The Concepts Of Participation In Governments Politics Essay

Participation is a concept that has been continually contested within the academic literature. The term has sparked a lot of debate and become an important concept relating to democracy and justice. Participation has been characterised as a vehicle for enabling citizen interaction and citizen power. Cornwall (2008) has described participation as a malleable concept, suggesting that the concept can denote itself to any situation in which people are involved. This however has created a significant limitation for the applicability of participation in natural resources management. Passive participation has increasingly become more evident within environmental management through processes such as tokenism and consultation. The following essay will examine and critically evaluate the different typologies of participation. Due to the variety of typologies proposed within the literature, only the frameworks proposed by Sherry Arnstein, Jules Pretty and Sarah White will be critically evaluated. Environmental examples of participation will then be illustrated in order to determine the extent to which participation as a malleable concept is a strength or limitation for natural resource management.

There's a specialist from your university waiting to help you with that essay.
Tell us what you need to have done now!

order now

Sherry Arnstein provided one of the first models of public participation. Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation was published in 1969, and sought to summarize the context of American public planning at the time (Bishop and Davis, 2002). Public participation and power sharing during this time consisted of an “us and them” approach (ref). At the centre of this philosophy, the ideals of democracy were broken. Arnstein suggested that power had not equally been distributed amongst all members of society (ref). As a result, Arnstein advocated for a framework in which the planning process adequately took into consideration the ideals and opinions of public citizens (Hayward et al., 2004). Arnstein’s model comprised of a ladder, which metaphorically denoted levels of citizen participation. Each ascending level of the ladder, described as rungs, characterised a level of influential power citizens could have within the planning process (Arnstein, 1969). Arnstein’s ladder ultimately consisted of eight rungs, therefore, describing eight typologies of participation.

At the bottom of Arnstein’s ladder is Manipulation. Arnstein described this level of participation as an unauthentic form of citizen participation. At this level of the rung, power graspers such as politicians were considered by Arnstein to deform the processes of public relations (Litva et al., 2002). Arnstein suggested that citizens were often placed on advisory boards with the purpose of authorities attempting to educate them about particular issue (ref). Arnstein believed that this level of participation was somewhat illusionary, in the sense that minority groups were often targeted and manipulated by power holders (ref). Much of the decision making powers still remain within the hands of authorities, and ethnic groups or special interest groups were simply forced to comply with the decision that had already been made (Whitman, 1994). The next rung on Arnstein’s ladder is a form of participation labelled as Therapy. Therapy is advocated by Arnstein as another form of illusionary citizen participation. Arnstein suggested that authoritarians such as mental health experts, social workers and politicians view those as powerless as mentally incapable (Shier, 2006). Therefore, making citizens engage in sessions of therapy and reform. Arnstein suggested that what made this form of citizen participation illusionary is that an extensive amount of spotlight is placed on ‘curing’ citizens of their existing perceptions or opinions (McDonald, 1988). Less effort is focused on changing the power struggles that exist within societies which shape the current perceptions and opinions evident within specific classes of people (ref).

Infroming is the next rung on Arnstein’s Ladder. Arnstein characterised this level of participation as a way of legitimizing public participation through informing people of their rights and responsibilities (ref). However, more often than never, the flow of information had predominately focused on officials providing citizens with information through the use of various media, newsletters and reports (ref). This one way flow of information often did not provide citizens with an opportunity to voice their concerns, or provide officials with any feedback (ref). Therefore, ultimately decreasing the level of influence citizens are able to exert upon planning projects. The fourth rung on Arnstein’s Ladder is Consultation. This is arguably the first instance in which the concept of consultation had been used within a planning context (ref). To further legitimize the process of public participation, Arnstein suggested that the opinions of citizens needed to be taken into account (ref). Meetings, public hearings and stakeholder reports had become the most common forums for enabling consultation amongst specific groups of people. Consultation consists more of just asking citizens about their views. The process is only valuable if further work is undertaken to adequately change policy structures in order the meet the needs of citizens (ref). Genuine consultation would therefore, consist of systematic meetings which can provide an open loop of communication for both authorities and citizens (ref).

The Partnership rung on Arnstein’s Ladder portrays the redistribution of powers amongst citizens and authorities. Ideally, at this level of participation, the ability to make decisions is left in the hands of both the public and private sector (ref). Partnership can be seen to effective when the citizens themselves are equipped with resources and finances. This can help community groups to barter with politicians and allow citizens to have an influence over project plans (ref). Citizen power increases further up Arnstein’s ladder, with Delegated Power being a form of participation where citizens dominate the decision making process (ref). In this instance, the public would have assumed full responsibility and power over a specific project or plan. Such a circumstance is often reached when the public themselves hold significant trump cards, and are prepared to take full accountability for the outcomes of a particular programme (ref). The ultimate form of citizen power is characterised by Arnstein as Citizen Control (more).

Arnstein’s Ladder provides a good explanation of the interactions between citizens and authorities. Though simplistic, the model has become an influential pillar within debates surrounding participation. Arnstein’s metaphorical depiction of participation as power has influenced policy processes across the globe. Participation as evolved as an important mechanism for stakeholder engagement and community involvement (ref). Since the publication of the model in the late 1960’s, many criticisms regarding Arnstein’s typologies of participation have arisen (Lane, 2005). Arnstein’s typology attempts to highlight the differences between the powerless and the powerful. It has been asserted that Arnstein does not consider the obstacles which may become apparent in achieving different levels of participation (Arnstein, 1969; Collins and Ison, 2006; more). Arnstein (1969) has suggested that there are obstacles that need to be overcome by both the citizens and the authorities. Authorities for instance need to overcome obstacles such as racism and be willing to shift the scales of power (Arnstein, 1969). Citizens in contrast need a knowledge base and resources to facilitate a strong and collective standing within society (Arnstein, 1969). Critics have also suggested that Arnstein’s ladder may not be a realistic representation of participation (Tritter and McCallum, 2006). Arnstein categorised participation into eight rungs. In the real world however, there may be several more levels of participation occurring within society (Arnstein, 1969; Collins and Ison, 2006). Furthermore, the boundary between each category of participation may not be as distinctive as a step on a ladder (Arnstein, 1969).

Tritter and McCallum (2006) have also suggested that Arnstein assumes that a hierarchical element exists within participation, which is in fact untrue. Arnstein’s model suggests that citizen control is the ultimate goal for participation. Arnstein has neglected the possibility that often citizens may take part in the decision making process for a range of reasons. Arnstein’s Ladder implies that if citizen control is not achieved, then there is an apparent failure within the participatory process (Tritter and McCallum, 2006). Bishop and Davis (2002) suggest that this linear relationship between the levels of participation suggests a false sense of notions with regard to policies. As Bishop and Davis (2002) argue, Arnstein’s Ladder suggests that variations only occur between the parties engaged with participation, and the policies that exist within societies remain constant and uninfluential. Arnstein’s framework ultimately does not place any emphasis on the importance of communication, feedback loops or the different perceptions that shape people’s views on a particular situation (Tritter and McCallum, 2006).

Nonetheless, Arnstein’s Ladder provides us with the image that participation has contrasting degrees and levels within a planning context. It is therefore important to examine and understand other models of participation that are evident within the literature. Pretty (1995) has suggested that the concept of participation has different meanings for different groups of people. Pretty (1995) has put forward a more comprehensive framework to characterise participation. Pretty’s typology of participation consists of both detail and critique (Juarez and Brown, 2008). Pretty conceptualises participation within a local context, and takes into consideration the distributions of power and interests of stakeholders. Therefore, in theory, Pretty intends to offer different interpretations with regards to the concept of participation (ref).

Pretty has developed a framework of participation that distinguishes between seven typologies. The first of these types is Manipulative Participation. In this typology, citizens have no decision making ability or voice (ref). The voices of citizens are often undermined, and the flow of information and communication is exclusive to a group of professionals (ref). The second typology is Passive Participation. Within this typology, authoritarians will often announce plans of a project or the outcomes of decisions that have already been established. Citizens only participate by being told about what has already been decided by the authorities (Juarez and Brown, 2008). Participation by Consultation is the third typology identified by Pretty. In this form of participation, citizens are consulted with by authorities (ref). Pretty notes that within this type of participation, professionals, experts and authorities will agree to hear the views of citizens and other interest groups; however, there is no obligation for these views to be ultimately taken on board (Pretty, 1995).

The fourth typology identified by Pretty is Participation for Material Incentives. Citizen participation is more active within this typology. Citizens participate by contributing resources or time in exchange for other material objects (ref). Pretty uses the example of farmers, whose fields and labour are used by experts during experiments or trials. The farmer however, remains inactive with regards to the project or programme. Yet, the farmer is still considered to be ‘participating’. Pretty acknowledges that once incentives are ended, the likelihood of any participation continuing decreases (ref). Functional Participation is described by Pretty as citizens forming groups in order to specific objectives of a project or plan (Pretty, 1995). Citizens once again only participate once all major decisions have been made by the professionals or experts. Local action is however, initiated by these citizen groups, therefore activating the practices and structures within neighbourhood communities (Juarez and Brown, 2008). Interactive Participation is where citizens venture in joint analysis. Pretty defines interactive participation as when multiple methodologies and several objectives are synthesized to create a common goal or understanding (Juarez and Brown, 2008). In this form of participation, citizens are given the power to maintain the practices and structures established within communities (ref). The last typology identified by Pretty is Self Mobilisation. In this, citizens are active participants, taking initiative to make changes independently to any external institution or group of experts (Pretty, 1995). Collaborative actions by citizens strengthen community bonds, as well as challenging any existing inequalities in power distributions (Pretty, 1995).

Pretty’s classifications appear to cover most of the relevant forms of participation. Several limitations however are evident within Pretty’s description. Pretty suggests that low level of participations are enforced by external actors. Passive participation for instance, does not only occur in instances where people have been told what to do (ref). The participants themselves can increase the likelihood of passive participation due to significant shortages in their own resources (ref). For instance, citizens may lack a sound knowledge base about a particular issue. Therefore, even a well intended and interactive project may still fail due to insufficiencies on the part of citizens (ref).

This further suggests that in some cases, a lack of participation cannot always be blamed on external actors or the design of a programme. Thus, the context in which participation occurs is a sensitive and significant variable to take into consideration (ref).

Pretty’s typology also consists of several overlapping classifications. This makes it difficult to grasp a complete definition of participation as each typology is connected to the next (ref). For instance, the idea of manipulation is not exclusive to Pretty’s Participation through Manipulation typology. Manipulation is also manifested within other typologies such as participation for material objects or functional participation (ref). Pretty also assumes that a minimum amount of participation is occurring within each level of typology. This is problematic analytically. Pretty perhaps intended to only consider a framework in which participation is considered. In doing so however, a typology of non participation is lost in analysis. It had been argued that manipulation can be considered as a form of non participation (Hart, 1992 cited in Pretty, 1995). This however is problematic as even a small amount of participation can still influence the decision making process, making it impossible for non participation to occur (ref).

Both Arnstein’s and Pretty’s typologies are normative in nature, suggesting that the ideal form of participation is only located at the end of a specific spectrum (ref). These two models highlight the subtle effects of political affairs that are embedded within the participation debate. Questions surrounding ‘control’ and ‘power’ arise from participatory typologies, thus making it important to consider the underlying politics surrounding participation (ref). White’s (1996) typology of participation starts to deal with issues, and begins to consider the various stresses actors engaging in participation experience. White’s typology of participation is more complex. The framework used by White explores the many dimensions and interests involved within the process of participation (White, 1996). The identities, context and interests of both individuals and groups are also explored throughout the typologies (White, 1996).

White’s typology of participation is separated into categories in which one can easily identify situations where opportunities are created, or power distributions are established (White, 1996). White’s framework is complex, thus is it important to note that participation itself is characterised as a dynamic process which does not remain constant (White, 1996). White suggests that circumstances of conflict and tension arise when one set of goals or ideas are prioritised over another, mirroring the power relations that underline the processes of participation (White, 1996). White’s framework of participation is divided into four types. The first of these is nominal category participation. Within this typology, participation is considered as a form of information sharing and participant contribution in a project. This form of participation is ideally functional in form, and acts to also legitimize external actors (Ref).

Consultation is also highlighted in White’s typology within instrumental participation. In this form of participation, White suggests that consultation is practised and utilized by external parties to create efficiency (White, 1996). Citizens however, see this form of participation in terms of a cost, as their contribution to a programme results in a sense of lost opportunity for the citizens themselves (ref). In representative participation, White sees participations as active decision makers. This form of participation gives a voice to the participants, allowing them to influence the outcome of projects and promote sustainability (White, 1996). Active and dynamic participation ultimately leads to White’s last category: transformative participation. This form of participation sparks self mobilization, allowing participants to assertively find the solutions to their own problems (White, 1996).

Overall White’s model is particularly useful in identifying the costs and benefits different groups of people experience with different forms of participation. There is however some limitations also associated with White’s conceptualization of participation. Ref has suggested that

Upon analysis of the different typologies it is evident within the literature that Arnstein, Pretty and White have all contributed towards the concept of participation. The concept however, still remains largely unknown within the literature despite the contribution of these academics and more. Cornwall (2008) has suggested that because of this, participation has become embedded with an element of malleability, allowing it to mean different things to different people, in different places. The conceptual origins of participation have been rooted in a planning and political context. Ideas however, such as collective action, consultation and shared decision making have subsequently spilled over into an environmental management context. Natural resources are often at the centre of social tensions and conflict within communities. Such settings involve the presence of several actors all attempting to influence the many decisions associated with natural resource management (ref).

The academic literature surrounding natural resources management has suggested that community members and stakeholders are often unable to contribute towards environmental decisions (Rowe and Frewer, 2000). Typically within natural resources management, scientists have primarily been identified as experts within the community, and have controlled the flow of information in the context of policy development (Jasanoff, 1994).This has been argued by some academics as problematic, suggesting that the views and opinions of the ‘ordinary’ citizen may be influential for environmental management (Stirling, 2006). Cortner and Shannon (1993) has therefore, suggested that participation can be utilized as a vehicle to engage with public expression, and increase the transfer of knowledge and deliberative democracy (Stirling, 2008). Participation has been recognized as an important mechanism in achieving optimum environmental outcomes (Collins and Evans, 2002). Through participation, perspectives, values and opinions of different stakeholders and citizens can be identified and incorporated into environmental objectives (Cortner and Shannon, 1993). Participation within natural resource management can provide opportunities for stakeholder meetings and public consultations, increasing the scope of opportunity for non experts within the community to shape environmental decision making (Landy, 1993). Participation can therefore, be seen as a forum within which local knowledge, values and norms are integrated with conventional scientific knowledge.

As illustrated above, the concept of participation is one that is malleable. Various forms of participation have been characterised by academics, leading one to believe that there is no one correct way of describing such a process. Several examples within the environmental literature highlight the malleability of participation. Increases in the adoption of local knowledge and collaborative management initiatives are all evidence of participatory methods in resource management. Kakadu National Park for instance is a primary example of where the integration of local knowledge in environmental management has been achieved through participatory methods (Hill and Press, 1993). During the 1960’s a partnership was enacted between the indigenous community and non indigenous community of Australia’s Northern Territory to manage the Kakadu National Park. The area had been classified as a World Heritage site; therefore territorial environmental management objectives were promptly established to protect the area’s archaeological heritage (Hough, 2009). Tension and conflict however arose when government officials attempted to solely manage the regions of the park. Approximately 50% of the park was within Aboriginal territory, therefore, local communities swiftly petitioned to become involved with the decision making process (Lane, 2001). The sustainable practices associated with the local Aboriginal communities, coupled with thousands of years of local knowledge led authorities to pursue joint management of the area (Hill and Press, 1993). Interchangeable and transferable knowledge from both scientists and the local communities were collated to establish management objectives for the native flora and fauna located within the regions of the park (Howitt, 2003). The national park today is managed by traditional Aboriginal members and the Australian National Director of Parks (Hill and Press, 2003).

Participatory methods are also evident within New Zealand through collaborative management approaches. The Environmental Performance Indicator (EPI) project was established as New Zealand’s first indigenous sustainable monitoring programme (Jollands, 2006). Jollands and Harmsworth (2008) note that Maori people are an important community within New Zealand, owning both a considerable amount of the country’s resources, as well as holding a strong political standing in comparison to other ethnic groups. Various international and national obligations have driven the need for Maori participation in New Zealand environmental management (Jollands and Harmsworth, 2008). Internationally, declarations such as the Draft Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People (United Nations, 1993) and the Declaration on the Health and Survival of Indigenous Peoples have driven the need to foster indigenous practices and beliefs (United Nations, 2002). Within New Zealand, internal drivers such as the Treaty of Waitangi have also supported the recognition of indigenous rights (Jollands, 2006). The Treaty of Waitangi provides the foundation upon which bicultural ties and partnerships in New Zealand are established (Orange, 1990).

The EPI project was established by the Ministry of Environment as a way of incorporating Maori knowledge into environmental monitoring. For many years, Maori people have had an intrinsic relationship with the natural environment (Barlow, 1991). As Harmsworth and Tipa (2005) note, Maori have had a specific perception on environmental management, consisting of stewardship and holism. Such a framework has assisted Maori people in developing interpretations of the environment that help facilitate their practices and beliefs surrounding environmental use, degradation and sustainability (Jollands and Harmsworth, 2008). The EPI project was conceived as an opportunity for Maori to contribute towards sustainable monitoring in a way that acknowledged their traditions and norms. A Maori Environmental Monitoring Group (MEMG) was introduced by the Ministry of Environment as a panel of Maori environmental experts. The members on this panel provided the EPI project leaders with information about Maori environmental perspectives, objectives and goals (Maori Environmental Monitoring Group, 1998). The MEMG were given the forum to contribute towards environmental decision making on issues such as wetland restoration, biodiversity and marine protection. Such a process allowed Maori people to move towards a more active role within environmental management, and allow them to influence the outcomes of the EPI project through a more collaborative approach (Jollands and Harmsworth, 2008).

Though participation can occur in a variety of forms as a mechanism for enabling social interaction within environmental decisions, some critics have argued against this (Rossi, 1997; Sanders, 1997; Collins and Evans, 2002; Campbell and Currie, 2006). Critics have questioned the capability of ordinary community members in comprehending complex scientific dilemmas (Sanders, 1997). Furthermore, others critics have also suggested that the term participation is often used to disguise practices in which citizens are simply briefed or consulted with (Sanders, 1997; Rossi, 1997). A fundamental limitation associated with the malleability of participation is that a false sense of citizen involvement can often be created through tokenism (Campbell and Currie, 2006). Specific groups of people, or member of an indigenous group for instance are purposely included around the environmental decision making table by politicians. Such an act appears to provide the image of fairness on the part of governments or experts; however, in reality many of these representatives still remain uninfluential (Collins and Evan, 2002).

The EPI project for instance ultimately received widespread criticism for its apparent attempts at tokenism (Jollands and Harmsworth, 2008). Though a Maori panel was set up to inform the EPI directors on indigenous perspectives, the members of the MEMG were unable to take part in the final decision making stages (Clarkson et al., 2002). Furthermore, as Jollands and Harmsworth (2008) notes, in hindsight, Maori were also unable to fully comprehend the scientific components of the project, making their ability to actively take part in the project’s efforts futile. Issues of tokenism and passive participation have been identified within some of the models analyzed above. Arnstein, Pretty and White all acknowledge that within the scope of participation there are varying levels of how active participation is. The malleability of participation therefore, serves more so as a limitation for the concept rather than a strength. Though the concept of participation has the ability and freedom to transform into a range of meanings, its lack of a concentrate definition can simply be used to describe any process involving people (Cornwall, 2008). Participation has been proven to occur within a variety of contexts and engage with several different groups of people. The issue however, is that active participation is not apparent in all of these situations. Consultation for instance has been disguised within many circumstances as a form of participation. Its use has been prevalent within environmental management especially as a way to engage with important stakeholders and interest groups. Consultation however, as demonstrated with the case of the EPI project, is simply another name to describe tokenism (Clarkson et al., 2002). The actual interests of citizens are ignored within programme objectives, yet such practices are accepted and continued because they are categorised under the heading of participation (Jollands, 2006).

As Gardiner and Parata (1999) suggests, there was a severe lack of clarity regarding the EPI programme. The information presented to Maori at the consultation meetings was often disorganized and prepared in a manner that was insensitive to Maori world views and customs. Therefore it is not surprising that Maori communities were confused about the definition of natural indicators and the science used in western forms of environmental monitoring (Ministry for the Environment, 1998). The EPI programme had demonstrated some attempts to include Maori in environmental monitoring. Critics have generally suggested that the EPI programme was superficial because the MfE was not willing to hand over control over resources to the MEMG (Jollands and Harmsworth, 2008). Due to such criticisms, the MfE had begun to reduce its focus to involve Maori in environmental monitoring. Much of the government and Ministry’s efforts to include Maori and nurture indigenous monitoring methods had dissolved after the completion of the EPI programme (Downs and Clarkson, 2000). The EPI programme presented several issues that highlighted the initial difficulties of incorporating Maori in environmental monitoring. The MfE essentially set up the EPI programme with the intention of including a range of perspectives from important stakeholders. While its intentions were sound, the programme ultimately disallowed for the participation from other groups or individuals because EPI project leaders were unwilling to share power over resources, funding and decision making (Clarkson et al., 2002). The failures associated with the EPI programme can also be attributed to the principles under which the project was initiated. From the onset, western scientific notions and environmental thinking provided the basis for the programme. Therefore from the beginning issues in attempting to incorporate local knowledge should have been conceivable (Downs and Clarkson, 2000)

Arnstein’s Ladder is one of the first frameworks within the academic literature which characterises the different typologies of participation. Arnstein’s typology of participation within a planning context provided an important pillar within the literature for characterising different stages of participation. Since Arnstein’s framework, several other authors such Pretty and White have developed other various typologies to characterise participation. Upon evaluation it is clear that participation cannot be situated within one clear definition. Arnstein, Pretty and White all offer valuable interpretations for charactering participation. Like any framework, each of these authors’ typologies is limited by certain constraints. Arnstein’s ladder has been criticised as being over simplistic and normative in nature. Pretty’s typology of participation is more detailed, and considers the interests of all the actors involved within the process of participation. Pretty’s framework however, consists of too many overlapping typologies, making it harder to distinguish between specific classifications of participation. White’s typology of participation . As Cornwall (2008) has suggested, the concept of participation is malleable, denoting itself to almost any form of social interaction between groups of people. Participation has been suggested within the environmental literature as an important mechanism for generating appropriate environmental outcomes. Participation within natural resource management however, has been used to mask instances of tokenism and passive participation. The malleability of participation is ultimately a hindrance. People can transform the definition of participation to describe a variety of social processes occurring within a society. A limitation to this however, is that the term can be applied to cover up processes such as tokenism and consultation, which are ultimately processes which promote non participation or passive participation.