Archon Fung of Harvard University is one of the leading academics in the field of participatory democracy, and in a newly published article doesn’t pull his punches, calling many participatory programmes running worldwide PB-Lite… a form of decaffeinated politics, that are missing some essential ingredients.
Fung believes "Social justice receded from the agenda of participatory budgeting as that participatory technique spread across the globe because the agents of its reproduction were often motivated by other governance priorities.
Recent experience shows that there is no necessary bias toward social justice in participatory budgeting or other participatory innovations."
The abstract of his recent paper entitled "Putting the Public Back into Governance: The Challenges of Citizen Participation and Its Future" says:
The past two decades have seen a proliferation of large- and small-scale experiments in participatory governance. This article takes stock of claims about the potential of citizen participation to advance three values of democratic governance: effectiveness, legitimacy, and social justice.
Increasing constraints on the public sector in many societies, combined with increasing demand for individual engagement and the affordances of digital technology, have paved the way for participatory innovations aimed at effective governance.
Deepening legitimation deficits of representative government create opportunities for legitimacy-enhancing forms of citizen participation, but so far, the effect of participation on legitimacy is unclear.
Efforts to increase social justice through citizen participation face the greatest obstacles.
The article concludes by highlighting three challenges to creating successful participatory governance:
- the absence of systematic leadership,
- the lack of popular or elite consensus on the place of direct citizen participation,
- and the limited scope and powers of participatory innovations.
Leading academics from around the world are gathering in Birmingham on the 26th October for the UK PB Network conference and we hope that this debate is had there too.