Venting Release

Venting Release


New Report calls for mandatory public input

October 1, 2002

TORONTO - Strengthening civil society in an effort to deepen democracy is not enough, according to a new report for the Commonwealth Foundation. From Venting to Inventing, a report for the Commonwealth Foundation's Citizens and Governance Programme, argues for entrenching citizen involvement in the decision-making processes of the state.

Written by Miriam Wyman, Canadian member of the Commonwealth Foundation's Citizens and Governance Program Team, and David Shulman, Coordinator of the Democracy Education Network, the report uses three case studies to highlight how strengthening civil society and increasing citizen engagement does not necessarily lead to deeper democratic practice.

The case studies examine efforts to establish direct democracy at the municipal level in Rossland, British Columbia; the work of Web Networks, an internet-based network for activists; and the 1992 United Nations Conference of Environment and Development (UNCED) which redefined decision making among governments, civil society organizations, and citizens. Through these case studies, the report addresses the following questions:

  • How are citizens organizing to strengthen their voices in political decisions?
  • How are citizens attempting to rebalance relationships of engagement with their governments?
  • How are citizens' efforts translating into better institutionalized commitments to increased citizen involvement in governance?

"Citizens are doing almost everything possible to make their concerns known and it's not enough. There has to be a formal requirement for listening," notes Miriam Wyman.

Co-author David Shulman explains, "We need to do for public consultation what we've done for elections. Instead of leaving it to governments to consult the public on a voluntary basis, we need an entrenched process that obliges governments to engage citizens on a systematic basis."

The report challenges the wisdom of focusing only on strengthening civil society as a means to deepening democracy.

Democracy can be weak even when citizens are active. Liz Rykert from Meta Strategies, comments that "this report fills an important void in terms of intent and actuality" with respect to addressing the paradox of a strong civil society and a weak democracy. From Venting to Inventing makes a case for mandatory public input in government policy making so that the voices of 'ordinary' citizens can be heard.

Project results will be presented this week at the first National Conference on Dialogue and Deliberation in Washington, D.C., and later this month at the Montreal International Forum on Global Governance 2002 (G02).

To see an Overview of the report, click here, and to see the full report (300 K, PDF format), click here.

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Author Contact Information:

Miriam Wyman,
Practicum Limited
Commonwealth Foundation, Citizens and Governance Programme Team
Tel.: (416) 413-0347

David Shulman
Democracy Education Network
Tel: (416) 761-1552

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