What are the benefits of public participation?

Public participation must not be undertaken as a mere lip service or box ticking obligation. When public participation is carried out in a meaningful way, it leads to better outcomes and governance, and brings two key benefits:

  • Organisations make better actionable decisions that reflect public interests and values that are better understood by the public.
  • Communities often overcome longstanding misunderstandings and differences and develop long-term capacities to solve and manage challenging social problems.

How does public participation result in better decisions?

Public participation contributes to better decisions because the process gives organisations a broader view of an issue by bringing additional facts, perspectives, and values, gained through public input into the decision-making process. Organisations can then incorporate the best information and expertise of all participants. Decisions are more sustainable and actionable because they consider the needs and interests of all stakeholders, including vulnerable and often marginalised populations. Due to the participatory process, stakeholders have a better understanding and more invested in the outcomes.

Decisions based on public participation processes are seen as more legitimate and less prone to challenge. Decision-makers who fully understand stakeholder interests also become better communicators and can explain the rationale for their decisions in relation to stakeholder values and concerns.

How does public participation result in better decisions?

Sustained public participation in decisions and their implementation are the basis for capacity building to tackle difficult social problems. This capacity includes improved relationships and trust between decision-makers and the public, and between the different stakeholders. When done well, public participation helps teach stakeholders meaningful and collaborative ways to approach each other, manage and make difficult decisions, and resolve disputes. Stakeholders learn to value each other’s positions by first learning about each other’s values and interests.

As participants in good decision-making processes, everyone involved needs to understand all sides of an issue, weigh the pros and cons, and make more thoughtful and informed decisions. Stakeholders and communities usually do not achieve this on their own. Organisations need to be aware of their civic duty and responsibility to help communities build their capacity for collaborative problem solving. Once the public and stakeholders are invited into the decision-making process, it becomes more difficult for an organisation to merely stand by and say “no.”