Participatory governance in practice

Therese O'Toole, Richard Gale

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The decentring of contemporary forms of governance, and the emergence of more participatory modes of decision-making, have given rise to intense debate over the extent to which this has resulted in the democratisation of governance. Much of the debate has focused on questions of institutional design in evaluating the democratic potential of participatory forms of governance, and this is particularly valuable in the context of the proliferation of a wide range of models of governance, where strategies for inclusion, mechanisms for accountability, or deliberative practices, vary considerably (Chhotray and Stoker 2010). Whilst issues of institutional design are important, we argue here for the value of practice-oriented assessments of how state and civil society relations play out within participatory governance arrangements. This is important because of the possibilities for (both state and civil society) actors within governance structures to adapt or change formal rules of governance in ways which depart from institutional design – sometimes with unintended consequences. In taking a practice-based approach to assessing participatory governance, we engage with critics of participatory governance who are sceptical of its democratic potential. Firstly, we contend that practice-oriented analyses allow identification of the possibilities for tactical appropriations of governance spaces by citizens – even where their founding rationale or design may appear to limit substantive participation. Secondly, we suggest that evaluation of the democratic potential of participatory governance initiatives should include not only consideration of institutional outcomes, or the impact of citizens’ participation on the structures of governance, but also their potential to create new political subjectivities among those who participate in them.
Translated title of the contributionParticipatory governance in practice
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPractices of Freedom
EditorsSteven Griggs, Aletta Norval, Hendrik Wagenaar
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

Structured keywords

  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship

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