Public Participation In The Digital Age

Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger offer a comprehensive exploration of public participation theory and practice in their new book, Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy.

Nabatchi, Associate Professor and Faculty Research Associate at the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PAARC), Maxwell School of Syracuse University, is also Co-Director at CNYSpeaks, a collaborative governance project. Leighninger, Director of the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgement, leads Public Engagement at Public Agenda, is a Senior Associate at Everyday Democracy, and serves on the boards of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2USA),, The Democracy Imperative, and the Participatory Budgeting Project. The authors trace the emergence of public participation, its uses across sectors, and provide a framework and practical guidance for responsive citizen engagement for the digital civic sphere.  

The book offers a rich account of the conceptual and practical aspects of public participation, while also analysing contemporary challenges and reflecting on the possibilities for the future of public engagement. It traces an evolutionary journey for public engagement in the US, from its emergence in colonial democracy to the infrastructures of participation in use today, and the dynamics that continue to shape civic life in the digital age.

Nabatchi and Leighninger identify a distrustful disconnect between citizen and government that remains unaddressed by participatory infrastructures. They propose a number of reforms for participatory practice, including a six-point list of recommendations around communication, data collection, deliberation, decision making at scale, and nurturing civic engagement. They prescribe a number of tactical adjustments and systemic changes to fill the gaps in participatory practice.

Although their commentary invokes the enabling possibilities of technology, it also looks at contemporary experiments in democracy in the light of historical democratic landscapes. Packed with resources and case studies, particularly relevant to practitioners working in public engagement, the book is practice oriented but also sketches an aspirational vision for public participation.

Photo:Christopher Allen/Flickr/cc

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