Working Paper

IDS Working Paper 535

Democratising Economic Power: The Potential for Meaningful Participation in Economic Governance and Decision-Making

Published on 30 March 2020

Participation is the act of people engaging in decisions that impact their lives. It has been widely promoted in social, political and civic spheres. However, the question of participation in economic governance is underdeveloped.

This paper explores participation in economic decision-making – ranging from citizen engagement in economic policy, economic development, or the governance of economic institutions – through an analysis of 28 cases in 14 countries, from both the global South and the global North.

It asks what constitutes meaningful participation, in terms of how economic activity is organised and how economic governance is practiced, and what are the conditions that enable these alternative structures and practices? It identifies five conditions for participation in economic affairs, many of these familiar from participatory practice elsewhere: distributed authority; mobilisation; networks and coalitions; deliberation and democratised knowledge. The paper then discusses wider social and political implications of participation in economic governance, in terms of the relationship between the economy and society, and the relationship between economic and political forms of participation. Finally, three key participation challenges are explored: who is participating, how are power relations affecting participation, and whether participation can permeate the mainstream. The overall aim of this paper is to learn from existing and emergent practice in order to deepen knowledge on participation in economic governance, contributing both to public debate and future research.

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Thorpe, J. and Gaventa, J. (2020) 'Democratising Economic Power: The Potential for Meaningful Participation in Economic Governance and Decision-Making', IDS Working Paper 535, Brighton: IDS

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Jodie Thorpe

Research Fellow

John Gaventa

Research Fellow and Director, Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme

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