Published on September 1, 2007

Participation Nation

Participation Nation brings together 17 leading thinkers and practitioners from government, local authorities, think tanks and NGOs to discuss the role of the citizen in the public realm. Bringing their individual perspectives to the debate, each writer explores just what the government’s ambitions to harness “people power” will mean in practice to the future policies and politics of Britain.

Contributors include Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP; Oliver Letwin MP; Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP; Dave Prentis, UNISON; Tony Juniper, Friends of the Earth; Ben Page and Debbie Lee Chan, Ipsos MORI; Viki Cooke, OLR; Michelle Harrison, IIPS; Cllr Susan Williams, Trafford Borough Council; Karl Wilding and Véronique Jochum, NCVO; and Valerie Hannon from the Innovation Unit, among others.

Whether through online consultations, deliberative focus groups or citizens’ juries, never before have there been so many opportunities for citizens to influence public services. There is now a growing consensus that the state can no longer direct the actions of citizens without their cooperation any more than the market alone can be relied upon to address the challenges of modernity. Whether in dealing with climate change, public health concerns or tackling international terrorism and promoting pro-social behaviour, we are entering an era in which progress can only be made in a society in which individuals, communities and public services are each able and willing to play their own part. For this to happen, public participation must become the core, not the counterpart, of the future of public service decision making. The time has come, it appears, for people power.

Yet if this rush to involve citizens makes sense to politicians and policy makers it holds little resonance outside Whitehall. Among a public that exhibits a persistent and growing detachment from the traditional institutions of political engagement, there is little appetite for either new or old forums for participation. Central to successful public policy making, Britain must now redefine the relationship between individuals, communities and public services for a time-squeezed population that increasingly views consumer choice and non-political activism as their priority.

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