Working Paper

IDS Working Paper;347

So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement

Published on 1 March 2011

Over the last two decades, the idea that citizen engagement and participation can contribute to improved governance and development outcomes has been mainstreamed in development policy and discourse. Yet despite the normative beliefs that underpin this approach, the impact of participation on improved democratic and developmental outcomes has proved difficult to assess. Where previous research studies have attempted to demonstrate impact, they tend to be limited to single interventions, a small number of country contexts or by various conceptual and methodological constraints.

In this paper, we report on a meta-case study analysis of a ten-year research programme on citizenship, participation and accountability which analysed a nonrandomised sample of 100 research studies of four types of citizen engagement in 20 countries. By mapping the observable effects of citizen participation through a close reading of these studies, we created a typology of four democratic and developmental outcomes, including:

(a) the construction of citizenship(b) the strengthening of practices of participation,(c) the strengthening of responsive and accountable states, and (d) the development of inclusive and cohesive societies.

We find that citizen participation produces positive effects across these outcome types, though in each category there are also examples of negative outcomes of citizen participation. We also find that these outcomes vary according to the type of citizen engagement and to political context. These findings have important implications for the design of and support for participatory programmes meant to improve state responsiveness and effectiveness.

Cite this publication

Gaventa, J. and Barrett, G. (2010) 'So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement', IDS Working Paper 347, Brighton: IDS


John Gaventa

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

Publication details

published by
Gaventa, J. and Barrett, G.
IDS Working Paper, issue 347
978 1 85864 951 X


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