Intergovernmental administrative arrangements, often obscured from public view, are responsible for public decisions and their consequences. After European Union citizens expressed dissatisfaction with the disconnected administrative decision-making process by rejecting the European Constitution, the European Commission called for a period of reflection to develop tools and processes in order to involve citizens in the decision-making process.
This article examines collaborative efforts by the European Union to involve citizens in the shaping of national priorities. In-depth interviews were conducted with the heads of nonprofit organizations and staffers at nonprofits involved with organizing the European Citizens’ Consultations (ECC). All the organizations are directly involved with implementing the project, have ongoing contact with citizens, and are immersed in the community.
This will highlights lessons learned from the ECCs as a model for involving citizens in the intergovernmental administrative decision-making process on the national level and for transcending obstacles to involving citizens by addressing the following research questions: How to involve citizens? When to involve citizens? And whom to involve?
The findings underscore four lessons that can be applied in the national decision-making process in the U.S. federal system.
- Citizens do not need to be experts in order to participate.
- Participation must be facilitated to be successful and representative.
- Forums should include citizens only—and exclude politicians and other decision makers whom average people might find intimidating.
- Citizens must be involved on a regular basis.