Participation

Mapping participation in economic advancement

Models and processes of participation in economic decision making

Moyan Brenn, Study|Moyan Brenn, Flickr
Edited by Alan Stanley
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This Key Issues Guide is sponsored by Open Society Foundations. The Economic Advancement Program of the Open Society Foundations was launched in 2016 to work at the nexus of economic development and social justice by encouraging economic transformation that increases material opportunity in ways that promote open and prosperous societies.

Economic decision-making generally still takes place behind closed doors yet deeply impacts the lives and livelihoods of people who have little or no voice in these processes.  In this guide we map real world examples and alternatives: ways that enterprises, communities and societies are making economic decisions in which ‘ordinary’ people have a real voice. While the cases vary widely in the strategies pursued and their end goals, the aim of this guide is to start building an evidence base for participation in economic advancement.

This mapping has been produced through identification of cases through IDS and OSF networks, alongside a public call for cases. The map, which is being updated periodically, presents the cases as we confirm them in three areas: business and financing models that enable participation; examples of citizen voice in government economic policy-making; and grassroots economic alternatives where people have successfully claimed voice, rights and agency in the economic sphere. These cases range over the spectrum of participation, and across closed, invited and claimed or created spaces as discussed in the ‘What is Participation?’ overview guide.

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Jodie Thorpe 

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Business and financing models that enable participation

Alternative business and financing models that enable workers, consumers, communities, farmers, for example, to have a voice. Examples include the participation of workers or consumers on company boards, self-managed/autonomous work teams, community involvement in the allocation of development funds or the management of infrastructure, or more collaborative value chains. Most fall under invited and created spaces, in which processes of information sharing and deliberation, along with training on business, technical, quality, leadership, and organisational skills enable participation. 

These include, for example, self-directed work teams at Gore and Associates (the company that makes Gore-Tex). W. L. Gore and Associates is a privately-held multinational company founded in 1958, most famous for producing Gore-Tex. Since its founding, it has operated through a "lattice" system of employee self-management which is said to verge on true workplace participatory democracy. Key features include a flat hierarchy in which the CEO is elected, self-managed work teams with small team sizes to secure ownership in collective decision-making, and free information flow.

 

Citizen voice in government economic policy-making

Citizen voice in government economic policy-making include those cases in which people have been consulted, involved or collaborated in policy-making at global, national and local levels.  These include closed spaces that have been opened to participation through global advocacy and protests, such as the Jubilee Debt Campaign on developing world debt, and those which involve more collaborative processes at local level such as participatory budgeting and citizens’ economic councils. 

One of the most famous examples concerns participatory budgeting at city or municipal level, which was pioneered in Porto Alegre in Brazil and replicated by hundreds of other local governments. Participatory budgeting allows citizen engagement in policy making and represents an example of more equitable governance. Core to the model is a deliberative process in which citizens meet to discuss critical issues with each other and determine preferences, which then have a real impact on budget allocations. As a result, decisions have often been made to prioritise social justice over short-term economic gains, such as turning down a proposal for a five-star hotel in favour of a public park and convention hall.

 

Grassroots economic alternatives

People are not just waiting to be invited into processes led by others. The majority of our examples concern grassroots economic alternatives where people claim ownership over economic processes that affect their lives.  These span closed and created spaces through.  They include various forms of collective action (the ‘power with’), such as the work of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in creating a local food system involving marginalised farmers and workers who benefit as both producers and consumers.  They also include alternative forms of worker or consumer-owned enterprises, such as cooperatives, which are owned and managed by people for their own benefit.

In addition, new models are emerging, often enabled by technology, in which people claim control over economic processes. These include local exchange networks and alternative currencies, for example, the Local Exchange Trading Scheme (LETS) in the Pumarejo neighbourhood of Seville is one of many examples of solidarity economies rooted in alternative forms of exchange. Based on an alternative currency, the Puma, the scheme supports collective decision-making, localised consumption and the redeployment of under-utilised skills and competencies. Since no interest is paid on ‘pumas’, the system encourages exchange rather than accumulation and wealth maximisation.

 

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