Participation and Democracy
Iraqi Association Comment
The concept of participation is increasingly being related to citizenship and democratic governance. Often when we talk of participation we mean participation in the community however increasingly it has come to mean participation in an overall sense where a person or a group of people are active within the framework of democratic governance rather than solely within the immediate community that they belong to.
There are two forms of participation the first and most basic is the social and project form of participation. This kind of participation is the process by which stakeholders’ influence and share control over development initiatives, the decisions and resources which affect them. At this level people are engaged in the several phases of a public project from needs assessment, to appraisal, to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. What sets this kind of community participation apart is while it could be funded by the state, participation within such projects is not necessarily related to political issues or governance. It is more for encouraging action outside the public sphere. Finally the focus of this is on more direct participation of primary stakeholders rather than indirect participation through elected representatives.
The second expresses itself in individual and collective actions that include mainly voting, campaigning, contacting, group action and protest all oriented towards influencing the representatives in government, rather than the active and direct participation in the process of governance itself. The most basic of these rights is the right to vote for a parliamentary representative. By exercising the rights directly aimed at influencing the selection of parliamentary officials private individuals make themselves participants in the broader spectrum of community and governance. As a result it allows citizens to take part in the formulation and implementation of public policy.
While it is important to raise awareness of the forms of participation it is equally important to raise awareness of the methods of participation. Traditionally in the field of political participation methods have included voter education, enhancing the awareness of the rights and responsibilities of citizens as well as lobbying and advocacy. This leads to a well-developed well informed citizenry that is able to hold its’ elected representatives more accountable. Beyond holding elected representatives accountable the development of direct participation opens up avenues that lead to advances in knowledge and community building.
Increasingly the idea of building social capital has taken to the mainstream; the idea that greater interaction between people generates a greater sense of community spirit. The modes and methods of participation discussed all contribute towards the idea of building lasting social capital.
The theory is that, by involving people in the governance of services, participants build relationships with public institutions or officials that give their community access to valuable external resources like money, support or political influence. The relationships between participants in the community and those in formal positions of power are essential for shaping the development of stronger community and by extension a stronger society.
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