|Public decision-making||Text version|
Public decision-making is used to solve public issues in society. In representative democracy the majority of decisions on specific issues are made by political decision-makers.
Decision-making is a process of choosing between alternatives. New traffic lights, the army’s new fighter planes and agricultural subsidies are all results of political decision-making. These decisions are made by democratically elected political decision-makers.
Members of Parliament, municipal councillors and Members of the European Parliament decide most of society’s specific issues. Consequently, decision-makers are responsible for making good decisions. In elections citizens can judge how well they have succeeded.
Decision-makers act on different political arenas. These arenas range from municipal council meetings through Parliament’s plenary sessions to EU summits.
Government decisions do not appear out of the blue. Decision-making is a formal process consisting of different stages. Draft decisions go through a process of brainstorming, preparation and revision before it is time to vote on any actual proposals.
Preparation by public servants is an integral element of modern public decision-making in Finland. The preparation of most of Finland's legislation is initiated by individual ministerial employees who have discovered that existing legislation is out-of-date, insufficient or inconsistent. Public servants carry a great deal of responsibility for the development and quality of legislation in Finland.
The decision-making process and the content of decisions must comply with legislation. Public decision-making is governed by laws, decrees and practices. Formality and rules bring predictability to decision-making. Citizens can trust that decisions are made in accordance with specific rules rather than arbitrarily.
In democracy decision-making is decentralised. This means that, for example, municipal decision-makers only have formal power over issues within their own municipality. In Finland and other Nordic countries the role of self-governing units such as municipalities has been particularly strong.
Decision-making and justification of decisions are open (transparent). Citizens must be told what decisions are being made and when. Decision-makers must justify their decisions to citizens. Democracy also involves the open assessment and judgement of decisions made. Poor decisions can be criticised.
What role should citizens have in public decision-making? There is no one correct answer. It is about methods and values of decision-making. Finland has tended to focus on expert representative democracy rather than citizens’ direct participation.
Not all citizens want a more active role in decision-making. Many feel that good democracy entails competent decision-makers taking care of policy-making in a responsible manner with citizens then assessing the results in elections. Many people only want to participate in particular issues that are important to them personally instead of being constantly involved in politics.
But it is as much about who we want to give powers to. Those using political and governmental powers may not necessarily want to share their power with citizens. For example, in municipal democracy the local council is responsible for ensuring that citizens have real opportunities to participate. But, there are big differences between municipalities in how much attention they have paid to citizens’ participation.
The higher the level or the wider the scope of decision-making, the less chance democratic processes often have to influence decisions.
Municipalities can organise area panels or other forms of direct interaction between locals and decision-makers. Local issues are often ”human-sized”: they are clearly connected with people's everyday lives.
At central government and EU level decisions are made on issues that are often so complex and abstract that it is difficult for citizens to become involved in them.
Therefore, elected decision-makers must ensure that they really represent their voters. World politics mainly entails politics between states, and it is difficult – although not impossible – for civil society actors to have access to it.
Related articles in Kansanvalta.fi:
Participation in decision-making
Updated on March 8, 2007
Citizens’ roles in decision-making