participatory democracy

or participant democracy


  1. individual participation by citizens in political decisions and policies that affect their lives, especially directly rather than through elected representatives.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of participatory democracy1

First recorded in 1965–70

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Example Sentences

Leiserowitz would like to see increased proliferation of such innovative forms of participatory democracy — along with more traditional mass media and education campaigns.


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More About Participatory Democracy

What is participatory democracy?

Participatory democracy happens when individual citizens of a democracy participate in the formation of policies and laws through consistent engagement.

Participatory refers to something that involves active participation. Democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people. If the people themselves vote directly on policies and laws, it is called a direct democracy. If they elect representatives to make laws and policies, it is called a representative democracy. (Most modern, Western-style democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are forms of representative democracies.) The term participatory democracy refers to something somewhere in between: the people elect leaders but also play a role in forming policies.

Participatory democracy is all about participation. Its goal is to ensure that all citizens, not just politicians, have a real say in the creation of the rules and programs that make up their government.

Why is participatory democracy important?

Participatory democracy might sound like a trendy hashtag, but the concept goes at least as far back as Ancient Greece. In the 1700s, when democracy really started trending, French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that in order to have a just society, all people under the jurisdiction of a government must have a say in the creation of laws and policies. That idea—participatory democracy—has gained a lot of popularity among citizens of democratic nations, especially in recent times.

But people are still working out exactly what it means and how to achieve it. Participatory democracy doesn’t mean voting. In participatory democracy, voting is the beginning, not the end. Instead, participatory democracy consists of the actions that can be taken outside of and alongside elections. It often comes in the form of things like citizen engagement in budget creation or participation in town hall meetings. In this way, participatory democracy often happens on a more local scale, since incorporating millions of opinions into a debate about a nationwide policy poses a big challenge. However, with the rise of social media, it is easier than ever for people to make their voices heard, even on a national level (think online petitions or real-time discussion and feedback during political debates).

More concrete instances of participatory democracy include things like ballot initiatives and referendums, which allow citizens to vote directly on laws or other policies (actions associated with direct democracy). On a broader scale, social movements—people united for a common cause—often influence policy decisions. In all cases, the idea is that people are more likely to support and follow the laws of the land if they have a hand in creating them.

When faced with big problems, people often want a larger role in the creation of the laws and policies that will affect their everyday lives. That’s one of the reasons that participatory democracy has become more prominent both as an idea and as a phrase used in discussions about how to enact change.

Did you know ... ?

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, citizens of the city were involved with drafting and approving the plan to rebuild the city. This is an example of participatory democracy.

What are real-life examples of participatory democracy?

People in many places are looking for new ways to incorporate citizen participation into policymaking, and they often call this participatory democracy.

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What other words are related to participatory democracy?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT an example of participatory democracy?

A. Providing feedback on the proposed boundaries of your voting district
B. Asking questions at a town hall meeting on a new development
C. Reading the political news and complaining about it at the dinner table
D. Calling your representatives to voice concerns about a proposed law

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