Citizen Participation – Concept, mechanisms and examples

We explain what citizen participation is, its mechanisms and why it is important. Also, examples from recent history.

citizen participation
Citizen participation allows the government to know the popular will.

What is citizen participation?

In politics and public management, social participation or citizen participation is the active intervention of organized citizens in decision-making and management of public resources, and other matters that have an impact on their own lives. This is carried out in accordance with the State, through democratic mechanisms that collect the popular voice and make it known to the respective levels of government.

It is a legitimate right of the inhabitants of a democratic nation, which, however, can be approached from very different theoretical perspectives. But overall, it is linked both to the control of public management and to the responsibility in making political decisions.

This means that the more involved and active citizens are in the performance of political power, the greater quotas of control they will have over the way in which the latter is exercised, and the greater responsibility they will have in making decisions in this regard.

For citizen participation it is essential that citizens are organized, informed and committed to their improvement, quite the opposite of what is traditionally known as abstentionism, that is, as political apathy and disinterest in the functioning of society.

Apathetic citizens do not tend to get involved in the functioning of their democracies, and are conducive to increasing corruption, authoritarianism and the separation of the exercise of politics from the real needs of citizens.

Importance of citizen participation

Citizen participation is key when it comes to promote responsibility in the exercise of politics, both on the part of the elected representatives to act according to the voice of the people, and in the latter, who express their decisions through voting in consultations, referendums or elections.

In fact, governments with little or no citizen participation can act freely, incur corruption with impunity or distance their policies from the real needs of the people, which often leads to unsuccessful governments, incapable of providing well-being to the people.

The organization and citizen participation It is key to improving the relationship between citizens and rulers, legitimizing the action of the latter and strengthening the exercise of democracy and republican, reducing the rates of corruption (and impunity) and guaranteeing the fulfillment of Human Rights.

Mechanisms for citizen participation

In general, the concept of citizen participation is associated with the idea of ​​direct democracy, in which the people play an active role in public decision-making, either through public consultations or through the formation of citizen organizations and councils. community vis-à-vis public bodies. In general, this means that citizens have access to the following participation mechanisms:

  • Initiatives of law or popular initiatives, which are formal proposals for the promulgation or repeal of norms, measures or laws that citizens can make to their representatives before the legislative power, that is, to their deputies.
  • Referendums. A referendum is a popular consultation that is carried out through a vote, with the purpose that the people approve or reject some legal text, such as regulations or laws.
  • Plebiscites. Direct consultations with citizens regarding a matter of great importance for public life.

Examples of citizen participation

citizen participation examples chile 1988
In 1988, citizen participation defined the end of the Pinochet government.

Some examples of citizen participation are:

  • In the Argentine city of Rosario, the government proposed as part of a Comprehensive Mobility Plan the total prohibition of cars from entering the city center. Dissatisfied citizens organized themselves to reject this proposal by popular vote, which was not finally included in the definitive Plan.
  • At the end of the military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet in Chile, a national plebiscite was held in 1988, in which the citizens were consulted whether or not the military leader should continue in power until 1997. Despite the climate of persecution that existed and the investment of public resources in In the campaign for “Yes”, organized citizens expressed themselves en masse for “No”, winning with 54.71% of the votes.
  • In Argentina, during the Liberating Revolution of 1957, the ruling military junta repealed the current Constitution and proposed to reform the previous one at will. For this, elections were called, prohibiting the participation of Peronism, whose militants decided to vote blank, achieving the majority of the null votes with 25% of the total vote and demonstrating the illegitimacy of any attempt at constitutional change on the part of the rulers. .