Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Citizen Participation: Methods and Approaches

Covers political, social, environmental and economic activities aimed at building a better and more democratic and sustainable society

Advocacy

Advocacy can take many forms and is more aligned with different spheres of society. The forms include lobbying, protests/demonstrations, strikes, petitions, boycotts, civil disobedience, ballot initiatives, and political campaigning. See also the other tabs of this guide for leads to some of these forms of advocacy - e.g. see Economic/Consumer Issues for information on boycotts.

A great list of materials in the MSU Libraries relating to Advocacy. 

There are many places that teach advocacy including the legendary Highlander Center which honed the skills of many famous advocates like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis.

Demonstrations, Rallies, Protests

Selection of sources below do not represent a political position but rather an example of good practice regardless of where one stands on the issues the rally is undertaking.

Dialogue and other Facilitative Processes

The processes by which we discuss and decide our collective future together in a democracy greatly shape the outcomes and the environment of our democracy at all levels. Dialogue and deliberation are two elements of that communication necessary to make collective decisions. The approaches being used are many. Dialogue refers to the structure and culture of that communication. Deliberation focuses on the decision-making approaches that lead to selection of some choices. Who decides, and how are the decisions made - plurality, majority, consensus, etc.? 
There are a number of good books that introduce different approaches to group discussion and decision-making. John Gastil's Democracy in Small Groups, or his Deliberative Democracy Handbook along with Tom Atlee's The Tao of Democracy and Peggy Holman's The Change Handbook will give fundamental review of possibilities with examples.To stay connected to the ongoing development of citizen group process work the following are recommended sites.
Aarhus Convention Clearinghouse for Environmental Democracy - from the UN Economic Council for Europe showacases information on laws and practices relevant to the public's right to:
  • access environmental information
  • participate in environmental decision-making
  • achieve justice on environmental matters
American Democracy Project - project of the American Associaition of State Colleges and Universities focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.
Center for Deliberative Democracy - home for the approach known as Deliberative Polling.
Center for E-Democracy - mission is to harness the power of online tools to support participation in public life, strengthen communities, and build democracy.
Center for Public Deliberation - housed at Colorado State University and regionally focused with links to National Issues Forums.
Center for Democratic Deliberation - housed at Penn State is a nonpartisan, interdisciplinary center for research, teaching, and outreach on issues of civic engagement and democratic deliberation.
Citizen Juries - a randomly selected and demographically representative panel of citizens meets for four or five days to carefully examine an issue of public significance.
Compassionate Listening Project - a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering individuals and communities to transform conflict and create powerful cultures of peace.
Conversation Cafes - are open, hosted conversations in cafés as well as conferences and classrooms—anywhere people gather to make sense of our world
Deliberative Democracy Consortium - an alliance of major norganization and leading scholars working in the field of deliberation and citizen engagement. 
The Democracy Imperative - initiated and housed at the University of New Hampshire this effort aims at engaging higher education as a training and practice ground for better citizen engagement.
Everyday Democracy - Ideas and Tools for Community Change and home of "Study Circles" approach.
Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy - housed at Kansas State and home of the Journal of Public Deliberation
Involve - UK based effort to citizen participation resources.
International Institute for Sustained Dialogue - longer term effort to transform relationships through a five stage process over several meetings.
Kettering Foundation - one of the leading forces supporting community conversation and supporters of the National Issues Forum approach to deliberating public issues. 
Meditteranean Citizens Assembly Foundation - supports representative citizen involvement inde liberating important issues.
National Charrette Institute - a frequently used tool for community planning process.
National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation - is a wonderful clearinghouse of information and networking (discussion lists) with facilitating professionals and others interested in deepening democracy through improved communication vehicles and spaces.
National Issues Forums - prepares background readings around issues and offers a format for community conversations.
Participedia - an open source knowledge community for researchers and practitioners in the field of democratic innovation and public engagement.
ParticipateDB - many citizen engagement web-based tools and projects that have used them.
Program for Deliberative Democracy - focused on the Pittsburg region and housed at carnegie Mellon U.
Public Agenda - through nonpartisan research and public engagement, they provide the insights, tools and support people need to build common ground and arrive at solutions that work for them.
Public Conversations Project - works to prevent and transform conflicts driven by deep differences.
 

Participatory Budgeting

The idea of the public having direct input into government budgeting developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Recent AQmerican Political Science Association (APSA)  task force report highlights its usefulness. Below are a few sources and sites to stay abreast of developments.

Journal of Public Deliberation - a special issue on the topic volume 8 no. 2 2012

Participatory Budgeting Practices, Places, games, and Resources - a nice set of resources from a blog  by democracy activist and author, Tom Atlee

Participatory Budgeting Project - captures efforts going on in the US, Canada and around the world. Maintains an online library of material.

Participatory Budgeting Unit - a UK site that collects case studies and other resources applying participatory budgeting approaches.

Writing Government Officials

Community Toolbox - Guide to crafting good communication to government officials

Contact Info for Government Officials - gateway to finding contact info for federal and state government officials

Michigan State University