Public participation is a political principle or practice, and may also recognised as a right (right to public participation). The terms public participation may be used interchangeably with the concept or practice of stakeholder engagement.

Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public's contribution will influence the decision.[1]

Public participation may be regarded as a way of empowerment and as vital part of democratic governance.[2]

In the context of knowledge management the establishment of ongoing participatory processes is seen in the facilitator of collective intelligence and inclusiveness, shaped by the decire for the participation of the whole community or society.[3]

Public participation is part of “people centred” or "human centric" principles, which have emerged in Western culture over the last thirty years, and has had some bearings of education, business, public policy and international relief and development programs. Public participation is advanced by the humanist movements and in the context of post-modernism. Public participation may be advanced as part of a “people first” paradigm shift. In this respect public participation may challenge the concept that "big is better" and the logic of centralized hierarchies, advancing alternative concepts of “more heads are better than one” and arguing that public participation can sustain productive and durable change.[4]

Public Policy

In some countries public participation has become a central principle of public policy making. In the UK it has been observed that all levels of government have started to build citizen and stakeholder engagement into their policy-making processes. This may involve large-scale consultations that involve tens of thousands of members of the public, focus group research, on-line discussion forums, or deliberative citizens' juries.

Public participation is viewed as a tool, intended to inform planning, organising or funding of activities. Public participation may also be used to measure attainable objectives, evaluate impact, and identify lessons for future practice.[5]

In the USA public participation in administrative rulemaking refers to the process by which proposed rules are subject to public comment for a specified period of time. Public participation is typically mandatory for rules promulgated by executive agencies of the U.S. government. Statutes or agency policies may mandate public hearings during this period. The words, public participation are also used by governments to describe the process of allowing the public to purchase the equity of, and participate in the profits of privatized state-owned enterprises by way of an Initial Public Offering.

Public Trust

In recent years loss of public trust in authorities and politicians has become a widespread concern in many democratic societies. Public participation is a regarded as one potential solution to the crisis in public trust and governance, particularly in the UK, Europe, and other democracies. The idea is that public should be involved more fully in the policy process in that authorities seek public views and participation, instead of treating the public as simply passive recipients of policy decisions.

The underlying assumption by political theorists, social commentators, and even politicians is that public participation increase public trust in authorities, improving citizen political efficacy, enhancing democratic ideals and even improving the quality of policy decisions. However, the assumed benefits of public participation are yet to be confirmed.[6]


Public participation may also be viewed as accountability enhancing. The argument being that public participation can be a means for the participating communities to hold public authorities accountable for implementation.[7]

Participatory Development

In economic development theory the school of participatory development. The desire to increase public participation in humanitarian aid and development has led to the establishment of a numerous context-specific, formal methodologies, matrices, pedagogies and ad hoc approaches. These include conscientization and praxis; rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA); appreciation influence control analysis (AIC); “open space” approaches; objectives oriented project planning (ZOPP); vulnerability analysis and capacity analysis.[8]

Environment and Sustainable Development

In recent years public participation has become to be seen as a vital part of addressing environmental problems and bringing about sustainable development. In this context the limits of solely relying on technocratic bureaucratic monopoly of decision making, and it is argued that public participation allows governments to adopt policies and enact laws that are relevant to communities and take into account their needs.[9]

Public Participation is recognised as a an environmental principle, see Environmental Principles and Policies, and has been enshrined in the Rio Declaration.

Right to Public Participation

In some jurisdictions the right to public participation is enshrined by law. The right to public participation may also be conceived of as human right, or as manifestation of the right to freedom of association and freedom of assembly. As such the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, have public participation and freedom of information provisions in their legal systems since before the Middle Ages.[10] Democracy and public participation are closely connected democratic societies have incorporated public participation rights into their laws for centuries. For example, in the US the right to petition has been part of the first Amendment of the US constitution since 1791.[11]

It is assumed that public participation depends on the pubic's access to information. hence laws regarding public participation often deal with the issue of the right to know, access of information and freedom of information.[12]

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

Main article: Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

The Rio Declaration of 1992 enshrines public participation in its 27 principles. Principle 10 states that "environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level”. The Rio Declaration continues, drawing a close link between access to information and public participation:

"At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided."[13]

See also