Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2013


Participatory governance engages people who are affected by a problem in the process of solving it. A participatory-governance approach to inner-city crime, for example, might include local residents in the process of designing a community-policing program. In recent decades, courts, legislatures, administrative agencies, and other institutions all have used participatory-governance approaches to tackle complex problems of law and public policy.

Some herald the potential for participatory-governance schemes to improve legal and policy outcomes, increase institutional accountability, empower marginalized groups, and further democratic ideals of self-determination and equality. Yet participatory-governance schemes can also promote the capture of public power by private interests, the evasion of accountability, and the deepening subordination of already marginalized communities. This is especially true when marginalized stakeholders are unable to meaningfully participate in the process.

This article seeks to articulate a conceptual framework for better promoting meaningful participation by marginalized stakeholders. To do so, it draws a seemingly unlikely parallel between participatory governance systems and business transactions. Applying the framework to both court-based and non-court-based systems, it analyzes how various mechanisms might be used to promote meaningful participation by marginalized stakeholders. It concludes that where such participation cannot actively be promoted, the participatory approach should be rejected in favor of other problem-solving methods.



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