Creating meaning in public participation is addressed by Kathryn S. Quick and John M. Bryson, who explore the theories and practice of participation in governance in Chapter 12 of Handbook on Theories of Governance, edited by Jacob Torbing and Chris Ansell.
Quick and Bryson highlight critical concerns in public participation theories and identify areas that demand further development. Key concerns examined include: the scope of meaningful participation; politics of representation, diversity and inclusion; the role of knowledge, and the alignment of contexts and methods. In addition, they explore the identification of suitable participation contexts and the complexities of diffuse governance systems.
The research surveys the scholarly meaning and definition of public participation. It traces the evolution of the concept, the inherent and surrounding tensions, and illustrates the value that public participation brings to democratic theory and practice.
Examining legitimacy as a key theme, Quick and Bryson evaluate a number of theoretical perspectives, including the quality of participatory exchange, the nature and impact of outcomes and the quality of process. On diversity and inclusion, they analyse participatory processes for opportunities, barriers and limitations. Quick and Bryson also illustrate the tensions between expert and lay knowledge, in decision-making.
This Chapter examines the challenges of creating meaningful participation processes pointing to the need for responsive, contextual practices. From a design science perspective, processes would need to be created based on evidence, context, and knowledge. Contextual factors that may shape participation include the nature and structure of government, social conditions, and various civil society dynamics.