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Democratising bureaucracy: the many meanings of public participation in social policy and how to harness them

Dean, Rikki (2016) Democratising bureaucracy: the many meanings of public participation in social policy and how to harness them. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Calls for greater public participation in the policy process have become a commonplace in contemporary governance, advocated across the political spectrum. Part of what makes participation beguiling is that it can take many meanings. This thesis investigates those meanings and their implications for how to do participatory policy-making. It outlines an innovative new typology of four modes of public participation in social policy decisions. The four modes – labelled: knowledge transfer, collective decision-making, choice and voice, and arbitration and oversight – are each linked to different traditions in democratic and public administration theory. As such, they go beyond existing typologies of participation, which are either rooted in one, radical participatory, normative orientation, or abstracted from broader normative debates altogether. This typology is followed by an empirical study of the procedural preferences of 34 key informants involved with participation in health, housing, poverty, and social security policy in Britain. It combines a Q-method survey and qualitative interviews to provide a novel mix of quantitative and qualitative data on each person’s preference. The analysis demonstrates that the preferences of the majority of study participants mirror the knowledge transfer and collective decision-making modes of participation, with significant disagreements over the objectives of participation and how much power should be afforded to the public. The rich mixture of quantitative and qualitative data also enables a deeper exploration of the nature of procedural preferences than existing studies, which have primarily employed secondary data analysis of large-scale surveys. It establishes that there are not just differences between participants but deep ambivalences within participants’ preferences. The thesis then proposes a systems approach to participation in governance. It describes three functions that participation can serve in complex policy systems: effectiveness, autonomy and accountability. The four modes of participation are matched with the three functions, using examples from the English National Health Service (NHS) for further elucidation. This approach provides a framework for designing and assessing participatory policymaking that takes account of the diversity of procedural preferences.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Rikki John Dean
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Dean, Hartley and Burchardt, Tania

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