Innovations in Democratic Participation fosters research to understand the character, causes, and consequences of participatory governance practices throughout the world. Through its Participedia website, a wiki-based platform, the program is generating a library of examples and methods of participatory governance, public deliberation, and collaborative public action.
From citizen involvement in budgeting to oversight groups that ensure better health care and social service delivery, government initiatives that encourage democratic participation demonstrate significant success.
Here are some examples:
Porto Alegre: Civic Engagement Among the Cityâ€™s Poorest
In Porto Alegre, Brazil, the cityâ€™s poorest citizens are taking an active role in how government allocates funds to social services and programs that they need on a daily basis. As of 2000, over 20,000 citizens took part in participatory budgeting, attending popular assemblies to vote on the distribution of more than $160 million in city funds. The striking feature of Porto Alegre's participatory budgeting is not simply that it engages large numbers of citizens, but that it mobilizes significant numbers from amongst the poor of the cityâ€”citizens who are typically politically marginalized. It successfully reversed the trends we associate with political participation, engaging a social group for whom the costs of participation (both direct expenses such as transport and opportunity costs) are usually prohibitively high.
Rural Bangladesh: Community Participation for Better Health
In Bangladesh, many believe that community participation in decisions about local health care leads to better health outcomes. In 1998, as part of health-sector reforms, the Bangladesh government attempted to enhance community participation in the public health system by setting up Health Watch oversight committees to encourage community members to monitor the performance of health service providers at the local level. The government enlisted non-state agencies such as NGOs working in the community to help set them up and ensured that women made up at least half of the membership.
The initiative produced many positive outcomes:
- At the community level, people have become more aware of what services are available. Clinics report a rising number of people seeking maternal health care, immunization, and family planning services.
- Awareness of nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation has also improved in rural areas.
â€śWhen people refer to us in the hospital they get better attention,â€ť says one Health Watch committee member. â€śNow they get medicines more often. And when they donâ€™t get proper health care and complain to me, then I go to the hospital and speak to the doctors.â€ť
Californians Speak and the State Listens
Nearly five million Californians live without health insurance, and millions of others struggle with skyrocketing costs and the threat of losing their own coverage. To address this growing crisis, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared 2007 the â€śyear of health care reformâ€ť in California. As state leaders considered competing reform proposals, thousands of Californians came together in an unprecedented statewide conversation to ensure that the public had a voice in shaping the stateâ€™s health care policy. Independent evaluations show that participants stayed involved in the issue, policymakers valued the process, and the resulting health care reform legislation reflected 3/4 of the publicâ€™s priorities identified during CaliforniaSpeaks.