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Participatory governance and citizen relations

Ike Señeres .

YOU can just call it a figure of speech or a play of words, but for all intents and purposes, a citizen is also a customer, also a taxpayer and also a voter. Every way, every which way, in whatever role capacity he or she invokes or in whatever capacity he or she presents himself or herself to be, he or she deserves the highest respect or attention of the government. Just do the simple math: if one role or capacity is enough for the government to give special treatment to a citizen, imagine how it should be if that is multiplied two, three or four times? In reality however, many of the people in the government do not see it that way and being so, citizens rarely get the special treatment that they should get, as much as they should get it.

Looking for the meaning of participatory governance, I was surprised to find out that the concept on one hand is closely related to other concepts such as collaborative governance, democratic engagement, citizen participation, deliberative practices, participatory democracy and social equity. On the other hand, the concept is also closely related to issues about citizen competence, people empowerment, capacity building, services delivery and political representation. Despite the vagueness of how these concepts would relate to each other, it seems very clear that this is a two-way street so to speak; meaning to say that the government could try to make governance as participatory as possible, but nothing will come out of it if there is no active participation from the citizenry.

Looking at it from the top view, it seems that on one hand, it is the government that wants the citizens to participate but on the other hand, that may not be what the citizens would want, because apparently what the citizens would want, at least from one perspective, is for them to get the services they want from the government in the fastest and most efficient way. No, I am not saying that that is what the citizens want selfishly. What I am saying that in what could be a sequential manner, the citizens would want to be satisfied with good services first, before they would even entertain the idea of helping the government or participating in the process of governance.

I think that collaborative governance is an excellent term that could be used to demonstrate the fact that governance is a two-way street; that governance should not only involve the government but also the people too. In that context, we could even say that participatory governance is either an oxymoron or a redundant term, because in the first place, governance is supposed to be participatory. In the same sense, the term “collaborative” sounds like it has a very good potential, because it not only denotes two-way participation, it also suggests equal participation of both sides. Yes, that sounds really, really good, but the question now is who would lead each side of the process? I am saying that because it appears that both sides are fragmented.

In theory, democracy is supposed to be a social contract between the State and the people. In this context, the government is only an instrument of the State. Under the said social contract, there should no longer be any compulsion to engage the participation of the people. That said, it would appear that “democratic engagement” could also be an oxymoron or a redundant term, because forced engagement could only happen in a dictatorship. In other words, “citizen participation” is something that we should normally expect from a democracy, because that is what should happen in a democratic country, and that is to engage the citizens so that they could participate in governance.

Also in theory, the people should be consulted by the government about any action that would affect their general welfare. If that is going to be the case, the government should encourage “deliberative practices”, which clearly and simply means open deliberation by way of public consultation. Aside from the usual opinion surveys, the government should think about using focused group interviews (FGIs), a common management tool used by the private sector. In this connection, the government should now also think about using many other tools that are being used by the private sector, such as online and mobile surveys and social media monitoring.

If we say that “democratic engagement” is an oxymoron, then the more reason that “participatory democracy” should also be considered as an oxymoron. I say that because democracy could not be anything other than being participatory. To stretch this point even further, dictatorship is not participatory and it would be difficult to imagine people getting engaged in it, except by force or compulsion. Meanwhile, customer engagement has become a popular concept in the private sector, and as a matter of fact, it has evolved into a science called Customer Relations Management (CRM), a tool that has also been enhanced by other concepts such as user experience (UX) and Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI).


E-mail: iseneres@yahoo.com


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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