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Budgets for citizen’s initiatives: booming expectations of citizens and local government

Imrat Verhoeven
University of Amsterdam
Marjolijn Heerings
University of Amsterdam
Evelien Tonkens
University of Amsterdam
Imrat Verhoeven
University of Amsterdam
Open Panel

Abstract

One important innovation in local governance has been the governance of civic engagement. After deliberative governance and empowered participatory democracy, we now witness a turn to ‘citizen’s initiatives’, particularly in The Netherlands. Most Dutch municipalities have policies geared to ‘stimulating’ and ‘facilitating’ citizen’s initiatives on neighborhood level, such as organizing neighborhood parties, clean up actions, shared gardens or youth activities. Local government invites citizens to take up such actions and offers guidance, knowledge and often also a budget. Budgets for citizen initiatives are hoped to activate particularly those outside the ‘participation elite’, and increase their civic competence and social capital. After such budgets became available in the city of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in January 2009, some thousand citizen’s initiatives have been granted a budget. In this paper we analyze the degree to which budgets for citizen initiatives do indeed fulfill these hopes. Do budgets activate new groups or do they merely reach the participation elite (male, 50+, white, higher educated), as tends to be case with deliberative governance and empowered participatory democracy? We base our findings on a survey among 300 applicants and 50 qualitative interviews with a selection of these, who all received a budget in the city of Amsterdam. We find that budgets can indeed activate new groups such as lower educated citizens and migrants, depending on the quality of their interaction with local government. The interaction is delicate, particularly as high governmental expectations of citizens are met with even higher expectations of citizens toward government.