Conference paper

Who talks and who listens? : analyzing citizen dialogs in a rural context

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Author list: Lidén, Gustav;Lund, Pontus

Publication year: 2020


Abstract

Although debated, inclusion of citizens into policy processes is often presented as solutions to a range of democratic challenges, such as demand for influence in local issues, growing gaps between politicians and citizens and declining political engagement. This study aims to examine the role of such instruments at the local level, by looking specifically at the input side of processes in rural Swedish municipalities. By studying the recruitment and composition of participants, as well as the organizers strategy for selection, this study will be able to show the representativeness of participatory events. Further, by studying which of the participants that are actually expressing their opinion and how this is reflected in official documentation, this study will give a better understanding about what input that is able to make its way into the policy process. Studying these aspects of the input side of the policy process will show the preconditions for actual citizen influence and indicate how well these instruments can be argued to complement traditional political participation. A tentative result is that representativeness generally is heavily skewed and that active participation follows that of most traditional political participation. The studied municipalities are aware of these problems and try to address them by hosting supplementary venues with specific groups in mind. They do, however, also regard building these instruments for inclusion as a learning process, which will increase in quality over time. Further, the point of these instruments is not only, or even primarily, to complement representative democracy through inclusion into policy making, but rather to strengthen trust, to gain support for policy and to tie otherwise competing parts of the municipality closer together. This gives a complex image of a type of instrument that seems to fill a range of different purposes but not yet that of complementing representative democracy.


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