The participation literature has increasingly focused on the citizenship aspects of participation, particularly the ‘rights and responsibilities’ that citizenship entails (Jones and Gaventa 2002; Home Office 2004).
People respond differently depending on whether they are acting as consumers or citizens or co-producers (and look for different benefits):
- Consumers / customers are the direct and indirect users of the public and private services and products that are ultimately designed to serve communities. This is more than a simple commercial relationships: “the quality of public goods and services is highly dependent on the trust between the provider and user of that service” (Skidmore et al 2003).
- Co-producers are those who share responsibility as well as rights to good quality services. Citizens are not simply the passive recipients of services delivered by the state on their behalf and “in fact their consent and active participation is crucial to the quality of goods and services they receive … they are best understood as being ‘co-producers’, citizens and the state working together” (ibid).
- Citizens are those operating in the political sphere where decisions are made about priorities and resources, taking into account the needs of others on public (not personal/private) goods and benefits. People “think and act differently as citizens than we do as consumers” (ibid). Decisions about public goods and public value are inherently political contests and require the public to engage as citizens and not only as consumers.
The literature suggests that public institutions also see the difference between consumers / users of public services and citizens (Barnes 1999). Barnes suggests that the institutions may be committed to the ideas of user involvement, but resist the idea that organised user groups are stakeholders in an increasingly complex system of local governance. As a result, institutions saw user group participation as merely representing user involvement and as a route to enabling people to become more effective users of services, rather than perceiving it as an active citizenship.
Moreover, the experience of taking part in decisions is supposed to spread the idea and practice of democracy in areas where democratic institutions are weak or undeveloped (Jackson 1999) or to revitalise existing democracies (Rogers and Robinson 2005). One specific example is the New Deal for Communities election in the West Gate area of Newcastle that had a higher turnout than for local elections (Burton et al. 2004, 26).
The benefits from this aspect of participation tend to be characterised as:
- Active citizenship, in which people take a more active role, and a greater responsibility, for the well-being of their community / society. This may be manifested in all sorts of ways from volunteering to campaigning. Here, citizenship is used as a policy concept to link rights and responsibilities. The ‘rights’ argument for participation is well established in the participatory literature; a view that can be summarised as: “Forgotten somehow is the fact that participation in the institutions which shape one’s life is not a gratuitous privilege, but a basic right” (Kasparson, quoted in Hallett 1987, 5).
- Stronger communities. Active citizenship is often seen as an end in itself but is also linked to wider benefits such as civil renewal and the development of stronger communities as community members (citizens) take more responsibility for local quality of life, and work together to achieve it (e.g. Skidmore and Craig 2004, CRU 2004, NAO 2004) (and see inclusion and cohesion above).
- New organisations and structures. Participation can lead to the establishment of a wide range of new groups, organisations (e.g. development trusts), formal partnerships and other mechanisms that can enable and support continuing public participation (e.g. World Bank 1994; Oakley 1991; Warburton and Wilcox 1988).
- Behaviour change. Changing people’s behaviour, attitudes and values has become a growth area in public policy analysis (Cabinet Office 2004, Darnton 2004, Dobson 2004, Green Alliance 2003, Lindblom 1992), as government shifts from delivery to enabling, and recognises that effective public service outcomes depend on the close involvement of those they are designed to serve (e.g. improve health outcomes through lifestyle changes such as diet, stopping smoking, taking exercise etc). It is linked to considerations around citizenship (see above), especially linking rights and responsibilities. Participation in collective local action is seen in the literature as a mechanism that allows individuals to test ideas about changing behaviour, groups providing support for ‘normalising’ behaviour change, and encouraging involvement in decisions that are in the public interest / common good.
- Trust and social capital. There is significant evidence that trust and social capital are greater among those individuals and communities that actively participate in local governance and other collective activities (Rogers and Robinson 2005, Burton et al. 2004, Irvin and Stansbury 2004, Stoker 2004, Johnson, Lilja and Ashby 2001, Marshall 1999).
Participation is seen as a creator of social capital but, as Jackson (1999) points out, participation in turn “also requires certain levels of social capital” in order to be possible.
- Social capital consists of the networks, norms, relationships, values and informal sanctions that shape the quantity and co-operative quality of a society’s social interactions
- Three main types of social capital can be distinguished: bonding social capital (e.g. among family members or ethnic groups), bridging social capital (e.g. across ethnic groups) and linking social capital (between different social classes)
- Social capital can be measured using a range of indicators but the most commonly used measure is trust in other people.
Directly quoted from Aldridge and Halpern 2002.
Increased social capital is seen as able to act as a buffer against socio-economic disadvantage by reducing the effects of lack of economic resources (Campbell 1999), can improve self-reported health outcomes and reduce health inequalities (Cooper 1999; HEMS 2000), and help create “high levels of growth in GDP, more efficiently functioning labour markets, higher education attainment, lower levels of crime, better health and more effective levels of government” (Aldridge and Halpern 2002).
The ONS review (2001, 20) adds improved longevity, income equality and less corruption, as well as arguing that “social capital may act to buffer the effects of social stress and that its presence might generate a sense of well-being and belonging”. Rogers and Robinson (2005) agree with Aldridge and Halpern (2002) and the ONS (2001) about the benefits of social capital for economic growth, and add reducing fear of crime (as well as actual crime), increased employment, as well as increased trust in public institutions as one of the proven benefits of participation.
However, social capital is not without contention. As Rydin and Pennington (2000, 161) point out “the claims made for social capital vary greatly”, and Servon (2002, 2 and 3) points out that “it remains very difficult to operationalise social capital for the purpose of quantitative analysis” and that “it has come to mean different things to different people”.
Social capital has been described in numerous ways (in addition to the definition taken in this study and cited in the box above. It has been defined as ‘social energy’, ‘community networks’, ‘social resources’, ‘social glue’ (ONS 2001, 6) and also as a “web of co-operative relationships between citizens that facilitates resolution of collective action problems” (Veenstra 2000, 619).
The latter definition hints at the assumed economic effects of social capital. According to the ONS literature review on social capital (2001, 7) social capital can enhance “economic achievement through increased trust and lower transaction costs”. The view that the primary economic effect of social capital comes form reducing transaction costs is shared by, among others, Weinburger and Jütting (2001).
In terms of its role in assessing participation, it is worth noting that social capital differs from other forms of capital in a number of ways, and there appears to be a certain amount of consensus in the literature about the following differences:
- Social capital is non-rivalous (Servon 2002): one person’s use of social capital (trust etc.) does not hinder anyone else from using it. This quality makes social capital a public good (ONS 2001) and it is therefore subject to the risk of free riding.
- Social capital does not deplete with use like other forms of capital (Servon 2002).
- “Despite some ambiguity, social capital is generally understood as the property of the group rather than the property of the individual. Hence the most common measures of social capital examine participation, e.g. membership of voluntary organisations” (ONS 2001, 14), although this measure has been seen by some (ibid) as limited and one-dimensional. The analysis of social capital as a collective asset is supported by Servon (2002).
There are also some negative findings on the social capital outcomes of participation. Social capital can be destroyed as well as created by a badly run participatory process that might result in reduced trust, anger and resentment, dividing communities and leading to greater conflict (ONS 2001). In addition, a participatory process might lead to increased social capital among already highly-experienced groups to the detriment of those who are unable to participate on equal terms. The claim is sometimes made that participation is actually creating a new elite of well-networked ‘professional’ participants. More seriously, undesirable ‘communities’ (e.g. criminal organisations) also rely on high levels of internal trust and can benefit from the development of social capital among their members (ONS 2001).
There are also studies that argue that there are no significant correlations between social capital (as measured by social engagement in voluntary associations) and health outcomes (Veenstra 2000). In addition, Knack and Keefer (1997) studied the effects of social capital on economic performance using international data on trust and social norms and found that membership in formal groups, one of the more popular measures of social capital, was neither correlated to trust or economic development.