OECD Studies on Public Engagement

2077-4036 (online)
2077-4028 (print)
Hide / Show Abstract
This series of reports examines how public engagement can be used to improve government performance.
Focus on Citizens

Last edition

Focus on Citizens

Public Engagement for Better Policy and Services You do not have access to this content

Click to Access: 
  • PDF
  • http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/governance/focus-on-citizens_9789264048874-en
  • READ
28 May 2009
9789264048874 (PDF) ;9789264048867(print)

Hide / Show Abstract

Complex policy issues cannot be solved by government alone. Delivering high-quality public services at the least cost and achieving shared public policy goals requires innovative approaches and greater involvement of citizens. This book is a valuable source of information on government performance in fostering open and inclusive policy making in 25 countries. It offers rich insights into current practice through 14 in-depth country case studies and 18 opinion pieces from leading civil society and government practitioners. It includes 10 guiding principles to support open and inclusive policy making and service delivery in practice. 


"Including more people, earlier and more creatively, in public policy issues is vital not just to secure legitimacy for policy decisions, but also to unlock a mass of creativity and commitment. Innovation is increasingly going to become an open, social and networked activity. That is true in politics and policy as much as in business. This timely, thoughtful book will help make open innovation in public policy a practical reality."

-Charles Leadbeater, author We-think: Mass innovation not mass production 


"We cannot engage the public only on issues of service delivery, but need also to seek their views, energy and resources when shaping public policy. To do otherwise is to create a false distinction between design and delivery, when in the citizens’ eyes it is all connected."

-Irma Pavliniè Krebs, Minister of Public Administration, the Republic of Slovenia


"Focus on Citizens shines a light on the practical difficulties and significant benefits of open and inclusive policy making – not only for OECD member country governments but equally for non-member countries." 

-Bart W. Édes, Head, NGO and Civil Society Center, Asian Development Bank

loader image

Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Table of Contents

  • Mark Click to Access
  • Executive Summary
    Governments alone cannot deal with complex global and domestic challenges, such as climate change or soaring obesity levels. They face hard trade-offs, such as responding to rising demands for better quality public services despite tight budgets. They need to work with their own citizens and other stakeholders to find solutions.
  • Why Invest in Open and Inclusive Policy Making?
    Governments everywhere are under pressure to do more with less. Open and inclusive policy making offers one way to improve policy performance and meet citizens’ rising expectations. Public engagement in the design and delivery of public policy and services can help governments better understand people’s needs, leverage a wider pool of information and resources, improve compliance, contain costs and reduce the risk of conflict and delays downstream. This chapter describes government goals for, and the benefits of, open and inclusive policy making in OECD member countries.
  • Open Policy Making
    Over the past 25 years, OECD member countries have made progress in fostering openness in government, notably through the adoption of access to information legislation. Rights, commitment and active citizenship have all progressed in recent years. Yet governments report far less progress in securing the necessary resources, time and evaluation of open and inclusive policy making. This chapter reviews the legal basis, costs and risks of openness in policy making.
  • Inclusive Policy Making
    Openness, while necessary, is not sufficient. Achieving broader public engagement and more inclusive policy making processes is important for reasons both of efficacy and of equity. This chapter examines government experience in breaking down the barriers to, and increasing the appeal of, participation in policy making for both the "willing but unable" and the "able but unwilling". 
  • Evaluation Improves Performance
    Evaluation of open and inclusive policy making remains a real challenge for governments. Even though many OECD member countries have introduced standards or guidelines for open and inclusive policy making, performance against these standards is rarely evaluated on a regular basis. This chapter reviews how evaluation of open and inclusive policy making is being used as a tool for improving current and future practice.
  • Leveraging New Technologies and the Participative Web
    The rapid emergence of the "participative web" (also known as Web 2.0 or read/ write web) is reflected in the exponential proliferation of wikis, blogs and social bookmarking. The tools and practices of the participative web can help improve policy making and service delivery by enriching government interactions with external stakeholders and enhancing internal knowledge management. This chapter reviews initial attempts by government to leverage the participative web and outlines some of the challenges ahead.
  • Principles to Support Practice
    Sound principles can help guide practice. This short chapter presents a set of ten "Guiding Principles for Open and Inclusive Policy Making" which have been validated by comparative experience and extensive policy dialogues among government officials from OECD member countries.
  • Case Studies in Citizen Engagement
    In addition to presenting comparative data, gathered from governments and civil society organisations through questionnaires, this report recognises that much in-depth knowledge can be gained by studying concrete examples of citizen engagement practices in different countries and policy areas.
  • Building Future Scenarios for Regional Development in Northeast England, United Kingdom
    Regional development policy in OECD countries often focuses on identifying and promoting sources of regional competitiveness in order to achieve and sustain economic growth. Attention is given to developing multi-sector, place-based policy packages that build on a location’s endogenous assets to cultivate, attract and retain productive firms. Planning for such regional development increasingly involves national, regional and local governments, as well as other stakeholders, with the central government taking a less dominant role than in the past. The result is an approach to policy making that prioritises local knowledge, assets and potential for growth. This case study examines one approach to regional economic planning that took concrete steps to reveal and incorporate this local knowledge: a project in the UK called Shaping Horizons in the North East, or SHiNE.
  • Public Engagement to Achieve Self-Sufficiency in New Brunswick, Canada
    Driven by a world of increasing complexity and interdependence, OECD governments are struggling with how to evolve classically hierarchical structures into more horizontal, open and responsive service delivery and policy development models. An emerging strategy to create this shift is establishing system-wide goals that co-ordinate public service agencies and enlist other stakeholders, including other levels of government, business, civil society and individual citizens, in an attempt to achieve results. Open and inclusive policy making is critical to such a strategy, since stakeholders are more likely to buy into a goal they have some say in setting.
  • Public Involvement in Urban Renewal in Trondheim, Norway
    The purpose of the Norwegian Board of Technology’s project on local democracy and urban planning was two-fold: ? To develop a method for participation from "non-organised" citizens in planning processes according to the Norwegian Planning and Building Act. ? To organise a participatory process according to this method. 
  • Improving Quality of Life in Distressed Urban Areas in Bremen, Germany
    Many German cities have experienced spatial segregation and the decline of some neighbourhoods. The problems of distressed urban areas are multi-dimensional and the outcome of complex interactions between economic, social and spatial factors. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods tend to be characterised by high unemployment rates, a poor physical environment, social and economic exclusion, low educational levels, high crime rates, lack of infrastructures and service delivery and a general sense of despair among residents. The large numbers of migrants who tend to come to these distressed urban neighbourhoods place additional stress on these neighbourhoods. In the past, most regeneration efforts were focussed on improving the physical space. Recently, initiatives have focused on improving the social infrastructure of distressed neighbourhoods. Whilst some initiatives use a top-down approach, there is increasingly a shift towards explicitly involving local residents in improving their neighbourhood. Participation on the local level can empower people and give a sense of ownership and control. However, people with a low socio-economic background, young people or migrants may be shy to articulate their views or lack the rhetorical skills to express their opinions in public fora and their opinions and may not be taken seriously. In addition, state representatives may not be comfortable to relay power and (binding) decision making to "the people". 
  • Participatory Budgeting in Çanakkale, Turkey
    Changes and developments in the public sector bring about the need to review and improve the principles and procedures, objectives and targets of administration in local governments. The municipalities that spend funds through the authority they receive from citizens are now obliged to restructure their decision-making procedures and to determine new strategies. In Çanakkale, the first examples of "active citizenship and partnership relations" date from the 1960s. Modern examples based on today’s governance and management principles began with the establishment of the broad-based City Council in 1996 (whose members include elected officials, public servants, representatives of academia, political parties, associations and local headmen or mukhtar) and was followed by Local Agenda 21 activities.
  • Participatory Budgeting in Buk-gu, Korea
    Budgeting is a fundamental activity of government, an explicit agreement between the people and their government in which private resources are collected in exchange for public services and benefits. Citizens rightfully expect governments to deliver on that promise. They further expect that public budgets be fair, equitable and transparent in support of national priorities and objectives. 
  • The Citizen Participation Policy Programme, Finland
    The Citizen Participation Policy Programme was described in the Government Programme in 2003 as a national democracy project. It was aimed at the central, regional and local levels; focused on agenda setting and policy options; and lasted from 2003-2007. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s Government adopted a new co-ordination tool aiming at more horizontal and strategic government policy making. The participation policy programme was one of the four key-horizontal programmes that the government launched. 
  • The Environment Roundtable, France
    The aim of the Government’s Environment Round Table (the Grenelle de l’environnement) was to hold public consultations, through a dedicated website and 15 or so decentralised public meetings. In the end 18 public meetings were held and the Internet forum was extended by two days.
  • The Forest Dialogue, Austria
    The Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management initiated a broad process of dialogue aimed at the elaboration of the Austrian Forest Programme. This was with the purpose of ensuring the economic, ecological and social services of Austrian forests under changing framework conditions. This programme identifies future-oriented objectives and measures in order to safeguard a sustainable management of forests. It is a central level programme dealing with forests all over Austria. The interest groups affected are involved in the stages of developing policy options, decision making and implementation of the programme. All participatory activities of the Forest Dialogue are carried out with the support of independent moderators. 
  • Standardised Surveys on Voter Behaviour, Switzerland
    After each popular vote at federal level (with three to four votes held each year on 10 to 12 proposals), a standardised survey has been conducted since 1977 with a representative sample of voters on their interests, motivation, and competence on matters relating to voting and on politics in general. To make the surveys comparable, the variables have been standardised (about 430 variables). The cost of the surveys amounts to about EUR 120 000 per year. The time spent by government officials to administer the mandate is negligible. The results of the surveys are made available to the media. 
  • The Online Participation Project, New Zealand
    The New Zealand State Services Commission (SSC) Online Participation Project was launched in 2003. Its purpose was to examine the scope for e-government to improve the opportunities for the public and businesses to participate in government.
  • Developing Professional Standards for Citizen Engagement, The Netherlands
    Since the 1960s, the issue of how the Dutch government can engage citizens in policy making has been on the agenda. At the local government level especially, citizens are requested to actively contribute to policy implementation and new policy design. And national government is pursuing direct dialogue with citizens more and more actively. Simultaneously, there is an increase in the number of initiatives from citizens to achieve certain societal goals, for which they seek co-operation with government. Over recent decades, the approach to citizen engagement has shifted from an ideological one to a more pragmatic one: how to use knowledge that is available in society, and how to gain and maintain social support, without losing speed or momentum? 
  • Building Government's Capacity to Engage Citizens, United Kingdom
    High-quality inclusive public engagement is important in a modern representative democracy. Engaging and empowering citizens to become involved in decision making not only contributes to better policy outcomes and improved public services by tapping reservoirs of experience and creativity but, on a more fundamental level, also helps build civic capacity and trust in government. 
  • Practitioners' Perspectives: Why Now, How and What Next?
    Following the analysis of comparative data and a set of country case studies, this report concludes with a collection of "voices". Building open and inclusive policy making is a journey, not a destination. It is an ongoing discussion, with no single "right" answer. So there are many legitimate perspectives, many of which are reflected in our 18 contributors: senior civil servants, elected officials, commissioners from oversight institutions, researchers, civil society organisations and youth operating at the local, national or international level.
  • Why Should Governments Engage Citizens in Service Delivery and Policy Making?
    The Public Governance Committee and the OECD Secretariat have launched some very important projects on citizens’ engagement as a result of the Ministerial meeting in Rotterdam in November 2005. Personally, I believe that citizen engagement in Government will be at the forefront of future public service reform in many countries, and as a result of the work of your committee, the OECD will be well positioned to assist member countries.
  • Public Engagement Is a Must in a Multi-Stakeholder World
    New Brunswick is a Canadian province of 750 000 people. In April 2007, its government launched the Public Engagement Initiative to learn more about how to engage communities, stakeholders and citizens more effectively. 
  • Calling All Politicians
    On the surface one might argue that not very much has changed. I started my career in the 1960s in the middle of a movement against authority and the establishment.* Before that, after World War II, people also believed that politics would never be the same. And yet, the discussion about the existence of a small ruling elite is still going on. We still have more or less the same parties in a reasonably functioning democracy. And electoral turnout, at least on the national level, is high, at about 80%. The general level of trust in government has declined somewhat overall, but now seems to be recovering a bit. So, what exactly is the problem?
  • And the Winner Is Trust and Credibility
    Trust is in trouble. Trust between citizens and government, between ethnic and religious groups, and between genders. It is in trouble in many countries in Europe and in the rest of the world. Trust is a cohesive element in multicultural societies, supplying and supporting necessary ties that can bind a society together. One way of creating trust is to have open and inclusive policy making. And trust is crucial to getting people to take up the government’s invitation to participate in open and inclusive policy making. So what comes first? Maybe a good start for governments is to re-evaluate and revitalise its communication. Too many governments engage too much in public relations and not enough in communication. In a world of spin, there is no place for real communication. When governments spin, communication gets squeezed out. And so do openness and inclusiveness.
  • Participate, but Do so Pragmatically
    Political leaders and policy makers across mature and developing democracies have gained a newfound appreciation for citizen participation in both the making of public decisions and their implementation. In their more candid moments, however, public officials frequently confess many suspicions about engaging citizens. They worry that unschooled citizens will make rash and unwise choices or that they will be too demanding. They worry that increasing public participation will actually harm the quality of democracy. Whereas most people vote in elections, methods of direct citizen participation and consultation, such as town meetings, citizen juries, and public hearings, can engage a highly select and unrepresentative set of individuals who are the "usual suspects" in political participation.
  • The Next Challenge for Citizen Engagement
    Two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans – decimating the city’s infrastructure and exposing deep racial and economic disparities – the city remained without a recovery plan to guide rebuilding efforts and leverage government recovery funds. Early planning efforts were met with anger and protest as the community struggled to distribute resources and revive an entire city in an environment where the public’s trust in government had been severely abused.
  • Internal Communication
    Open and inclusive policy making is the response to a growing concern about the position of governments in our countries. If policy processes are not developed together with a diversity of citizens, the result of these processes runs the risk of becoming ineffective. Governmental measures that are ill-adapted to social, cultural and economic realities are not accepted by citizens. Implementation falls short, and government becomes unproductive.
  • Leveraging Technology to Engage Young People
    As obvious as it may sound, it must be stressed that an open and inclusive government cannot truly exist without including youth. A government cannot hope to be inclusive in the future if the youth of today – future voters and future contributors to open policy – are already being "disengaged" by systems that seem outmoded and irrelevant to their lifestyle. The antidote to disengagement is to identify technologies that young people use on a daily basis, provide us with government services in a form that we are used to and then back it up with legal structures that demonstrate that government is able to adapt to our technical innovations. To a young person, the fact that putting music from a CD they own on to their iPod is still illegal (in New Zealand at least) is a clear reason to believe that government has no relevance to their daily lives. To appear relevant, and be truly inclusive, government must not allow itself to fall behind change in the way voters live.
  • The Privacy Implications of Public Engagement
    "Who said it? Why did they say it? Where do they live? How did they vote last time? What are their interests and concerns?" No, this is not from the film "The Lives of Others", George Orwell’s "Big Brother" or even Ben Elton’s recent book "Blind Faith". It’s the kind of questioning an elected politician and candidate in a modern democracy is expected to answer and record in the databases of their political parties’ after every contact with constituents who visit their electorate office or phone in. Political parties are the most comprehensive, aggressive direct marketers on the planet. In some democracies, they even have special laws that allow them to collect more personal information from more sources than any other civilian organisation in their society and then keep it secret from their citizens.
  • Social Partnership in Ireland
    When examining the structures and process that exist in Ireland for involving citizens in a partnership relationship with the state, it would appear to an objective observer that we rank relatively well. Here, I will briefly describe those structures and systems and then move on to a personal perspective on whether they are delivering open and inclusive policy making. To a certain extent, there are no straight answers to these types of debates and the "perfect system" does not exist, and so ultimately I offer some recommendations for change, which I believe could strengthen the systems of policy making in Ireland.
  • The Right to Know in Mexico
    The most relevant instrument for the effective implementation of the Mexican Law for Transparency and Access to Information (LAI), which was enacted in June 2003, has been the use of information technologies. Official Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) statistics show that since the law was enacted, over 270 000 requests for information have been submitted to the Executive Branch; and over 13 000 appeals have also been filed with the IFAI.
  • Participation at the Municipal Level in Italy
    The inclusion or involvement of citizens in the decision-making process and in designing (and monitoring) service activities is increasingly mandatory if the quality of public policy is to be enhanced and the challenges of the information and knowledge society faced. The Municipality of Bologna is reshaping itself, moving from a mainly "hierarchical" and complex organisation to a more citizen-centered one. A "perspective shift" on the part of the public administration is underway from the delivery of services (e-government and distributive portals) to interaction and knowledge sharing, and from debate and dialogue to "listening". The traditional arenas of representative democracy are complying with their own institutional requirements and are equipping themselves with the means to allow for more direct citizen intervention and inclusion. This marks a quantum leap compared to the past. The aims are mainly to:
  • People's Participation in Korea
    Public participation in the policy-making or implementation process is both reasonable and essential in the light of the constitutional concept cited above. In recent years, various legal systems have been introduced to ensure people’s participation in Korea.
  • Building Citizen-centred Policies and Services
    Openness in decision making is now a declared goal for governments in many countries and public access to information is well established in OECD countries and beyond. Governments increasingly recognise that to meet the challenges of the 21st century access to information on its own is insufficient and that citizens need to be actively engaged in developing and delivering public policies and services.
  • Democratic Innovations
    Around 20 people from 13 countries met as part of the "Open Space" event held on the afternoon of Friday 27 June 2008, following the official closure of the OECD/Slovenian Government International workshop on "Building Citizen Centred Policies and Services." This event was endorsed by (but was not officially part of) the preceding workshop.
  • Are You Listening? Youth Voices in Public Policy
    Young people constitute an important and significant part of the global population – over half are under the age of 25 – yet this is not reflected in their level of involvement and inclusion in decision-making processes and public debates. Many governments are focusing their efforts on addressing the special needs and opportunities of youth, all the while tackling global issues such as climate change that young people view as pressing and urgent. In a time with ever-increasing technological process and greater access to information, the traditional impression of apathetic youth is being shattered. The question that needs to be asked is: how can we ensure that young people are engaged in public policy and addressing global issues?
  • The Future of Open and Inclusive Policy Making
    Governments are increasingly being called upon to be more inclusive and open when formulating policy and to have viable channels through which government institutions can be accessed by citizens. The issue of open and inclusive policy-making means that governments are transparent in decision-making processes that they can be easily approached and hence are accessible to their citizens and they respond adequately to the views and concerns of the citizens. This in effect calls for greater engagement between governments and their constituencies and such a relationship will enhance democracy, transparency, accountability, ownership of national priorities and development. It is becoming evident that governance is no longer the domain of national governments alone, but increasingly involves contributions from additional political actors and other stakeholders. One such stakeholder is civil society. While governments remain powerful, there are many ways for citizens to engage in decision-making processes.
  • Globalised Democracy
    It is ironic that we talk of a crisis of democracy today. After all, there have never been more nations on earth that allow their citizens regular, free and competitive elections than now. On paper, democracy has never been stronger. However, if the last decade of the 20th century saw the widespread adaptation of representative democracy across the world, then the first decade of the new millennium has been characterised by widespread concern that our democratic institutions are neither fit for purpose or indeed, democratic enough.
  • Annex A
  • Annex B
  • Annex D
  • Annex E
  • Add to Marked List
Visit the OECD web site