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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Beyond the Citizen Initiative? Participatory and Deliberative Agenda Setting in the UK Sustainable Communities Act (2007)

Public Policy
Referendums and Initiatives
Adrian Bua
University of East Anglia
Adrian Bua
University of East Anglia

This paper is based on the argument that an important aspect of the democratisation of the policy process is the development of institutions enabling citizens to influence public policy agendas. The design of direct processes has recently received some attention in this respect and scholars have argued that the citizen initiative would benefit from institutionalising greater interaction between initiators and representative institutions (Setala & Schiller 2012). However, the ways in which the outcomes of participation in deliberative processes can be linked to the policy process has received less attention. The paper differentiates between two institutional forms. “Transmission” is a direct link to policy making which maximises decision influence at the cost of reflexivity (e.g. referenda), and “integration” is a softer form which increases reflexivity at the cost of guaranteeing influence over binding decision (e.g. a requirement for government to respond publicly to outcomes). The paper evaluates “integration” in a rare example of a deliberative innovation set up to influence central government policy agendas in the UK; the Sustainable Communities Act (2007; SCA). The processes through which the results of participation were “integrated” within policy development in the SCA were underpinned by a statutory duty placed upon government to “try to reach an agreement” with proposal initiators on which proposals to implement. This is an attempt to relate the results of participation to the policy process in a more reflexive fashion than the referendum instrument characteristic of the “full scale” initiative (Setala & Schiller), whilst attempting to mitigate the dilution of decision influence that “integration” usually entails. Drawing upon interviews with government ministers, state officials and activists, the paper describes the operationalisation of the “try to reach agreement” process, assesses its effectiveness in reconciling reflexivity in policy making with decision influence and draws out implications for institutional design.
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