The Value of Public Engagement: Do Citizens’ Preferences Really Matter?

Mikko Värttö


In recent years, local governments in Finland have been actively adopting participatory arrangements that provide citizens with the means to participate directly in planning and decision-making procedures. The participatory initiatives challenge the traditional representative and bureaucratic model of public governance and have reportedly created tensions, ambivalence, and inconsistency within local governments.

This paper’s central research question is: what do local administrators perceive to be the main goals and challenges of public engagement? Local administrators are important gatekeepers within local government, and they have substantial authority in planning and implementing participatory arrangements. The attitudes of administrators consequently have a significant impact on participatory initiatives.

The data consists of 15 interviews with senior-level public administrators working in a Finnish municipality. The data is analysed through content analysis focusing on the main goals and challenges of public engagement. In addition, a comparison is conducted between the service sector and the planning sector.

The findings show that public administrators acknowledge the democratic value of the participatory arrangements. However, they still draw on the strong tradition of bureaucratic modes of governance in which participatory arrangements are assessed for their instrumental value. The findings also indicate that there are two participatory rationales in place in Finland, the first taking place in the service sector and the other in planning. Finally, there is a discussion on the possibility of reconciling the different motives that are driving participatory initiatives.


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Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration

School of Public Administration, Box 712 - SE-405 30 Göteborg

ISSN: 2001-7405, E-ISSN: 2001-7413