Citizen participation is widely viewed as a key component in the planning process, and, for the most part, planners accept the notion that participation is important to producing enduring plans. Almost, all people agree that public participation is good but to what extent and how we can ensure that the participation taking place should be in good faith of the people and this very responsibility lies on the shoulders of a competent planner.

Participation mandates created and proposed by a competent planner and policy maker do affect local government attention to citizen involvement. Administrators need guidance for crafting citizen involvement requirements that will result in broad public participation in planning. Over time, the planners also stressed the need for better representation of the interests of disadvantaged and powerless groups in governmental decision making.  As stated by Diane Day (1997) collective decisions are more easily accepted by the individuals, and a sense of belonging in the community will be fostered. Burke (1968) asserts that citizen participants are sources of information and collective wisdom, the probability of public interests being served is achieved through public participation.

“The act of participation is held to be a form of citizen training, in which citizens working together to solve community problems not only learn how democracy works but also learn to value and appreciate cooperation as a problem solving methods” (Burke, 1968).

“It is much easier to change the behaviour of individuals when they are members of a group than to change any one of them separately. Secondly, individuals and groups resist decisions which are imposed upon them. They are more likely to support a decision and, equally important, more likely to assist in carrying it out if they have had a part in discovering the need for change and if they share in decision making process” (Burke, 1968). Thus, public participation can act as a behavioral change mechanism for inclusion of public in decision making.

Public participation can be an effective tool in supplementing the workforce in plan making and plan implementation process. There are many experts in an area and their knowledge and energy can be tapped efficiently if public involvement is carried out rationally and judiciously.

Cooption as a technique in public participation will help in harnessing the existing citizen groups for sanctioning the planning goals and objectives through absorbing new element or potential obstructions in decision making process.

It can be seen that many strategy for public participation can be tried to ensure effective and increased participation. There might be a need for adapting the various prevalent strategies according to the demand of the situation or the working environment.

Some of the benefits of the public participation can be enumerated as follows:

  1. It can enhance the quality of planning by creating processes that are more democratic and equitable. The poor often have little, if any, voice in government decisions. Consultation and dialogue between local government and interest groups representing the poor can give the latter more voice and influence over decisions.
  2. Participatory planning encourages the poor to be more responsible for, involved in and aware of their role in local governance. It can help reduce potential conflict and build local people’s feeling of ownership in the government’s plan.
  3. Participatory planning can result in programmes that are better and more efficient. By consulting the poor and giving voice to their concerns and needs, the resulting actions are more likely to be relevant and appropriate to the conditions they face. For instance, simply consulting people about their daily schedules can help government provide services at times when people are likely to make best use of them.
  4. Participatory planning can increase the transparency of governmental decision making. This allows citizens to understand how and why the local government is making certain decisions. It is also a way of holding government members accountable for what they planned to do. It can improve mutual understanding and trust between the poor and local government.
  5. User involvement raises awareness and is particularly important to enable an “informed choice”, and for the proper operation of on-site systems, as neglecting their needs and preferences can result in the non-use of the system with users reverting to open defecation.
  6. Working with a participatory planning approach improves motivation, learning and self-realization, feelings of ownership and self-esteem, and the possibility that the identified problems and solutions will truly reflect the felt needs of the stakeholders.

Citizens can be used as instrument for the attainment of specific end of development and in other we can say that public participation can be an strategy for mobilizing the government in framing or sanctioning development projects. Sometimes, public participation can be used as instrument for stability, educational tool for changing and modulating attitude, supplementing staff, cooperation for development.

After having gone through the various benefits and the rationale for enhanced public participation in planning process, it will be wise to study some of the negative aspects of the participatory planning process from the next section.

Shashikant Nishant Sharma

Urban Planner

{Courtesy: Sharma, S.N. (2012), Participatory Planning in Plan Preparation: A Case of Delhi, Graduate Thesis, Department of Physical Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi}