Pau Alarcón, Carol Galais, Joan Font and Graham Smith
The economic crisis has led to challenges across a whole host of policy areas. But what has been its effect on citizen participation in political decision making?
When we think about the pros and cons of citizen involvement in political decision-making, questions arise about competence and motivation. On the one hand, there is the question of the competence of citizens in making well-considered decisions. On the other hand, will politicians implement or ignore citizens’ proposals?
The Great Recession allows us to consider these questions in the context of changing economic circumstances. Do citizens adapt their political proposals to the context of austerity or do they demand more against this backdrop? At the same time, are politicians keener to accept citizens’ ideas when there are more resources available? What kind of proposals are accepted or rejected during an economic crisis?
We address these issues in our Policy & Politics article, considering 500 proposals that emerged from 34 local participatory processes in Spain between 2007 and 2011. These are formal processes in which citizens are involved in local decision making processes (like participatory budgeting or neighbourhood councils, for example). We apply four different but complementary analytical strategies for comparing what citizens propose before and after the effects of the economic crisis, and how politicians deal with these proposals.
Our data suggest that citizens adapt their demands, suggesting less expensive proposals in a context of austerity. That said, during an economic crisis, more of these proposals challenge existing local government policies and practices. Overall, we found that citizens do seem to adapt to the crisis context in two ways: firstly by reducing their economic demands but also by proposing more innovative solutions.
In addition to this, we found that economic context affects the performance of politicians: they implement fewer of the proposals they receive during an economic crisis. Instead they appear to engage more in ‘cherry-picking’ proposals, favouring those that are less costly.
These differences following a crisis, however, are nowhere near as profound when compared to the impact of austerity measures on other policy areas such as pensions, health, poverty or banking; or other political arenas such as the national or regional level where the Great Recession seems to have left a completely broken policy landscape. This difference may mostly indicate the comparatively marginal scope of local participatory governance versus other local or national policies.
This paper represents a first step in understanding the effect of the financial crisis on institutions of participatory governance. It is one of the products of the Cherry-picking: the results of participatory processes project.
You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:
Alarcón, P., Galais, C., Font, J., Smith, G. (2018) ‘The effects of economic crises on participatory democracy‘, Policy & Politics, DOI: 10.1332/030557318X15407316045688
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