"Despite the fact that governments are pumping out more and more information to citizens, trust in government has edged lower and lower, pushed in part no doubt by the lingering economic hardships and government cutbacks resulting from the recession," writes Mark Funkhouser. "Clearly the relationship between citizens and their governments needs to be reframed."
Though several techniques have been developed in recent years to help bridge this divide, a new study titled Making Public Participation Legal finds that many of them - from decision-making forums to facilitated group meetings - are not supported by the legal framework common to local U.S. governments.
"Making Public Participation Legal not only makes the case for how outdated public participation laws actually work against meaningful citizen engagement but also lays out an excellent set of policy options for strengthening public participation," notes Funkhouser. "The study includes model municipal and state public participation legislation, along with model city charter language for citizen advisory boards."
"With a little tweaking, the study says, they could be 'ideal forums for deliberative democracy practices that can better mirror the organic processes of citizen-driven collective action.'"