Benefits and costs of public participation

Benefits of public participation

The benefits of participation are often considered to be:

  • Improved governance, including increased democratic legitimacy for institutions because of close links with citizens, improved reputations for public bodies, increased opportunities for active citizenship, and greater accountability of public bodies because of more effective information dissemination and better dialogue.
  • Greater social cohesion etc, including bringing diverse and sometimes hostile communities together, bringing ‘hard to reach’ and ‘disadvantaged’ groups into discussions, building relationships within and between different communities and social groups (‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital), strengthening and creating new networks that enable different interests to work together as a result of building more positive relationships based on a better knowledge of each other, and increased equality of access to policy and decision-making processes.
  • Improved quality of services, projects and programmes, including ensuring public service investment is based more on people’s expressed needs, reducing management and maintenance costs by reducing vandalism and misuse as a result of engendering a sense of ownership, enabling faster and easier decisions (e.g. on new developments or protective designations) by reducing conflict between different parties and increasing trust through better communications, and enabling people to share in the responsibility for improving their own quality of life (e.g. health and well-being, or the local environment).
  • Greater capacity building and learning, including raising awareness and increasing understanding of public institutions and the way they work, enabling citizens to better access the services they need, and to understand the boundaries and limitations of different public bodies, building confidence and optimism among citizens who then go on to other civic activities or learning, supporting the voluntary and community sectors by recognising their vital role in building the capacity of community and specific interest groups (especially disadvantaged and excluded groups), and increasing the skills among the staff running participation and those taking part (especially interpersonal skills).

Costs of public participation

The analysis of the costs and risks of participation is far less detailed, but includes the following:

  • Monetary costs, including staff time (paid and unpaid), staff expenses, external staff / consultants, fees to participants, participants’ expenses, training for staff and participants, administration, venue hire, other event costs (e.g. refreshments, equipment), newsletters, leaflets, monitoring and evaluation fees.
  • Non-monetary costs, including time contributed by participants, and skills needed for the new approach (taking time from other work).
  • Risks, including risks to reputation (from bad participatory practice), stress, uncertainty and conflict.