Mapping participation in economic advancement

Case studies of participation in economic decision making

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Edited by Alan Stanley
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Economic processes impact the lives and livelihoods of people who frequently have little or no voice in these processes. In this guide we map alternatives: ways that communities, governments and enterprises are making economic decisions in which ‘ordinary’ people have a real voice. While these cases vary widely in the strategies pursued and their end goals, this guide starts to build an evidence base to explore the question: “What constitutes meaningful participation in economic advancement?”

The examples in this map have been identified through our networks, alongside a public call for cases. It presents the cases in three areas: alternative business and financing models that enable participation; examples of citizen voice in government economic policy-making; and participatory economic alternatives where people have created structures of exchange and ownership rooted in collective autonomy and mutual benefit. 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

These business and financing models enable workers, consumers, communities, farmers, for example, to have a voice in the way that businesses are run, investment decisions are made, value chains are governed and sector activity is managed. Examples include the participation of workers or consumers on company boards, self-managed/autonomous work teams, or more collaborative value chain arrangements. Most examples fall under invited spaces, in which processes of information sharing and deliberation, along with training on business, technical, quality, leadership, and organisational skills enable participation. 

These examples can be contrasted with traditionally centralised or hierarchical decision-making by enterprises, investors and funders over how capital and other resources are deployed and how production is organised.  Here, groups affected by or involved in economic activities are enabled to hold these entities to account or take part in elements of decision-making.  In some cases, examples include widening enterprise ownership.  The main aim is to ensure that the benefits created by economic processes are more justly shared by those involved.

One example is the case of self-directed work teams at W. L. Gore and Associates, a privately-held multinational company founded in 1958, most famous for producing Gore-Tex. Since its founding, Gore and Associates 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 economic policy-making

Citizen voice in economic policy-making includes those cases in which people have been consulted, involved or collaborated in policy-making on macro-economic issues such as debt, tax and interest rates, and policies pertaining to resource ownership, economic production or market governance.  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 citizens’ economic councils. 

Traditionally, these types of policy decisions are the preserve of a small group of technocratic experts, and their legalistic, technical and opaque nature is often exclusionary or may be used to exclude wider voices. In these examples, however, participation is fostered via advocacy on the part of excluded groups, recognition of their legitimacy by those in power, and/or the institutionalisation of their role in policy-processes. The results are to improve transparency, accountability and the quality of policy-making, protect ordinary people from the negative impacts of structural reforms and ensure their concerns and aspirations are taken into account, and protect economic rights (e.g. to a livelihood, to access resources) and economic justice (e.g. vis a vis debt or tax and redistribution).

One example includes Jubilee 2000, a highly successful global campaign to bring about debt relief for developing countries. It involved activists and NGOs from more than 60 countries campaigning against unfair debt, and eventually resulted in negotiations with the World Bank and IMF and the clearance of US$100 billion of debt owed by more than 35 countries to foreign creditors. At the heart of the movement was a belief that ordinary people could grasp complex international finance issues and be empowered to act. The campaign questioned the moral and ethical nature of debt, highlighted corruption behind much lending and borrowing, and proved that debt relief was not only economically and politically feasible, but could lead to desirable social outcomes...

Participatory economic alternatives (structures, processes and ownership)

People are not just waiting to be invited into processes led by others. Many of our examples concern participatory economic alternatives where people claim control over economic processes that affect their lives.  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 these examples, participation is fostered via democratic, horizontal and decentralised decision-making, including with respect to the rules and structures which underpin the models.  There is a strong emphasis on solidarity, group self-reliance, collective action and greater local wealth circulation, leading to group welfare and shared benefits. 

For example, PEKKA is a self-governing network of associations involving over 29,000 rural widows and abandoned and divorced women in 900 villages across Indonesia. PEKKA supports household livelihoods through savings and borrowing cooperatives and increased economic productivity through group and individual enterprises. PEKKA also promotes political empowerment by providing education on political rights and obligations as citizens; developing the leadership potential of PEKKA cadres in participating in decision-making processes in the community; and facilitating the active participation of PEKKA cadres in political processes in Indonesia.

Other examples include solidarity economy models rooted in alternative forms of exchange, such as the Local Exchange Trading Scheme (LETS) in the Pumarejo neighbourhood of Seville.  Based on an alternative currency, the ‘puma’, this alternative exchange 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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Participedia is a searchable database of cases, methods, and organisations that harnesses the power of collaboration to respond to the rapid development of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world.

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