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The Dilemmas of Engagement

The Dilemmas of Engagement: The Role of Consultation in Governance OPEN ACCESS

Jenny Stewart
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24h7p4
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  • Book Info
    The Dilemmas of Engagement
    Book Description:

    'Consultation' has become something of a mantra in contemporary governance. Governments well understand that policy occurs in a highly contestable environment in which there are multiple, and often competing interests. They well recognise the political imperative to 'engage' stakeholders in order to manage potential conflict and, hopefully, obtain acceptance for their policies and programs. As a result, politicians and public officials frequently emphasise the need for consultation as an essential element of the deliberative processes underpinning the development of policy or the implementation of programs and services. But, moving beyond the rhetoric of consultation and engagement, how well is it done? In this monograph, Professor Jenny Stewart maps out the principal approaches used by governments to consult with and engage affected communities of interest. Stewart critically assesses the available literature and draws directly upon the experiences of political actors, bureaucrats and community sector organisations in order to identify the 'good, bad, and the ugly' of engagement. Through a judicious use of selected case studies, Stewart distils the essential dilemmas and contradictions inherent in many consultation strategies and highlights their relative strengths and weaknesses. This monograph is a probing and dispassionate analysis of the rationales, methodologies and outcomes of consultation and engagement. It is not intended to be a 'cookbook' or a 'how to' manual for those consulting or the consulted. Nevertheless, there is much here for the policy practitioner, the researcher and members of those 'communities of interest' who might, one day, find themselves the target of engagement.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-83-0
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-2)

    To what extent should governments seek input from citizens and stakeholders into the processes of policy making and the business of governance? Many public servants express a degree of ambivalence on this question. While consultation with stakeholders has a long history, wider forms of engagement (in which ‘outsiders’ are potentially directly involved in decision making) are often seen as impractical or risky, or both.

    This research monograph seeks to establish a case for proactive engagement (by public managers) of those ‘outside’ normal policy communities in Australian policy making. I argue that there are theoretical and practical reasons for a more...

  2. In the broadest sense, engagement is a form of participation, a way of involving (or sometimes, re-involving) citizens in the processes of governance. A fundamental concept in democratic theory, ‘participation’ emerged as a concern in the radical 1960s as a reaction against the dominating influence of big business and big government. The term ‘participative democracy’ describes the theoretical arguments for reinventing democracy in this way (see Pateman 1970). ‘Deliberative’ or ‘discursive’ democracy describes the theory and practice of implementing participation by generating direct ‘conversations’ between government and citizens (compare Dryzek 1990, 2000). Participation is, therefore, a significant value in its...

  3. 2. Why engage? (pp. 11-20)

    There are normative and practical arguments for engagement. The practical arguments relate to costs and benefits—always significant for practising managers. It is, however, equally important to consider the normative arguments (that is, why we should engage). Public managers might pride themselves on their practicality, but most want to understand (and where possible, to develop) the public interest dimensions of their profession.

    The normative discussion inevitably takes us beyond the policy process as such, into the realms of the relationship between citizen and state. The normative arguments for enhanced citizen participation have been well set out by Fung (2006). According...

  4. While the rhetorical literature is abundant, it is difficult to obtain from it an overall sense as to what is happening in relation to engagement. The OECD’s (2001) comprehensive comparative study suggests that most countries have surmounted at least the first rung of the consultation ladder. Citizens’ rights to information are routinely enshrined in freedom of information acts (although the practical workings of these pieces of legislation are, of course, another matter).

    Beyond this level, tracking achievement is most easily done by surveying the practical purposes for which engagement has been used and describing the development of the techniques that...

  5. We have seen that initiatives of many kinds have been practised and reported on in the past 20 years. What is known, however, about what works for managers? Evaluations of engagement strategies from this point of view are rare. In part, this is because deciding how to evaluate a process is fraught with conceptual difficulties. What does a ‘good’ consultation or a ‘good’ deliberation look like? When making comparisons, there are few counterfactuals—most policy systems remain hierarchical, with participatory forms occurring at the margins: the Angostura bitters in the cocktail of administrative life.

    For their part, agencies like to...

  6. In this chapter, I consider problematic applications of consultation. These are the instances in which consultation seems to create more difficulties than it resolves or in which it is politically difficult to undertake consultation in the first place. The emphasis throughout is on practical remedies. The first section of the chapter discusses consultation from the viewpoint of community groups, drawing on practical examples of the kinds of behaviours that, while perfectly reasonable from a public management point of view, cause confusion and loss of trust among consultees. The second section discusses a number of cases in which consultation has not...

  7. Where to next? There are, evidently, many engagement contexts in which practice has evolved and consolidated over time and policy makers are comfortable using fairly standardised techniques. As for innovation, there is no one ‘cutting edge’, but a number of possibilities for further development.

    People are experimenting with numerous new modalities, particularly in relation to deliberation—that is, where engagement does not aim simply to elicit what is already there, but to actively involve citizens and groups in discussion and change. For public managers, there are many options to be tested. Equally, however, there are problems in reconciling the world...

  8. Conclusion (pp. 77-78)

    As we look towards the future of engagement, can we say that more participation is likely to work better than less? The answer depends, in large part, on whether participants in general, and governments in particular, are able to overcome a number of fundamental constraints. On the one hand, governments need the kinds of information that engagement provides. On the other, obtaining this information is neither cost free nor without risk.

    There are a number of tensions, or dilemmas, at the heart of engagement. There is a tension between the Realpolitik of power and the need to keep faith with...