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Citizen participation : its structure and distribution among various socio-economic groups Martin, Bo Roland

Abstract

Many institutions in North American are currently experiencing growing pressure from affected groups and individuals for increased participation in the decision-making process. This applies to the family, schools, universities and the whole business world as well as politics of which planning is an important part, particularly at the local level. Two basic aspects of citizen participation were recognized and assumed to be desirable. First there are the intrinsic values of participation in terms of self-realization, integration and satisfaction accruing to the participants. Second there is the use of participation as a means of increasing the influence of those who are now powerless. The purpose of this thesis was to try to find policies which would result in an increase in meaningful participation as well as a more equitably distributed pattern of involvement. To investigate this 148 people were interviewed in order to find out their current involvement in politics and planning, and their attitudes towards the participatory process. Half the sample was selected from an upper class area and the other half from a lower-middle class district. It was found that different participatory acts were not of a cumulative nature as has generally been assumed by most writers discussing the subject. The implications of this is that different people preferred varying types of participatory acts. Virtually all participatory acts were found to be heavily dominated by people from the upper socio-economic status groups. In the measurements of potential participatory skills, the dominance of these groups was even greater. However, a discernable distinction could be seen regarding the types of activities preferred, in that the lower income people tended to participate more under these conditions: 1) a specific and clearly defined issue is involved 2) its relationship to his own interests is very clear 3) it is local in character and 4) personal contacts with the decision makers are involved but no social barriers has to be overcome. Based on the results of the field work it was suggested that decentralization of the decision-making structure is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for encouraging meaningful participation of the average citizen. Other suggestions included increased use of attitude surveys, plebiscites and, for local issues, the frequent establishment of ad hoc groups that are small and very issue oriented.

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