Citizen Participation

What is Citizen Participation?

Citizen participation is a process through which citizens influence public decisions that affect their lives and the lives of other citizens. Citizen participation can be active when citizens interact with their elected officials or the staff of a local government to influence a public policy decision.  It can also be passive when citizens simply attend a public meeting to receive information on the status of a new government programme or when they show up to vote at an election.

Citizen Participation embodies the idea that citizens can help themselves; that they can articulate their own needs and find the solutions to address them; that they can be active participants rather than mere recipients of development processes; that development works better for them if done “bottom-up” rather than from the “top-down”. The most effective Citizen Participation brings people together to learn, discuss and give their input.  These opportunities are particularly useful for building consensus that can be meaningful guides for government actions.


Why is there a need for citizen participation at local levels?

  1. To build a stronger understanding of community needs, perspectives and priorities leading to better designed solutions, where the public are consulted at the early stage of problem identification, and then throughout the planning and decision-making processes.
  2. To build community “ownership” to identified solutions to problems.
  3. To provide an effective administrative tool.
  4. Solutions are more durable when the public have invested their time in them. When members of the public feel included and listened to, they are more likely to invest in the outcome of the decisions that are made.


What is citizen participation in governance?

Citizen participation in governance pertains to the processes – the ways and means – by which citizens, particularly the poor and marginalised, influence and take control over the resources and decisions that directly affect them.  It requires methods and mechanisms by which ordinary citizens can effectively influence governments to develop responsive policies, and to implement responsive programs and services.

One of the strongest arguments for active citizen participation is that it contributes to good governance.  It does so by enabling citizens to exact accountability directly from public officials to make government more responsive, efficient, and effective.




  1. Principles of Good Governance, Policy Brief, 2003 by John Graham, Bruce Amos, Tim Plumptre
  2. Social Development Family in the Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Network of the World Bank (March 2003)
  3. Advancement for Small & Micro-Enterprises Development in Tanzania (ASMET)
  4. Citizen Participation in Governance, Institute of Development Studies