Austrian Government Standards of Public Participation

As I’m starting to prepare for my session on public participation ROI at the IAP2 North America 2012 Conference, I came across Standards of Public Participation, a guidebook developed by the Austrian government and officially adopted in 2008 in an effort to “help administrative staff of the federal government in the concrete conduct of high-quality participation processes.”

From the document:

Where policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments are prepared, the public is increasingly offered an opportunity to participate. Public, politics and administration can benefit optimally from such involvement where the participation of the public is exercised at a high quality. This can be ensured by the application of standards aimed at maximising the effectiveness and efficiency of public participation. The present Standards of Public Participation are to help administrative staff of the federal government in the concrete conduct of high-quality participation processes. They are a contribution to good governance in Austria.

On page 6, the document lists the following objectives of public participation:

Public Participation is to …

… promote the exchange of information and experiences.

… foster the comprehension for differing other opinions and the coordination of interests.

… enhance the quality and transparency of decisions.

… enhance the acceptance and traceability of decisions, also of those whose social benefits will become evident only in the long run.

… strengthen the identification of citizens and interest groups with decisions, but also with the areas they live in.

… strengthen people’s trust in politics and public administration and to provide broader bases of decision-making for political and administrative decision-makers.

… create a broad approach to opinion-forming.

… help avoid delays and extra costs in the implementation of the policies, plans, programmes, and legal instruments, thereby optimising the use of resources.

On page 30, a comprehensive list of public participation benefits is presented:

High-quality public participation requires commitment, time, resources, and energy as inputs – but it also produces numerous benefts and in the output the investment may pay multiple dividends:

  • Public participation involves those affected in the search for results.
  • Public participation helps strengthen the climate of trust between politics, administration as well as those concerned and participants.
  • Public participation raises people’s interest in political participation and fosters lively democracy.
  • Public participation activates; it makes those concerned participants and dynamises development processes and participation projects.
  • Public participation supports the community and mutual respect between politics, administration and participants as well as among the participants. Services rendered are to a greater extent mutually recognised.
  • Participation processes are common learning processes and thus strengthen awareness-raising.
  • Public participation makes the values and attitudes of participants as well as their interests and needs visible.
  • Public participation fosters the comprehension for different standpoints and for the problem to be solved. The flow of information is improved. The work of the administration is citizen-oriented, solution-oriented and need-based.
  • The cooperation between public administration and interest groups concerned reduces the pressure due to expectations and lobbying by individual interest groups.
  • Public participation leads to innovative solutions, as all participants offer their knowledge, their practical experience and their creativity.
  • Public participation facilitates the development of an accepted strategy. It fosters long-term solutions and therefore ensures planning security.
  • Public participation designs decision-making processes in a way that they are transparent and traceable.
  • In processes of public participation the fields of competence of the participating groups are clearly described and perceived.
  • Public participation allows the involvement of the public in the process of decision-making. Results can thus be accepted and backed on a broader basis. Thanks to the intensive co-operation participants can identify themselves better with the result.
  • The intensive exchange between all participants permits the integration of different points of view, which improves the backing of results. In this way public participation also contributes to quality assurance and easier implementation. This means that public participation can have time- and cost-saving effects.

What other benefits have been proposed or, better yet, documented?

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