The Plasticity of Participation: Evidence from a Participatory Governance Experiment

Chaudhuri, Shubham; Heller, Patrick

Under the "People's Campaign for Decentralised Planning," initiated by the government of the Indian state of Kerala in 1996, significant planning and budgetary functions that had previously been controlled by state-level ministries, were devolved to the lowest tier of government—municipalities in urban areas, and gram panchayats (village councils) in rural areas. A key element of the campaign was the requirement that every gram panchayat organize open village assemblies—called Gram Sabhas—twice a year through which citizens could participate in formulating planning priorities, goals and projects. Using data from the first two years of the campaign, on the levels and composition of participation in the Gram Sabhas in all of Kerala's 990 gram panchayats, the authors empirically assess the explanatory power of the dominant existing paradigms of participation—social capital, rational choice, and social-historical. The basic patterns they document, as well as our more detailed analyses of the impact that a range of spatial, socioeconomic and political factors had on the levels and social depth of participation, provide broad support for a dynamic and contingent view of participation, a perspective that recognizes the "plasticity of participation."

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Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 03-01
Published Here
August 23, 2010


January 2003.