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Models of Participation: A Comparative Study of Participatory Mechanisms in Latin America

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Title: Models of Participation: A Comparative Study of Participatory Mechanisms in Latin America
Author: Lupien, Pascal
Department: Department of Political Science
Program: Political Science
Advisor: Diez, Jordi
Abstract: In the past decade, Latin America has witnessed an explosion of institutions designed to encourage and channel popular participation in decision-making. Participatory mechanisms have emerged under left-wing governments that claim a strong ideological commitment to “radical” participatory democracy while in other countries citizen participation is promoted as a means of improving governance rather than as an alternative model of democratic politics. Despite the recent expansion of innovative democratic experiments, scholars have observed that much of what has been written focuses on theoretical issues and normative debates. There is relatively little empirical research and a lack of comparative work that contrasts different models of citizen participation. This thesis addresses these gaps in the literature. It compares local participatory mechanisms in three countries with different models of participatory design: Venezuela’s “radical” participatory democracy, Chile’s “pragmatic” efforts at expanding participation and Ecuador’s “hybrid” model that demonstrates features of both. Drawing on extensive fieldwork, it compares outcomes produced by participatory mechanisms in these countries and identifies five factors that enhance or diminish their ability to generate positive outcomes: decision-making and implementation capacity, quality of deliberation, inclusiveness, levels of engagement and the nature of relationships between participatory mechanisms and local authorities. The findings reveal that the “radical” model does not produce significantly better outcomes despite its promises of deepening the quality of democracy. Institutional design and state discourse on democracy are therefore less important than the extent to which these five factors are present.
Date: 2015-06
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