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Stakeholders and participatory democracy


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 and lobbying.

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 countries.

 

Stakeholders

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
  • Farmers
  • Indigenous people
  • Local Authorities
  • Non-government organisations
  • Science and Technology
  • Trade Unions
  • Women

 

Advocacy - publicly supporting or recommending a particular cause or policy.

Campaigning - working in an organised and active way towards a goal.

Lobbying - an organised attempt by members of the public to influence decision makers.