Strengthen governability rather than deepen democracy

Christopher Pollitt Award Winning Article: Strengthen governability rather than deepen democracy: why local governments introduce participatory governance

Daniel Kübler, Philippe E. Rochat, Su Yun Woo, Nico van der Heiden

International Review of Administrative Sciences, vol. 86, 3: pp. 409-426. , First Published January 22, 2019. (link)

Innovations in participatory governance have been widely discussed but their introduction as such is rarely examined. This article seeks to understand why, in a context of established democracy, local authorities engage in participatory governance. Using a data set on the implementation of mini-publics in 1505 Swiss municipalities in the period 2000 to 2012, we test five hypotheses about the introduction of participatory governance. We find that mini-publics in Swiss municipalities are policy-oriented procedures that involve only a small proportion of the citizenry. Municipalities who implement mini-publics are those that do not have a municipal assembly tradition, whose public services are under growth pressure, who feature many different political groups as well as strong party and community ties, and who have a strongly professionalized public administration. We conclude that the expansion of participatory governance is driven by an agenda to increase governability in an adversarial context with strong and fragmented group interests.

Points for practitioners
This study explores the introduction of mini-publics in Swiss municipalities. Mini-publics are participatory designs in which small groups of citizens deliberate on a topic related to municipal policymaking. Most mini-public exercises found in this study were related to spatial planning, but sustainability and youth were recurrent fields as well. Mini-publics have become part of public administration practice and are set up in the hope that they will help find solutions to conflicts and foster the acceptance of policy decisions.