Public participation includes voting, taking part in public consultations, and taking part in community organisations. Governance is about the actions beyond the government and part of this is how much the public has a say about what happens in their country and local community. In principle, public participation gives everyone a say; in practice, some people are more active and better represented than others.
The different types of public participation present different challenges for effective governance.
- Voting requires people to take the time to go to the polls and, to be most effective, to know about the issues and the people who are contesting the election. People vote to elect representatives who decide most laws and regulations. People also vote sometimes to decide on a specific issue – a referendum. Even so, the voting records show that not all people vote:
- In the 1997 general election only 2/3 of people voted
- In the 1999 local election less than ½ of the people voted
- In the 2011 general election 82% of respondents to the QNHS reported they voted, an increase from the 76% recorded after the 2002 general election.
- In the 2016 general election 65.2% of people voted.
Public consultations give opportunities for people to give their input into new policies, new buildings, and changes to existing policies. The timing and questions asked sometimes limit how much input the public will have. Also, plans are complex and may be difficult for some people to understand. For example, plans for new buildings are published for people to comment on. At this stage, most of the decisions have already been made – so people’s input is already framed by the designers’ plans. Also, the input must be considered, but the builders can choose to continue with their plans, even when some people disagree. This means that people’s ability to have an effect on things being developed may be limited.
Community organisations give people opportunities to affect what happens in their local area. Working together and making a difference brings governance to a practical, tangible level where it is easier to understand. There are many examples of successful governance.
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