11, June, 2013

Citizen Participation in Latin America: Innovations to Strengthen Governance

From small communities in rural Mexico to urban metropolises in Brazil and Colombia, citizen participation initiatives have emerged to improve policies, laws and the public agenda to ultimately enhance accountability and social justice.

Boosted in part by the region’s democratic transitions, citizen participation initiatives in Latin America have become increasingly common throughout the region. These initiatives, promoted both by governments and civil society, have sought to strengthen governance, enhance accountability and control, and improve social justice, ensuring that governments’ funds and policies address relevant social issues and benefit socially excluded groups. Citizen observatories, social control mechanisms, social audits, citizen consultations, local citizen councils, citizen assessments of service delivery: these are just some of the mechanisms enabling citizens to actively participate in public life throughout Latin America. This Guide presents some of the key citizen participation initiatives in the region, including analysing their outcomes, lessons learned and the contextual factors enabling them, while also highlighting key publications and organisations to help connect readers with additional resources to learn more.

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Key Lessons:

  • Legal frameworks favourable to citizen participation, such as provisions in constitutions as well as specific laws governing decentralisation, municipal management, public budgeting and citizen participation, are useful as the foundation for the design and implementation of specific citizen participation mechanisms. The Latin American experience underscores the importance of pushing for their enactment.
  • The Latin American experience also shows that government and public officials' political will is crucial for ensuring that these citizen participation mechanisms exist, are properly funded, and above all are effective, meaning that the citizen input is indeed used to improve policy design and implementation.
  • Likewise, as the existence of legal frameworks does not always translate into empowered citizen participation, it is often necessary for civil society to keep advocating for the implementation of effective citizen participation mechanisms to bend political resistance and to leverage public authorities into taking into account of civil society's voice in their decision making.
  • (Español) El trabajo de evaluación independiente, vigilancia y apoyo a la sociedad civil es fundamental ya que ayuda a reducir la corrupción, a mejorar la justicia social y a expandir la agenda pública resaltando los problemas sociales relevantes. Tal como muestra la experiencia latinoamericana, los esfuerzos de la sociedad civil también son una fuente de innovación y dinamismo para las estructuras burocráticas del gobierno.

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