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Stop interactive policy making!
by Newropeans-Magazine
2009-12-11 07:56:58
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Why do I always have this strange feeling when people talk about interactive policy making? To me, it always seems very inefficient to talk with citizens about every plan that is made, to organise evenings where these plans are discussed, and to give a voice to almost everyone who is more or less involved. Most of the time, it is already clear at the start what the outcome will be, and there will not be much room for new ideas.

Still many people believe in interactive policy making: officials and consultants believe that it could improve the relation between government and its citizens. These advocates invented interactive policy making to let governments and citizens decide together about certain plans, and to increase support for them. Sonja van der Arend wrote a PhD about this process. She talked with advocates of interactive policy making, proces managers who manage these processes and citizens who participate in them. It is a very relevant book for everyone who wants to know what the pr

actice of interactive policy making looks like. I will only write about the participants. There are three groups of them.

Engineers are individual participants who use their technical knowledge to improve the quality of public policy. They hope that their knowledge will play a role in this process, they write their own plans and present themselves as neutral participants who have the only solution that is reasonable for everyone. But in practice, these participan

ts are expected to have certain interests and a subjective view: citizens are asked to participate because of these interests, not because of their knowledge. In the end, engineers do not feel appreciated in these processes. 

Citizen groups participate as well. They often protest against certain plans and want to strive for the interests of the area where they live. But they suffer from the philosophy of interactive policy making too: they do have certain interests, but they are expected to have a more neutral view and take the interests of others into account as well. T

hese participants do not want to give up their goals. Other participants portray them as ‘nimby’s’, citizens who do not want a new railroad, just because it is too close to their homes. They are seen as citizens that do not want to take other interests into account at all.

The most important participants are employees of societal organisations or ngo’s. They do take other interests into account. They for example cooperate with building a new railroad, when it is compensated with nature somewhere else. In this way, they achieve their goal to have more nature, but still they have a problem. The citizens that f

inancially support these organizations, do not understand this exchange of interests. They see that a new railroad was build and that the societal organization accepts it. They do not see that there is more nature somewhere else. In this way, citizens and societal organizations do not understand each other anymore.

This dissertation shows there are no participants who are happy with interactive policy making. Engineers are unable to use their technical expertise, citizens do not want to give up their interests, and societal organizations have a problem with ther members when they do not see enough results. Interactive policy making turns out to be as worse as traditional political decisions without any consultation of citizens. In both cases, many people do not get the results they want. That’s life. Interactive policy making is largely useless.  


Chris Aalberts*
Amsterdam, Nederlands

* Chris Aalberts is lecturer and researcher in political communication. Visit his blog: http://www.chrisaalberts.nl/


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