What participants do. A practice based approach to public participation in two policy fields

S. van der Arend, J.H. Behagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The rise of public participation in policy is an integral part of the shift from government to governance, and is presented as the best and most appropriate answer to requests for democratic policymaking. Both in official accounts and in the work of scholars, participation is situated in a discourse that combines a deliberative ethics with a managerialist pathos. This discourse has two important omissions: the neglect of the role of power in participation, and the poor coverage of the activities of participants. To remedy these omissions, this paper proposes a practice based approach to the study of participation. Two case studies of participants' practices are presented: one dealing with spatial planning, the other with qualitative water policies. The case studies show similarities and differences in practices of participation. These are related to the values that participants hold, the roles they adopt, and the context in which they are situated. The paper concludes that power relations in participation are only fully understood in the light of a complex field of practice that stretches beyond formal venues and official accounts of participation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-186
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • participation
  • democracy
  • decision making
  • political processes
  • water policy
  • water framework directive
  • physical planning
  • netherlands


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