|Representative democracy is where we vote for politicians and political parties
to make decisions on our behalf. This will always be necessary. But, in our
complicated modern world, the system needs to be supported. Ordinary people have
to form pressure groups to make sure that their particular needs and concerns
are dealt with. We can think of this 'direct action' as participatory democracy.
Participatory democracy means that all the people who will be affected (ie all
stakeholders) should be involved when policies and plans are made, put into
action, monitored and evaluated. But different stakeholders will have different
ways of understanding what is happening in the world. We therefore have to
organise meetings where all points of view get a fair hearing. This means that a
complete set of claims, concerns and issues can be drawn up as a basis for
negotiation and decision making.
There will be problems when people from different backgrounds come together.
Imagine for example an illiterate old women from a rural area sitting at a table
with a university educated young man in a three piece suit. Everybody will have
to learn to respect differences and to communicate effectively. Experts will
have to 'popularise' the results of their research and Civil Society
Organisations (CSO) will have to get better at policy analysis and at advocacy
There will also be problems of 'legitimacy'. Who does a CSO representative
represent? This will vary. But the important thing in participatory democracy is
not to have a vote but to have a voice. If you have a strong argument and you
present it well then you will influence the people who have the power to vote.
So representative democracy is still important. What has changed is that
ordinary people have to be more active in influencing the decisions that are
made. If they find an issue that is being missed by the system then they must
form groups and alliances to collect information and make arguments. They can
then use these as the basis of an advocacy and lobbying campaign.
These popular campaigns are not always welcomed by powerful people who want to
defend existing interests and systems. But there are many successful examples of
campaigns at local, national and even global level. The most notable success
story is the 'Drop the Debt' idea which was organised by the international
Jubilee Campaign. The combined action of ordinary people from around the world
led to about $34 billion of debt being cancelled for some of the world's poorest
Stakeholders are people who have an interest in a particular
decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group. This
includes people who influence a decision, or can influence it, as well
as those affected by it. Stakeholders should be able to participate
meaningfully in decision making.
Different issues and situations will have different sets of
stakeholders. It is important to try and identify them all.
For example, the UN Commission for Sustainable Development recognises
nine major groups of stakeholders:
- Business and Industry
- Children and youth
- Indigenous people
- Local Authorities
- Non-government organisations
- Science and Technology
- Trade Unions
|Advocacy - publicly supporting or recommending
a particular cause or policy.
Campaigning - working in an organised and active way towards a
Lobbying - an organised attempt by members of the public to
influence decision makers.