Bras. Political Sci. Rev.2014;8(2):130-2.
The Effects of Participation
The debate on effectiveness is today at the centre of the participation agenda. What are the results of participatory institutions, and how and when do they produce change? These are questions asked by activists, academics and governments hungry for assessments for evaluating the outcome of the rich democratic experimentation that has recently taken place in Brazil, and for projecting their future ventures. In academia, this effort means huge theoretical and methodological challenges. After all, when we speak of the results of participation we can include a variety of effects – such as changes to people’s quality of life, to the dynamics of the civil society-State relationship, to resource allocation, to the quality of democracy, to the decision and implementation of public policies etc. – which requires a reduction by specification of the domains of analysis, associated with a search for variables and indicators that allow the results of participation on the dimension(s) selected to be measured. Ingeniousness in the research design is also required to mitigate the problems arising from attributing relations of cause and effect, isolating the influence of other determinants in the context. As if that were not enough, expectations need to be calibrated and normative parameters appropriate to the analysis of participatory institutions need to be set, in a general context marked by strong politicisation of the debate on State-society interaction.
Civil Society and Participatory Governance. Municipal Councils and Social Housing Programs in Brazil (2013) by Maureen Donaghy brings an important contribution to this debate. The book discusses the effects of participation on the allocation of public goods and on the promotion of social wellbeing policies, with the normative presupposition that it is up to participatory institutions to increase the poor population’s access to citizenship rights. Thus, the author investigates whether or not municipal housing councils are associated with a rise in the adoption of housing programmes and policies for the low-income population, and, if so, how and when.