Over the last decade in the United Kingdom, numerous changes have taken place to increase participation in both informal and formal politics. The main reason for political participation is to promote democracy through voting in elections, involvement in formal politics and informal activities, such as, political consumerism and activism. However, in the United Kingdom, political participation has been on the decline according to recent reports. For instance, young individuals are less likely to be elected to political offices as opposed to their elderly counterparts. Disengagement between the political elites and the citizens due to mistrust has also hampered full participation in every aspect of UK politics. In order to realize full political participation, it is imperative for the nation to adopt innovations such as Citizens assemblies and participatory budgeting (McKenna 2011). Through these innovative approaches decision-making will not only be left in the hands of a few ruling elites, instead they will encourage pluralist democracy where the government will be in the hands of many. In this way, democracy of the state will be enhanced. Therefore, the paper seeks to explore the participatory democracy and deliberative democracy and how these two models enhance political participation.
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Fox (2014, p. 311) defines political participation as, “A wide range of activities through which people seek to influence the decision-making processes that shape their lives.” He argues that political participation can take two forms, namely formal participation and informal participation. Formal participation is a direct involvement of a person in politics through elections, referendums and political parties. On the other hand, informal political participation happens when a person sits outside official setting and participates through online activism, boycotting products because of political reason and influencing families and friends to participate in political matters. Participation in formal politics takes the form of voting, serving in government, running for political and membership of activities in political parties (Isernia & Fishkin 2014). In contrast, in informal participation, it takes the form of E-democracy, protest and social movement among others.
Hague and Harrop (2004) assert that political participation is an activity by a person formally intended to influence those who govern or the decisions taken by those who do so. It is apparent that in many democratic countries, a person with a majority of votes leads a country. The leader depends on the decision that the people will take to either vote for him or not. Nevertheless, political participation aims to influence private, public and third sector organization (Hague & Harrop 2004).
Models of Democracy
Participatory Democracy (Participatory Budgeting)
Participatory democracy emerged between 1960’s and 70’s with a primary objective to enhance more participation, especially in the Western countries (Parry, Moyser & Day 1992). As its name suggests, participatory democracy essentially aims at promoting broader citizen participation in decision-making process. This type of democratic innovation engages deeply with citizens to identify and address their fundamental needs. Additionally, participatory democracy is responsive and flexible; thus, it has the ability to respond to all citizens’ concerns. The best example of innovation under this model is participatory budgeting.
Deliberative Democracy (Citizen Assemblies)
Deliberative democracy is derived from the term, “deliberate”, which refers to the process by which people honestly weigh the merits of competing arguments in discussion together (Fishkin 2009, p. 33). Deliberative democracy builds upon “participatory democracy,” but the two are not equally the same. Before making a final decision, the ruling elites “deliberate” more to determine the legitimacy of the law. Contrary to participatory democracy where voting and participation are given top priority, deliberative democracy is founded on the legitimacy of the law that governs the citizens. Guttmann and Thompson assert that, “it is a process in which people give each other reasons that mutually acceptable and generally accessible, with the aim of reaching decisions that are binding on all citizens but open to challenge in future” (2004, p. 282 ). Deliberative democracy uses various platforms such as citizens’ assemblies, citizens’ juries, deliberative polls and empowered participatory governance. The main reason for deliberative democracy is to be able to learn and understand other people’s views and opinions in order to make a collective decision. The best innovation under deliberative democracy is citizen assemblies.
Comparison and Contrast between Participatory Budgeting and Citizen Assemblies
Citizen assemblies are an important innovation under deliberative democracy that involves randomly choosing people and asking them to deliberate more on a particular issue before making a decision. In this regard, the ruling elites or the citizens take an opportunity to deliberate on a specific matter and later come up with a collective agreement or decision. However, deliberation does not necessarily lead to an agreement. In some instance, disagreement can occur but at least each party gets to hear the views of each other. Direct deliberation occurs on Citizen Assemblies platforms whereby the citizens recommend or make a decision that influences their daily lives (Chambers 2003). These citizens are usually randomly chosen in order to get information about a specific matter. On the other hand, participatory budgeting brings every citizen on board. All the citizens participate in the budgeting process to elect their favorite leader. Hence, participatory budgeting does not depend on the decision made by a group of a few individual as evident under citizens’ assemblies. Participatory budgeting tends to promote an all-inclusive government that values the decision of each member of the society. For instance, citizen assemblies was practiced in Ireland when the citizens discussed about the question of abortion in the country. Citizen assemblies were organized across the country and views of people were collected before decision was made.
In contrast, participatory budgeting innovation originates from the word, “participate” which means to engage in the affairs of a particular thing. As mentioned earlier, political participation refers to an activity by a person formally intended to influence those who govern or the decisions taken by those who do so (Fox 2014). Thus, every citizen has a right and freedom to participate in political matters in a country through voting, political party membership, and referendum. However, citizens are usually limited to participate in politics while the rest is left for the governing elite. Participatory democracy is practiced in many parts across the globe (Lau & Redlawsk 2001). For instance, in the United Kingdom, citizens are usually allowed to participate through voting and referendum. Recently, Britain government has engaged its citizens in a referendum to determine whether the country should exit the European Union. The citizens later voted to exit the European Union. Similarly, the United Kingdom has had an increase in voter turnout of up to 70 % in 2015. This survey shows that many people participate through elections to elect their leaders.
Strengths of Citizen Assemblies Innovation
Direct Citizen Input
Citizens have an opportunity to participate and contribute through the citizen assembly forums. Individuals are usually randomly selected between 15 and 25. Thereafter, they are exposed to information about a particular issue that needs to be addressed. They are then given an opportunity to vent their thoughts about the matter after which it is taken back to the government authorities for consideration. Thereafter, the government makes the decision based on the citizen’s recommendation. In this way, the government benefits from useful insights provided by the citizens (Cockburn 2007). In addition, the government tends to learn and understand different views of its subjects and consider them in the future.
Interrogation if Issues through Evidence and Experts
Citizen assemblies usually deliberate competing arguments or point of view before making a decision. In most cases, it normally require experts to contribute to supplying the authorities and citizens with authentic information so that they can make the right decision (Dryzek 2001). For instance, in order to determine the legitimacy of the law that will govern the citizens, it is imperative to hire expert lawyers to amend the law so that it can be suitable for all the citizens (Hague & Harrop 2004). Since many people have different opinions, deliberative innovation interrogates every issue by use of appropriate evidence and experts to eliminate chances of making a bad decision that might possibly affect the lives of citizens.
Highly Specified Outcome Delivered Through a Verdict
Citizen assemblies usually deals with a specific matter. It means that it is usually interested for a specific outcome. All the efforts of this innovation revolves around mobilizing citizens to give their views on that particular issue (Dryzek 2001). The significance of narrowing down an issue allows the relevant authorities to focus and deliver a verdict on that particular issue within a short period of time. Additionally, focusing on a highly specific outcome enhances the precision of the outcome.
Weaknesses of Citizen Assemblies Innovation
Top-down Framing of the Question
The government and the local authorities are the ones that frame the question. These questions can be skewed to favor a particular political group or entity. Some questions can be biased or might not address the real problem affecting the lives of the citizens (Barber 2003). Therefore, I would recommend that an integral approach of framing question should be adopted in order to mitigate the aforementioned problems.
Not Representative- Focus Groups
As opposed to the participatory democracy where every citizen has the right and freedom to participate in political matters in a country through voting, political party membership and referendum, deliberative democracy tends to focus on specific groups to gather information and thereafter makes a decision based on the information given by the group (Hague & Harrop 2004). In fact, this model does not encourage an all-inclusive government that values the decision of each member of the society.
Specificity of the Issue
Most of the views given by the citizens are vague and general. Hence, their outcomes can possibly affect the quality of the decision. Some of the opinions raised by focus groups can be misleading or deviate from the main agenda. By blindly following them, it can lead to a wrong conclusion.
Strengths of Participatory Budgeting Innovation
Gives the Community Members a Say
As mentioned earlier, participatory budgeting brings everyone on board. It ensures that the voices of every citizen is heard through participation (Isernia & Fishkin 2014). Additionally, it promotes an all-inclusive society that makes everyone feel important. In this way, participatory democracy tends to enhance political participation.
Makes Better and More Equitable Decisions
Since many people are allowed to participate in politics irrespective of their age, gender, ethnic extraction or religion, participatory democracy tends to promote equity amongst members of the society. Also, decisions that are made by many people are better than those made by only a few politicians. As the old adage clearly states, “the majority are always right”.
Weaknesses of Participatory Budgeting Innovation
It Is Costly to Implement
Participatory budgeting innovation is usually costly compared to deliberative innovation. This is because participatory democracy targets many participants who make a decision about a particular issue. In addition, materials and equipment used during elections and referendum are costly to acquire; thus, these technical factors pose serious challenges.
It Is Prone to Manipulation
It is no doubt that election process is prone to manipulation. Results can be doctored to suit the needs of the ruling elites as opposed to the citizens. In the recent past, many countries experienced political malpractices that had a direct impact on the results of elections.
Deliberative and participatory innovation complement each other in enhancing political participation. Participatory democracy essentially aims at promoting broader citizen participation in decision-making processes. This type of democratic innovation engages deeply with citizens to identify and address their fundamental needs. Contrary to participatory budgeting where participation is given top priority, citizen assemblies concern more about the legitimacy of the law that governs the citizens. Citizen assemblies have a number of significant strengths which include a direct citizen input, interrogation of issues through evidence and experts, and highly specified outcome delivered through a verdict. However, there are several weaknesses and they include a top-down framing of the question and not representative- focus groups among others.
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