|Participation in decision-making||Graphical version|
By voting in elections people can have a say about who gets to make decisions for them. People can also influence public decisions on specific issues. For example, they can participate in their municipality’s land use and planning decisions or influence the content of a bill (proposal for a new law) being drafted.
Citizens are involved in public decision-making in numerous ways. They can submit initiatives, participate in hearings, act in elective offices, belong to the trade union movement or be in touch with decision-makers and public servants in a variety of ways.
Public decision-making is a process with different stages. Decisions in Finnish society are made as summarised below.
Topics and issues are usually brought to public-decision-making by political decision-makers and as a result of general civic discussion. For one reason or another not every issue that is important to citizens manages to enter the agenda of day-to-day politics.
Preparation of decisions is often the most critical stage of citizen participation. As long as a draft decision remains at the preparation stage, its content can still be changed. When decisions are being prepared, ministerial or municipal public servants formulate ideas into formal proposals to political decision-makers. Preparation by public servants is an essential part of modern decision-making based on expertise.
At the level of society as a whole perhaps the most important means of citizens’ influence is related to drafting of legislation that takes place at ministries. When legislation is drafted, the views of citizens on draft contents are heard. This takes place through channels such as the procedure for the obtaining of comments, and various hearings.
From the public servants proposals are passed on to political decision-makers. Those democratically elected to political office are responsible for making good decisions. They must also ensure that citizens’ views are reflected in their decisions. Once a decision has been made, its results and consequences are examined in a critical light.
So how can citizens become involved in decisions on issues important to them? Citizens' roles in decision-making can be summarised as follows:
The first role means that citizens can submit to decision-makers and government ideas and proposals that they find important. An official initiative always launches a process even if it does not result in a change. In Finland individual citizens cannot submit bills to Parliament, but they can submit initiatives to municipal authorities.
Participation in hearings is connected with the preparation of decisions by the government. The government collects citizens’ views, opinions and expertise to be able to make good decisions. Consultations for comments, discussion events and Internet forums are typical ways of hearing citizens.
Comprehensive participation refers to ways in which citizens or other stakeholders actively participate in the government decision-making process and achievement of common objectives.
In municipalities NGOs and local government can make a joint effort to generate ideas on and implement services important to locals. Comprehensive participation still remains reasonably rare.
Provision of feedback means citizens voicing their opinions about an issue they find important. Feedback channels include feedback sections on the websites of municipalities. Public servants must take all feedback on an issue into consideration. In a democracy, voting is the toughest type of feedback: the next election will tell whether the decision-makers will be replaced or not.
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Updated on August 11, 2006