The term public participation can be understood as the involvement of people in the process of decision making. Here, decisions are those planning, political, administrative or any other kind of decisions that are related to the people directly or indirectly.
Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
In a democratic region, public participation plays a vital role for peoples’ empowerment.
- Public participation is part of “people centred” or “human centric” principles.
- Public participation is advanced by the humanist movements and in the context of post-modernism.
- Public participation may be advanced as part of a “people first” paradigm shift. In this case, it is argued that whether it can sustain productive and durable change.
The role of public participation in economic and human development was enshrined in the 1990 African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation.
Why should we encourage public participation in planning, problem solving and policy making?
- Participation is important for a healthy representative democracy. Involving citizens in decisions that affect them locally is one way to renew public trust and return credibility and legitimacy to all levels of government.
- While participation has long been part of the tradition of planning, we continuously need to find new ways to actively engage citizens in decision making, and part of this process is helping citizens understand the role they can play in deciding their own futures. In other words, citizens come to understand they have a contribution to make, and therefore become full participants in the process, rather than waiting to see what programs and services they will receive for their tax dollars.
- A carefully constructed participation program encourages an open exchange of information and ideas. This requires that planners consider alternate opinions, especially those of underserved or underrepresented minority, low income, elderly, and disabled populations. Together the participants establish a collective vision for the future, and share responsibility for problems as well as their solutions.
- Collaborative problem solving generally can be accomplished with less confrontation and fewer hurdles, since participants understand what opportunities are available and also whatever resource or other constraints must be considered.
- Involving citizens also assures that the solutions (and possibly some very creative or unconventional solutions) are tailored to local needs.
- State planning enabling legislation often provides for public input regarding land use and other decisions.