-consuming than consultation. It requires the leaders of the process to have the commitment to public participation and at the same time also the techniques to enact it. It requires skills in working with groups, but also skills in keeping the lobby group representatives or vociferous individuals to dominate and unduly influence proceedings.
Often enough there is big confusion between consultation and participation processes. People taking part in a consultation process can be disappointed and disillusioned when the results clearly show that their recommendations / opinions / ideas have not been taken up. So when questions like “why are citizens not engaged?” – Well, it’s just not structured to facilitate engagement.
Dan Luca, Casa Europei