FRI 20 - 4 - 2018
 
Date: Mar 26, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
The building bricks of participatory governance
Hiba Huneini

Open and participatory governance is the new law of the land. It is not only necessary for the effectiveness of institutions but also crucial for the functioning of democratic systems. The building blocks of a participatory and open governance regime are based on its capacity to put a public consultation system in place. Public consultation is the core mechanism of open governments, and innovation in this domain is key for guaranteeing inclusiveness in its targeting.

There have been numerous attempts to develop a definition for public consultation by academics, governmental and non-governmental institutions, most of which have settled on two types of definitions for public consultation: a general definition and specific definitions.

According to Roy and Frawer, 2005, public participation is the “Engagement of the members of society in identifying a work agenda, making decisions and shaping the policies of the state institutions responsible for policy-making.”

Criticism of this definition focused on its general and overarching nature, which does not clearly and decisively define the different levels and grades of consultation and the extent of interaction in the consultation process. The levels of public consultation range from the mere dissemination of data and news to interactive consultation in decision-making.

Therefore, a definition standard has been developed to determine the levels of public consultation and to interpret the concept of “engagement” contained in the general definition, namely the “direction of information or knowledge flow” between the state and the members of the society involved in the consultation. Based on these standards, the OECD differentiated between three levels of public participation.

First, public communication, which is defined as the flow of information or knowledge about the consultation issue from the state to the individuals engaging in the consultation. It is a preliminary level of consultation in which the individual engaged in the consultation cannot provide a systematic reaction to the issue or information in question.

Second, public consultation, which is the flow of information or knowledge about a consultation issue from the individuals to the state at the request and initiative of the latter. It is an advanced consultation level where the individual engaged in the consultation can provide an opinion or reaction on the consultation issue.

However, individuals’ engagement ends as soon as they expresses their opinion and they cannot necessarily recognize the level of interaction of the state with their opinion or the extent to which their opinion is consistent with the general trend.

Thirdly, public participation which is a mutual and interactive flow between the state and the members of the society involved in the consultation. In other words, at this level of consultation, there is some degree of effective and influential dialogue in the policy-making process under discussion.

The common denominator at any of these definitions is that public consultation is an interactive process between the state and citizens; therefore, the state and the participating members of society are the two pillars of this process.

Public participation is essential for building social trust among the society. Social trust is a structural element in the stability, cohesion and sustainability of societies.

A high level of trust between society and the state helps to strengthen the effectiveness of governmental and non-governmental institutions, supports increased public capital and protects society from threats to stability and the dangers of violent extremism. Public consultation is one of the most important tools for building social trust. A pilot study carried out by Da Bo, Foster & Putterman, 2010 proves that the effectiveness of public policies increases by 40 percent when target groups are engaged in their development.

In conclusion, it’s important for Lebanon to realize the importance of open and participatory governance in increasing the efficiency of its institutions and improving the health of its democratic practices. It is imperative to the robustness of social trust and the effectiveness of its reform policies.

Hiba Huneini is manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 24, 2018, on page 3.

 

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
 
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