The European Institute for Public Participation (EIPP), a Bremen, Germany-based not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote better decision-making through public participation, just shared a new paper titled Making citizens’ voices heard — and listened to. Thoughts on public participation in Europe (PDF).

I found this definition of public participation useful (page 3/4):

Public participation, thus, is the deliberative process by which interested or affected citizens, civil society organizations, and government actors are involved in policy-making before a political decision is taken. It is collaborative problem-solving with the goal of achieving more legitimate policies.

Authors Patrizia Nanz and Simon Dalferth conclude (page 13/14):

Public participation has the potential to revitalize the political system and alleviate the disenchantment of citizens with politics. In this paper we have presented an approach to complement European representative democracies with effective participatory practices. We have discussed the advantages and shortcomings of public participation. We recommend that three steps be taken for public participation to come to fruition: a framework for public participation needs be adopted, a systematic methodology must be developed and a rigorous and continuous analysis of costs and benefits established.

If these steps are taken, public participation has the potential to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of European governance. By fostering deliberation among citizens over the nature of problems and the best way to solve them, participatory practices produce a pool of (transnationally) shared arguments which – disseminated by mass media – contribute to the emergence of a wider public sphere, in which policy choices of member states and the European Union are exposed to public scrutiny (Nanz, 2006). Through public participation, the process of political decision-making in the EU would be opened up both to the input of citizens’ concerns and to public scrutiny of the larger citizenry.

Good stuff. I look forward to meeting some fellow European public participators at the January 8 meetup.