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Write the Rules and Win: Understanding Citizen Participation Game Dynamics


Kennedy Stewart is an assistant professor in Graduate Public Policy Program at Simon Fraser University. An instructor in methodology and democratic institutions, he writes about national and subnational electoral and extra-electoral participation.


In attempting to move beyond normative-based theories and simple descriptive accounts of extra-electoral citizen participation, this article explores the biases that are inherent in citizen participation mechanisms and proposes a model to estimate when and why different participation mechanisms might be used during “citizen participation games.” Mechanism bias is explored using a matrix designed to gauge how different mechanisms afford different degrees of agenda-setting and decision-making control to citizens and state officials. Attention then turns to leadership capacity to explain the mechanisms through which teams of citizens and government officials might play their participatory games. A second matrix suggests that the choice of mechanism may vary considerably depending on whether rookie leaders are matched against other rookies, novices, or expert opponents. Though the model suggests that mechanisms affording less control to citizens are more common, it also implies that in the future, citizen players may demand mechanisms affording them more control as their leaders gain experience.