I strongly encourage citizen participation in all of the decisions that affect our lives. It is one of the vital privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.
Yet, I discourage the charade of citizen participation as a means of creating the false impression that citizens are making inputs if they are not.
We are constantly being encouraged to participate in charrettes, future planning, education cafes, etc. Many well-intentioned task-force members sincerely want to assist decision makers in brainstorming, goal-setting and planning programs that will serve the needs of citizens.
Too often they find out that the citizen participation process was only a ruse to give the appearance that citizens were considered when programs were developed or discontinued.
The results of these efforts by citizens, who donate their time, energy and brainpower, many times do not reflect their desires and intentions. The administrators conducting these faulty processes succeed in dressing their preplanned programs with false gowns of authentic citizen participation.
In order to avoid the common bait-and-switch masquerade, there are steps citizens can take to avoid investing their currencies of time, knowledge and legitimacy to a process that only reflects what the administrators wanted to achieve.
A first step would be to demand that the staff present concrete plans for the proposal. Don’t accept the idea that they have not given the process any thought. They have, and they know what they want as an outcome of the supposedly joint endeavor.
The administrators’ or consultants’ goals are a legitimate place to start instead of some false blank page, which you are encouraged to fill with their preconceived ideas.
Next, commit to the process from its beginning through the implementation, evaluation and end. Better yet, demand a citizens’ evaluation of the achieved goals be a part of the stated process.
Finally, hold the sponsors of the process accountable for the integrity of the process.
Citizen participation is a valuable resource of any governmental process, but it must be respected, not misused.
It is the responsibility of the citizen and the sponsoring organizations to enhance the community.