Aragonés defines participatory democracy as ‘a process of collective decision making that combines elements from both direct and representative democracy: Citizens have the power to decide on policy and politicians assume the role of policy implementation. The electorate can monitor politicians’ performance simply by comparing citizens’ proposals with the policies actually implemented. As a result, the discretion of politicians is severely constrained. In this system, the extent to which citizens can aﬀect policy and determine social priorities is directly aligned with the degree to which they choose to involve themselves in the process’.
Wallace outlines that ‘participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities’.
Participatory budgeting is one practical way of directly involving people in local democracy and decision making processes, by involving people in decisions about how public money is spent in their community. This means engaging residents, community groups and representative of all parts of the community to discuss and vote on spending priorities, make spending proposals, and vote on them, as well as giving local people a role in scrutiny and monitoring.
A 2011 Department of Communities and Local Government commissioned report describes participatory budgeting as directly involving ‘local people in making decisions on the spending priorities for a defined public budget. This means engaging residents and community groups representative of all parts of the community to discuss spending priorities, making spending proposals and vote on them, as well as giving local people a role in the scrutiny and monitoring of the process’.
The Participatory Budgeting Network states that participatory budgeting empowers communities, gets more people involved in democracy and improves local public services. It has a proven track record of increasing levels of participation, engagement and empowerment in a range of community settings.
Citizens’ juries are a further tool to enable more localised decision making. The Scottish Health Council has developed a toolkit for facilitating citizens’ juries, which ‘have developed as a form of participatory research that seeks to legitimise non-expert knowledge’.
Citizens’ juries involve citizens ‘developing their knowledge of a specific policy area, asking questions of expert witnesses, collective group discussions and deliberation and reaching a final decision. Citizens’ juries are often used alongside other research and public consultation tools such as surveys, interviews and focus groups and are intended to complement other forms of consultation rather than replace them’.
When designed well, citizens’ juries can ‘draw members of the community into participative processes where the community is distanced from the decision-making process or a process is not seen as being democratic… (and) improve representation in participative processes by engaging a cross section of the community in the jury’.