Deepening participation, deepening local democracy? The state of local participatory governance in Ireland
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AbstractIn response to a decline in traditional forms of political participation and growing dissatisfaction with and distrust of democratic and public institutions, public authorities have engaged or have been required to engage in widespread democratic experimentation, particularly at the sub-national level. This experimentation, characterized as an integral component of elite-led ‘governance driven democratization’, has led to the proliferation of participatory processes which exist alongside and supplement institutions of representative democracy. The growth of formal institutions of participation which represents the development of participatory approaches to governance extends of the surface area of the state and places citizens and public officials in more frequent and sustained contact. Since 1996, local authorities in Ireland have implemented formal participatory processes which enable the direct participation of citizens and civil society in policy formation. Despite the increased opportunity for citizens and civil society to participate, there is a persistent literature detailing dissatisfaction with ‘consultation fatigue’ and the ‘cosmetic’ or ‘tokenistic’ nature of participation in Ireland and internationally. This research measures and explains variation in the depth of civil society participation within three sub national participatory governance processes; County/City Development Boards, Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committees, and Strategic Policy Committees. Using mixed methods research in a nation-wide study, the depth of participation is analysed with reference to key concepts such as voice, influence, trust and legitimacy. Further, the study connects the public administration and participatory democracy literature in the analysis of participation through the attitudes and experiences of public officials, elected representatives as well as citizen and civil society participants. In doing so, the study produces a more comprehensive and holistic analysis of participatory governance and identifies important explanatory factors including the capacity and motivations of citizens, institutional design, and the conduct and disposition of public officials and elected representatives. The research demonstrates that while the extent of arenas within which civil society voices can be heard is considerable, they do not enjoy a commensurate level of influence, leaving public policy dynamics largely undisturbed.