Project website: http://participedia.net/
Project Leader: Mark Warren
Partners: Stanford University, Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
We live in a world in which citizens are asking for greater involvement in collective decisions. Many governments, NGOs, and even some corporations are responding by experimenting with ways to increase public participation. Within the universe of political institutions, participatory processes are among the most dynamic and rapidly changing, so much so that we have struggled to conceive, theorize, and research these developments. There are now as many as 150 named public participation processes, and probably several hundred thousand such processes now going on in any given year. These processes constitute a new domain of political institutions whose size and diversity exceeds the reach of even a large, well-organized team of researchers.
We seek to meet this challenge by creating an Internet-based research tool–Participedia–that can collect contributions from hundreds or even thousands of contributors (most not trained academics) in a way that the resulting information is of sufficient quality for social science research, and useful for practitioners.
Participedia’s research goal is to develop a large article and data set that will allow researchers and practitioners to find answers to the question: What kinds of participatory processes likely to generate better rather than worse outcomes–for example, more legitimacy, justice, or effectiveness–given the characteristics of the issues, the normative goals, and the constraints of time and money?
Participedia is designed to enable hundreds or even thousands of researchers and practitioners to answer the question of what works (including how, why, and to what ends) by cataloging and comparing participatory political processes. It was launched as a concept demonstration prototype in September 2009 by political scientists Archon Fung (Harvard) and Mark Warren (University of British Columbia). With the support of a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, a broader group of partners launched a beta version of Participedia in December 2011, with an improved platform upon which future developments can build.
Participedia requires an integration of several kinds of expertise: theoretical and empirical academics, technical expertise, website design, practitioner knowledge, and project management. For these reasons, Participedia is only possible as a partnership among individuals and institutions that bring these forms of expertise to the table. The current Partnership includes universities (University of British Columbia, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Harvard University, University of Southampton, and University of Bremen). It also includes the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC), one of the world’s leading networks of researchers, practitioners, and other leaders with deep experience in participatory governance. The DDC also brings has strong links to the Global South though LogoLink, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Our co-applicants and collaborators bring other forms of expertise. This collaboration between academics and participation networks allows us to cast a wide net for case studies and lessons learned, while protecting the credibility and objectivity of Participedia as a research tool.
The Partnership Grant will fund additional tools for collecting data and improved ease of use. It will support development of systems for curating content, and help to build a global community of researchers and practitioners. We will expand partnerships and collaborations with universities outside of North America and Europe, and with NGOs focused on democracy promotion. These activities will lay the foundation for achieving our longer-term goal of creating the world’s primary researchable repository of information on citizen participation, public deliberation, and collaborative governance.