Making it official: Participation professionals and the challenge of institutionalizing deliberative democracy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Participatory and deliberative democracy in the United Kingdom is proliferating through collaborative governance arrangements and public engagement processes. Surprisingly, scarce attention has been paid to the emerging cadre of public officials tasked with turning public participation ideals into public administration practices. This chapter presents findings from two years of ethnographic research shadowing official public participation professionals (PPPs) in Scotland. The study analyzes their role in reshaping local democracy and public administration, and their struggles to negotiate the uneasy cultural fit between new participatory processes and established representative and bureaucratic institutions.

The chapter offers insight into the backstage political work and internal activism carried out by PPPs. The conclusions are both optimistic and critical. Official PPPs have considerable power to turn participatory processes into spaces of possibility, yet are strongly constrained by entrenched policymaking cultures. The chapter also offers insight into the professionalization of this field in Scotland, and addresses an important dilemma for the future of deliberative democracy: Should participation be organized by public officials or by independent professionals? What are the promises and perils of institutionalizing public engagement work?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Professionalization of Public Participation
EditorsLaurence Bherer, Mario Gauthier , Louis Simard
Place of PublicationNew York; Abingdon
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781315637983
ISBN (Print)9781138638112, 9781138638129
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2017


  • public participation professionals
  • democracy
  • public participation


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