The word “citizen” has an intrinsically political connotation that means a specific kind of association between the citizens and government. Citizens have constitutional rights and responsibilities, including the right to take part in decisions concerning public well-being. Participation is an integral part of democratic government and an essential means to authorize citizens. Citizens can put their interests together, state their inclination, and use the authority necessary to influence continuous transformation through various civic organizations.
Setting up democratic institutions and processes is one thing, but these institutions and processes must be used to create opportunities for citizens to have healthy and fruitful lives. Ensuring that the government works for the public requires well-versed, structured, dynamic, and peaceful citizen participation. Citizens, therefore, need to comprehend ideas concerning citizenship, political affairs, and administration. They require understanding to formulate resolutions about guiding principles and the appropriate use of power, as well as the proficiencies to speak out their minds about what worries them, operate jointly, and hold public officials answerable and responsible for their actions or inactions.
Motivation for Citizen Centered Active Public Participation
One main reason for promoting citizen-centered active public participation is that the populace seems to have a strong concern in the results of policy options and the design and execution of a range of public policies. Although the general level of public involvement and citizen engagement in ‘decision-making’ processes is relatively low, the citizens are frequently given minute information regarding what is under discussion and being decided upon, despite the fact that it is expected to be in the citizens’ best interest.
There are numerous reasons why promoting active public participation and citizen engagement is considered to bring positive dividends, some of which are mentioned below.
Right Orientation on Citizens’ Preferences
The right orientation and sense of the citizens’ preferences can be a correct pointer than the reasoning of just a selected few leaders. There is also a perception of the problem resolutions as a result of comprehending what the problem is. If there is no common understanding of the problem and its causative factors, it is harder to build up an agreement in the region of the solution.
Reservoir of Resolution Ideas
There would be diverse thoughts about how a problem can be resolved. This is evident because the people that are directly impacted by a challenging circumstance are likely to proffer ideas on the mode and strategy of resolving the circumstance. Active public participation prevents reliance on the ideas of only a few privileged people, which deprives the government of an abundant pool of prospective ingenious ideas and propositions.
There is need for the citizens’ support and cooperation during the execution of policies made. The actual challenge with the government is policy execution. Several factors mostly cause the execution challenges; however, if the government promotes active public participation by embracing citizens’ involvement in the comprehension of the problem and the resolution process, there will be enormous cooperation and support from the citizens for the execution process. Sustained citizens’ involvement could also bring well-timed awareness to imminent new problems that are associated with execution.
Mutual Trust Between Citizens and Government
The government will find it relatively easier when the citizens can be trusted and when citizens can trust the government. Lack of trust in the government could result from a lack of communication and supposed transparency, sensitivity, and accountability. Promoting active public participation can assist in building that trust so that there is more approval from the citizens and less need for compulsion from the government.
Timing for Citizen Centered Active Public Participation
The most significant instant for active public participation is at the time when the structure of a public policy is being deliberated upon. This is when the problem that the public policy will try to tackle is being identified and analyzed. Also, the time for citizens’ participation is the time when choices are well-thought-out and when the real shape of the policy is being planned in specific detail. This is actually the preliminary stage when the citizens, particularly those concerned by the problem, can significantly partake and contribute in deliberation.
Active public participation of citizens is also applicable during the execution of a public policy. The execution of a significant public policy could bring about additional options through the analysis of the entire policy and also due to the precise conditions of the surroundings in which the execution needs to take place. If sufficient resources to completely execute the policy is not available, alternative choices might be made out of necessity. Active public participation can guarantee that the citizens in such a locality are conscious of these limitations and at the same time support the options that have to be made.
Obstacles of Citizen Centered Active Public Participation.
There are persistent challenges associated with promoting active public participation, some of which are mentioned below.
One challenge with participation by the citizens is that they do not get adequate prior information that there is a hearing, neither are they aware that their opinions could be channeled through other means. Most often than not, such hearings take place in the headquarters; these usually are in the large metropolitan areas only, making it difficult for most citizens in the local areas to get to the venue.
Another challenge is that citizens may not be able to afford the fare and the time to go and participate in a public hearing which might not be economically beneficial to them in the first place. On the other hand, if they can afford the fare, the timing for such a hearing might not be convenient for the majority of the citizens. This is because they could be at their offices, or the time overlaps with a scheduled time for other activities that are of great importance to them.
Yet another challenge is that the language in which the hearing is to be discussed could be complicated, such that citizens have difficulty comprehending what is being discussed. This is because the official language is employed in their communication. Since quite a number of the citizens are not fluent in the official language in which the discussion is taking place.
Benefits of Citizen Centered Active Public Participation.
The benefits of Citizen Centered Active Public Participation cannot be over-emphasized. It can contribute to various enviable results. This can lead to the citizens enjoying better developmental results like enhanced well-being, water, hygiene, education e.t.c.
There is a reinforcement of the habit of participation by making the citizens learn skills, form the associations and connections, and build the organizations and alliances needed to make their opinions heard by the government. The citizens are more conscious of their right to participation and are well informed about what is lawful.
Fortifying a quick response and responsible state is done by putting in place practice and structures for accountability. It is essential to be more responsive to the citizens than trying to deliver services or simply defending their rights, which might not be their priorities.
Attributes of a Citizen Centered Government
A citizen-centered government has several attributes, among which are the following.
Citizen Identification and Segmentation: A citizen-centered government can identify its citizens by forming associations and engaging with them regularly. It is also able to subdivide its citizens into various meaningful groups. These groups could be how old they are, their sex, earnings, geographical locations, employment categories, e.t.c. The subdivision helps the government in the easy and effective administration of their diverse needs.
Informed Decision Making: Decisions and choices are made based on the information gathered from the citizens. This is reflected in the financial plan and services rendered to the citizens. In other words, the citizens determine the services to be rendered and at what time. The government also takes note of the citizen sectors not being serviced simultaneously due to the diversities of their needs to make further informed decisions.
Efficient Management of Value Outcome of Decisions: The citizen-centered government can unmistakably project the public value outcomes of its decisions. This is because it anticipates the value its citizens get from the decisions made in terms of time conservation, cost reduction, and efficient service delivery. Citizen-centered government efficiently manages the quality of services, justice, active public participation, and confidence from its citizens through protection and confidentiality of information.
Effective Feedback System: A citizen-centered government is exceptionally good at listening and getting feedback from its citizens to serve them better. This is realized through frequent two-way communication and the use of social media so that the government can be well informed on any issues that may affect its citizens.
Cooperative Active Public Participation: Citizen-centered governments are truly interested in cooperative active public participation. The center of their attention is persistently on simplifying and incorporating several government agencies to make available seamless and quality services to the citizens. They are zealous regarding partnership as well as supporting a system that designs and delivers services.
A citizen-centered government can successfully promote active public participation in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. In this way, the citizens are correctly identified and grouped. Decisions are intelligibly made, and the outcomes are efficiently managed through an effective feedback system that is all-inclusive and encompassing.
Dr. Lizzy Oluwatoyin Ofusori is a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Management, IT and Governance, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban. She writes in her capacity.