Effectiveness of public participation

At the same time, there is a distinction between the legally required citizen participation and the question: how do these two things relate to decisions by referendum in the context of representative democracy?

What is citizen participation or public participation and when do you do it and how? Who initiates a participation process within urban society and when? And above all, as a service provider for the content organization and implementation of the processes of these formats – also called “neighborhood forum” or “join in” or “civil workshop” – we asked ourselves the question of how citizen participation fits into representative democracy. Because time and again we have to realize that participation is only successful if it is carried out within a permissible and transparently communicated legal framework. Otherwise, if there is a lack of clarity, everyone will lose, including the citizen who hopes that his or her opinion will be taken along, and the administration, which is unable to implement all views.

ut first things first. Representative democracy has constitutional status. This is the rule of the people, formerly created in the Greek marketplaces – for non-enslaved men – by hand vote. Because of the high population density, representative democracy was finally invented with voting rights for everyone over a certain age. Starting from a group size, we choose individual representatives who act in our interest and represent our will. The city council, the member of the state parliament or the member of the Bundestag. The electors delegate their representatives to the parliaments. This is non-negotiable constitutional status. In addition, the representation of the citizens is finally ensured. This does not seem to be enough, especially in the municipality, since the self-determined municipalities are also globally involved and the political world situation has arrived locally. Mobility, real estate as a financial product, digitization and the weakening of stationary retail, climate change and changing working environments are rapidly changing the way urban society interacts.

In federal and state constitutions, public participation is prescribed by law according to clearly regulated processes, especially in the Building Code (BauGB) for projects relevant to planning law. If such a hearing or participation does not take place or takes place incorrectly, it can be legally challenged or even smoke and mirrors.

In addition, in the past decade, participation formats have emerged outside of the public hearings required by law and the mandatory citizen participation. Today, three formats are basically available depending on the degree of participation desired by the citizenry: information, consultation and cooperation. In the area of information, informal public participation can supplement the statutory minimum.

The idea. Let’s ask the makers

Our cooperation partner has methodically examined how the terms citizen participation and information of the public are perceived and used. To do this, we first legally classified the terms within the framework of our representative democracy and then carried out systematic surveys. This is how a small study came about, which we would like to present to you here in May.

Last but not least

Incidentally, so-called real referendums are only possible at state level and are only binding in exceptional cases when specific draft legislation is being voted on. In view of the sheer number of legislative proposals, plebiscites introduced nationwide would not be technically possible at all, but would only be feasible in a bundle. A commission formed in advance or a similar format would then have to decide on the content. Politics and administration would then have to do more manual work and be in closer dialogue with each other. Up until now it was a dream of the future, which would certainly lead to more intensive participation and participation by a population that is increasingly turning away from “politics”. The main point of criticism is that referendums only allow an educated elite with time to deal with the complex issues and no one bears more responsibility. Overall, new ways are needed to invite civil society to good debate and participation.