For many people, the extent of their participation in democratic society is turning up to vote every few years (if at all, judging by voter turnout numbers). There is a common perception that public consultations and other citizen engagement processes are just for show, and don’t make a difference in the end. How can we build robust cultures of participation in our communities that embrace the plurality in modern societies and take into account the diversity of competing voices, interests, and concerns?
It’s difficult, but it starts with trust that goes both ways. Often times, this trust has been eroded over time: repeated experiences have left both citizens and decision-makers apprehensive of participating, engaging, or opening up dialogue. Citizens need to be able to trust that decision-makers are engaging with residents in good faith, and with the understanding that their feedback will be taken into account during the process. Likewise, decision-makers must trust citizens to participate respectfully and meaningfully. Here are a few tips to start building a culture of participation in your community.