The 9th Conference for Practical Philosophy will take place on 29 and 30 September 2022. Jonathan Seim will give a lecture on the topic: “On the normative specificity of consultative citizen participation”.
The normative status of consultative citizen participation procedures within the process of political decision-making has not been sufficiently theorised. It is in the nature of things that the results of public consultations do not formally bind the elected decision-makers and that the latter can therefore formally decide in the opposite direction. Whether and to what extent representatives should nevertheless be politically bound by the results despite their formal non-binding nature is unclear. This article therefore deals with the question of whether and to what extent the results of formally non-binding participation procedures should be implemented. In the course of answering this question, the article elaborates the normative specificity of consultative participation procedures, which distinguishes them from instruments of direct democracy on the one hand and informal public discourses on the other.
In order to answer this question adequately, the article starts from a systemic understanding of political decision-making. Every theory of political legitimacy contains normative criteria against which the legitimacy of political decision-making can be assessed. The basic theses of the proposed systemic approach are that, firstly, no single procedure of political decision-making, no matter which theory of political legitimacy and thus which criteria of legitimacy are adopted, can fully meet all criteria. Secondly, it is assumed that different procedures have different strengths and weaknesses, which is why an intelligent combination of different procedures often fulfils the respective proposed criteria of political legitimacy better than individual procedures. Thirdly, a conclusive assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of individual procedures is only possible through a comparative and context-sensitive analysis of different procedures.
This also applies in the context of consultative citizen participation procedures. Using the criteria of representativeness and informativeness as examples, it can be shown that neither the decision-making of consultative participation procedures nor that of representative bodies can fully meet legitimacy criteria. Furthermore, a comparison of the two forms of will formation reveals that they each have different weaknesses and strengths. An intelligent combination of both procedures thus has the potential to realise a more representative and informed participation overall.
Against this background, two points can be made regarding the question of the extent to which the results of non-binding participation procedures should be implemented. On the one hand, the strengths of consultative participation can justify a certain political bindingness of the results. On the other hand, their weaknesses can justify deviations from the results. Thus, as a rule, consultative participation procedures open up the possibility of integrating citizens’ preferences into the will-forming and decision-making process of representative bodies in such a way that is quite effective, but nevertheless does not bind the latter completely. This finding accounts for the normative specificity of public consultation in comparison to informal public discourses on the one hand and instruments of direct democracy on the other.
This finding also has implications for the internal design of consultative participation procedures and can sometimes justify the need for a different design of binding and non-binding procedures. Thus, it can be assumed that the question of the legitimate composition of the demos must be answered differently in each case. For example, the findings could plausibilise the assumption that some people should have a right to participate in consultation procedures but not in binding decision-making procedures.