So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement

This 72-page article by John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett was published in 2010 by the Institute for Development Studies. Over the last two decades, the idea that citizen engagement and participation can contribute to improved governance and development outcomes has been mainstreamed in development policy and discourse. Yet despite the normative beliefs that underpin this approach, the impact of participation on improved democratic and developmental outcomes has proved difficult to assess.

Where previous research studies have attempted to demonstrate impact, they tend to be limited to single interventions, a small number of country contexts or by various conceptual and methodological constraints. In this paper, the authors report on a meta-case study analysis of a ten-year research programme on citizenship, participation and accountability which analysed a nonrandomised sample of 100 research studies of four types of citizen engagement in 20 countries.

By mapping the observable effects of citizen participation through a close reading of these studies, the authors created a typology of four democratic and developmental outcomes, including (a) the construction of citizenship, (b) the strengthening of practices of participation, (c) the strengthening of responsive and accountable states, and (d) the development of inclusive and cohesive societies.

Gaventa and Barrett found that citizen participation produces positive effects across these outcome types, though in each category there are also examples of negative outcomes of citizen participation. They also found that these outcomes vary according to the type of citizen engagement and to political context. These findings have important implications for the design of and support for participatory programmes meant to improve state responsiveness and effectiveness.

Download the article for free at www.ntd.co.uk/idsbookshop/details.asp?id=1197.

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Terri Jones

I hope this translates to some change in the United States. It is hard, at times, to work for government, but it is immeasurably worse if you are not even respected for the work you do to make your community better.