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Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance new

Bibliographic Details:

Archon Fung. Public Administration Review, Vol. 66: 66-75. December, 2006.


The multifaceted challenges of contemporary governance demand a complex account of the ways in which those who are subject to laws and policies should participate in making them. This article develops a framework for understanding the range of institutional possibilities for public participation. Mechanisms of participation vary along three important dimensions: who participates, how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action.

These three dimensions constitute a space in which any particular mechanism of participation can be located. Different regions of this institutional design space are more and less suited to addressing important problems of democratic governance such as legitimacy, justice, and effective administration. In this article, I develop a framework for understanding a range of institutional possibilities. Such a framework is a necessary — if incomplete — part of the answer to a larger question regarding the amounts and kinds of appropriate participation in governance. Though I do not develop this framework into a general “theory of the public” (Frederickson 1991), this approach suggests that such a general theory may remain elusive. Whether public institutions and decision-making processes should treat members of the public as consumers, clients, or citizens depends partly on the context and problem in question.

This articles introduces Fung's "Democracy Cube":

"Putting these three dimensions of participant selection, communicative mode, and extent of influence yields a three-dimensional space — a democracy cube — of institutional design choices according to which varieties of participatory mechanisms can be located and contrasted with more professionalized arrangements. Figure 4 (pictured here) plots two familiar mechanisms of governance on this three-dimensional space. In the typical public agency, trained experts use their technical expertise to make decisions that they are authorized to execute. The typical public hearing is open to all who wish to attend. Though many in the audience listen to educate themselves, a few participants express their views in the hope that these preferences will be taken into account and thus advise the deliberations of policy makers. These two mechanisms lie on nearly opposite sides of the cube in terms of who participates, how they communicate, and the extent of their influence on public action."

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