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Expanding the Role of Public Administration: From Citizen Participation to Open Government

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By Andrew Vaz

It is very important for a democratic government to be as transparent as possible. That means those who administer and enforce the rules and regulations must be able to work with those communities affected by said policies. In other words, citizens must be allowed access to documents, proceedings and data pertaining to any legislation enacted by that government. It’s called public oversight, a concept that rejects secrecy and offers absolute government accountability. It is through accountability that citizens are able to control their government and allow society to progress. In the last couple of decades, the role of public administration has greatly expended, from citizens taking an active part in oversight to open governance, where accountability and transparency becomes a priority to legislators.

Citizen Participation

Vaz julyEssential to the concept of open governance is citizen participation. Citizen participation creates the crucial nexus between the community and the policymakers. Citizen input is important at any stage of the policy development process, but it has more value during the implementation stage. Legislators often rely on the community for their support of the new policy. If the policy is not understandable to the public at large, the community will turn against the government and the policymakers will have lost their trust. There are several examples of citizen involvement in the form of policy. Three major policies that are focused on in this article are:

  • Community policing.
  • Elections.
  • Financial accountability.

The concept of community policing involves law enforcement addressing issues affecting the community in a more proactive manner. Community policing is also referred to as problem-oriented (POP) or zero-tolerance policing. It promises to solve problems within the community while creating and strengthening relationships between police and the public. In definition, however, problem-oriented policing specifically refers to identifying issues that are present in a certain locality and developing a solution based on those problematic characteristics. Professor Herbert Goldstein, of the University of Madison – Wisconsin, established POP, which was eventually expanded into a problem-solving model entitled SARA, defined as scanning, analyzing, response and assessment.

It gives law enforcement an opportunity to work with community leaders and allows that community to holds officers accountable, as the support of citizens is needed in order to eliminate crime. Zero-Tolerance policing involves an aggressive and comprehensive approach to dealing with crime, often described as “no holds barred.” In the United States, many criminology experts have theorized that zero-tolerance policing is responsible for the decline in criminal activity in the last 20 years. While crime has declined, it can be argued that different strategies of community policing and citizen participation are ultimately responsible for the decrease in crime.

Elections are an opportunity for people to assess the progress their elected official have made and decide whether these members should continue. According to article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the will of the people will be the basis of the authority of government and shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections. The removal of certain elected officials of a political party from office can change the governing direction of a nation. That’s why politicians do their best to convince voters to put their support behind them in order to keep the balance of power.

Annual budgets that are handed down from the governments are an example of how citizens can make their elected officials financial accountable. Although elected officials lobby for fiscal transparency in event of political corruption or financial calamity, citizens are allowed to access fiscal budget documents in order to ensure monetary directness. According to the Open Government Guide’s website, every government produces reports at various points in the annual budget cycle. These include:

  • Pre-Budget Statement.
  • Executive’s Budget Proposal.
  • Enacted Budget.
  • Citizens’ Budget.
  • In-Year Reports.
  • Mid-Year Review.
  • Year-End Report.
  • Audit Report.

In all, transparency allows for communication between the public and officials. It enables an informed conversation about how tax dollars are spent on programs and accountability for implementation, usually conducted through a program evaluation by a non-partisan entity (i.e., auditor general).

Open Government

The ability of an engaged public allowed to access information provided by the government is called open government. According to the website, Open Government Data, there are eight principles to the data that can be accessed by citizens. The information must be:

  • Complete and accurate.
  • Primary, not in cumulative or adjusted forms.
  • Timely.
  • Accessible.
  • Machine processable.
  • Non-discriminatory.
  • Non-proprietary, a format over which no entity has exclusive control.
  • Not subject to any copyright, or any regulation.

Many governments have attempted to be as direct toward their public, but no greater move toward full transparency occurred until the White House created the Open Government Initiative. When President Obama signed into law the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government in January 2009, it set a new precedent never seen before. The open government initiative was meant to eliminate secrecy at the federal level, eliminate the influence of special interest groups and track how tax dollars were being spent. With the use of emerging technologies, the idea behind this initiative is that citizen participation leads directly into open governance.

Looking forward, we can expect more governments to be open to the public as citizens learn to participate in the discourse surrounding public policies that affect their community. If policymakers are willing to serve the community, they will accept public oversight. As long as we have our basic civil liberties (freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, the right to judicial process, etc.), citizens will have the ability to engage our leaders. Our history has shown what active citizen engagement can do for democracies. It can be stated that the reason the United States of America has existed for over 200 years is due to the expansion of public administration.


Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.S., M.P.A. is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He has been admitted to the doctoral program in Public Policy and Administration at Walden University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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