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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Citizen participation in the planning process: a case study of the city of Vancouver’s project on aging McNeil, Alison E.


The purpose of this study is to investigate the nature, merits and limitations of the citizen participation model used in the process of developing a municipal plan for the impacts of population aging. The research is based on a literature review and participant observation of one case study. It is evident from the literature that citizen participation is integral to the democratic decision making process, since it can strengthen principles central to the practice of democratic government, namely, representation, public interest and accountability. Power and its distribution are fundamental elements in distinguishing one level of participation from another. They are also, therefore, key factors to consider in the design of participation programs. Of the models investigated, partnership is identified as one that requires government and citizens to engage in shared decision making Citizen participation in planning practice over the last twenty-five years has varied widely in terms of the intent, design and techniques used. Among citizen participation theorists there is some consensus on the causes of all too frequent failures in practice. These include differing expectations and objectives among the government actors and citizens involved, failure to match appropriate techniques with objectives, and lack of evaluation. Based on the theory, the partnership model effectively addresses these problems and has considerable advantages over other models such as consultation. The research reveals that in partnership, the objectives of both citizen and government participants guide the process, and that resources, expertise and decision making power are shared during the planning process. Problems associated with the model include dangers of cooptation of citizens involved, and the tendency for the citizen participants to become an elite group unrepresentative of the larger public. These findings are explored and amplified through an evaluation of a case of partnership in practice which generates mixed results in terms of its merits and limitations. This model produced conditions for a substantial degree of shared decision making Techniques used provided direct access to resources and the planning process for citizen and government participants. An open-ended project design and multiple opportunities provided for participation in varying degrees were also successful features used in achieving partner-ship. The research also indicates that citizens engaged in partnership with government were relatively few, and the project lacked political support necessary for changes in resource allocation. These results are attributable to, in part, a trade off between the quality and quantity of citizen participation as sharing of decision making power increases. Conclusions of this study of a model of citizen participation suggest that in defining social issues and developing plans to address them, government and citizen participants need to redefine their roles and expectations of each other. In the past, common roles for citizens in the planning process have been as clients, advocates, complainants, advisors and supplicants. As decision makers and problem solvers engaged in partnership planning with government, their participation may be more effective. The study of the Project on Aging generates some lessons for future practice of the partnership model. This case suggests that planning in partnership requires commitment to the partnership objective as a substantive and not a symbolic goal. This means government takes an active role in creating conditions for partners to act on their interests.

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