The rise and rise of the public participation professional

A worldwide surge in the use of public participation tools has seen the rise of the ‘participation professional’.

In the recent publication, The Professionalization of Public Participation, editors Laurence Bherer, Mario Gauthier, and Louis Simard examine the emergence of Participation Professionals, which, broadly speaking, they define as professionals who:

  • work with citizens and government to plan and implement public participation in policymaking;
  • design and conduct processes that integrate citizen input in government decisions;
  • and, plan and organize public consultations, bridging citizens and government.

Presented in two parts, the book illustrates how motivations and conflicts within participatory processes can support – or compromise –  democratic decision-making.

Part One explores public participation history and practices in specific political contexts. Rodolfo Lewanski and Stefania Ravazzi study the impact of regulation and funding on public participation in Italy. Reporting on France, Alice Mazeaud and Magali Nonjon look at the state’s inestment in participation, and how people in activism, planning and communications have not only emerged as Participation Practitioners, but as drivers of greater institutionalization.

Caroline W. Lee dissects the paradoxes emerging in the United States as public relations firms eye an increasingly prolific field, and explore how new questions emerge with the increasing use of new technologies. Addressing the ideal of impartiality, Bherer, Gauthier and Simard investigate how practitioners balance client and citizen commitments, describing four types of professionals: the promoter, the reformer, the militant, and the facilitator.

Weighing in from the UK, Jason Chilvers traces the role of organizations like Sciencewise in fostering participation in science and environment policy, highlighting the effects on smaller players in the field and the need for reflexive learning. 

Part Two examines specific categories of practitioners, such as academics and civil servants, along with the field’s propagation and standardization. Writing in the context of Scotland’s local government, Oliver Escobar reflects on the pressures faced by practitioners in the civil service. David Kahane and Kristjana Loptson illustrate the balancing act between academics and practitioners as they reconcile research and process.  Nina Amelung and Louisa Grabner narrate the rise of the planning cell, the citizen’s jury, and the consensus conference – three transnational “universal bestseller” designs. Kathryn S. Quick and Jodi R. Sandfort explore the US ‘art of hosting’ approach to understand practitioner training and knowledge.

Reviewed as a must-read by Tina Nabatchi, The Professionalization of Public Participation calls on readers to understand the dynamics at play as practitioners create and manage participatory processes. 

Laurence Bherer is Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the Université de Montréal. Mario Gauthier is Full Professor of Urban Studies at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. Louis Simard is Associate Professor in Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Header photo: MonoRenal/Pixabay/cc

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