Between radical aspirations and pragmatic challenges: Institutionalizing participatory governance in Scotland

Oliver Escobar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Participatory forms of governance are increasingly institutionalized in democracies around the world. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how public officials go about embedding participatory governance. This article draws on a decade of mixed methods research to share insights from the perspective of official public engagement practitioners working the frontlines of democratic innovation. Scotland is undergoing a period of democratic renewal resulting from the interplay between state and civil society initiatives around three policy agendas: public service reform, social justice and community empowerment. National legislation mandates local authorities to develop cross-Participatory forms of governance are increasingly institutionalized in democracies around the world. Yet, we know little about how public officials work to embed participatory governance. This article draws on a decade of mixed methods research with practitioners at the frontlines of democratic innovation. Scotland is undergoing democratic renewal through the interplay between state and civil society around three agendas: public service reform, social justice, and community empowerment. Legislation now mandates or supports participatory and deliberative processes. Scotland is thus a fruitful site to study the work of embedding participatory governance. The paper investigates tensions between radical aspirations and pragmatic challenges. Exploring participatory activism amongst officials shows the liminality of institutionalization processes, which troubles simplistic narratives about empowerment versus co-optation. The analysis shows significant but limited progress for participatory governance in Scotland. But this work is ongoing, as activist officials are developing ways of turning radical aspirations into critical pragmatism.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Early online date16 Dec 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • democratic innovation
  • institutionalization
  • internal activism
  • participatory governance
  • practitioners
  • public officials
  • social justice

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