Participatory Governance in the 21st Century – Local to Global

Many of the leading international institutions inherited from the 20th century have been challenged for their alleged “democratic deficit,” even as their capacity increasingly depends upon new forms of collaboration with diverse non-state actors.  In response, a growing number of international institutions have introduced innovative forms of stakeholder participation (Abbott & Gartner 2012), greatly expanding on the traditional observer model.  Examples include the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; the UN-REDD program; and the newly established High Level Political Forum on sustainable development.  These opportunities for inclusion have led stakeholder groups to develop increasingly elaborate processes for selecting representatives and ensuring their accountability (Dombrowski 2010).

The challenge of widening participation at the global level mirrors long-standing debates about participatory governance at the national and sub-national levels.  (Fung 2001; Heller 2011) There, disenchantment with traditional electoral democracy is reflected in trends such as low voting rates and distrust of Congress and other representative institutions.  Here too, however, innovative democratic experiments initiated by governments and civil society are proliferating around the world (Gaventa 2004; Steffek & Nanz 2008).  Many of these experiments are characterized by participatory or collaborative models of stakeholder governance.  These innovations seek to draw upon the knowledge and experience of diverse citizens, groups and communities to develop effective solutions to urgent problems.

Finally, a number of international institutions bridge these two worlds by mandating domestic stakeholder participation in local activities they conduct or support, and by promoting or mandating domestic participatory arrangements that may have broader ramifications.  For example, the World Bank requires stakeholder consultations in the design and implementation of projects it funds (World Bank 2011); it also supports programs to develop “open and collaborative governance.”  The Global Fund requires countries seeking funding to establish and empower multi-stakeholder Country Coordinating Mechanisms; the Climate Investment Funds are developing more modest participatory coordination mechanisms (CIF 2012); and UN-REDD supports full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities in REDD+ activities (UN-REDD 2011).

To date, scholarship and policy discussions about participatory governance in these three domains have been largely divorced from one another.  Participatory Governance in the 21st Century – Local to Global aims to bring together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners interested in the implications and interactions of participatory approaches in all three domains, especially their implications for the design of international institutions in the 21st century.

All three areas of participatory innovation raise a series of important questions:

Empirically, what types of arrangements have institutions at different levels introduced? Who are their sponsors? How are they designed? How well are they functioning?

Positively, what accounts for the appearance of innovative participatory arrangements in particular settings at particular times?  What impacts do those arrangements have on the quality of governance and other variables?

Normatively, can local and national arrangements be replicated in other contexts?  Can international institutions disseminate local models?  Can local and national arrangements be scaled up for adoption by international institutions?  Can participatory arrangements at the international level be “scaled down” for adoption at national and local levels?

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