The purpose of citizen participation is for citizens to participate in political decision-making processes. The term citizen participation is used for a large number of different processes.
Two basic ways of political participation
The “formal” way
It involves procedures of legally anchored and direct democratic participation processes. Examples of this participation are suggestions and objections in the framework of planning procedures, elections, or referendums, and statements as well.
The “informal” method
It involves countless dialogue-oriented, advisory processes in which citizens gather together to make decisions or come up with opinions. The idea is that the decision-makers and citizens and start discussions about a political procedure at an early stage, exchange political arguments and, ideally, come to a shared decision. Examples of this way are mediation processes, citizens ‘councils, or citizens’ reports.
Both paths should lead to shaping the future of the state together. On the other hand, the procedures are not planned to replace representative democracy but they should complement these beneficially and improve the democratic consciousness of all those involved.
Citizen participation expands expert knowledge
Active citizens are more and more often no longer contented with what they find in their engagement. What is needed is the participation of citizens who rarely speak, and the use of new formats for participation as well, such as world cafés or planning cells with representative selected residents, instead of the mere comparison of fixed expert opinions. In the future, important aspects from the worlds of experience and the spectrum of opinions of citizens must be more “heard”.
Direct democracy complements representative democracy
The approaches of informal participation offer the chance to gain new standpoints on existing issues and to take in all those affected in new developments right from the start. The methods use the “swarm intelligence” of the citizens, so to speak. They enrich political decisions, create transparency and increase the acceptance of political processes and decisions. In order for informal public participation to be practiced, the citizens need a binding instrument at hand so that they can make their own decisions if necessary.