The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Outcomes of Participatory Decision-Making: Evidence From a Newly Emerging Democracy

Friday, January 18, 2013: 8:00 AM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Marsela Dauti, MA, MSW, PhD Candidate, Washington University in Saint Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose. Participatory theorists assert that participation in decision making leads to more informed, capable, trustful, and empowered citizens (Moehler, 2008). Participation strengthens the relationship between local leaders and ordinary citizens and therefore deepens democracy (Goldfrank, 2002). However, much of the existing evidence on the impact of citizen participation in decision making focuses on old democracies. Even though many efforts have been made by international agencies to promote citizen participation in decision making in newly emerging democracies, little is known about their impact. This study investigates how a municipality in Albania, assisted mainly by USAID, succeeded in mobilizing community members to participate in decision making and the outcomes of participatory processes. Field research was conducted by the author in the municipality of Kuçova during 2010 – 2011.


Methods. This study is based on a mixed method design. An in-depth analysis of the outcomes of participatory decision-making was conducted using multiple techniques, including semi-structured interviews, field observation, and archival data analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with randomly sampled community members who did not participate in local meetings (n = 50), community members who participated in local meetings (n = 40), and local leaders (n = 8). Local meetings and events were attended in the municipality. Thematic content analysis was conducted to examine the impact of participation on knowledge of local government affairs and confidence in local government officials; the efforts of local leaders to mobilize community members in decision making and the challenges that they faced during the process; and the experiences and contribution of community members in local meetings. Mean-comparison tests were conducted to examine the differences between community members who participated in local meetings and community members who did not participate in local meetings regarding the quality of public investments and services.


Results. Compared to community members who did not participate in local meetings, community members who participated in local meetings had a better understanding of local government affairs and higher confidence in local government officials. Also, they reported a significantly higher quality of public investments [t(85) = -6.31, p < .001] and services [t(87) = -5.80, p < .001]. However, such effects were found only on community members who had a long history of participation in local meetings.


Conclusions and Implications. This study shows that in a context characterized by a poor history of participatory governance, participation in local decision-making can have positive outcomes. In Kuçova, such outcomes were achieved because of the strong commitment of municipal leaders in mobilizing community members and keeping them informed on local government affairs. However, a top-down approach to participatory decision-making resulted in more informed and trustful citizens, not empowered citizens capable of holding local leaders accountable. This study suggests that top-down strategies to participatory decision-making should be accompanied by bottom-up strategies. Otherwise, the outcomes of participation will be limited.