Citizen participation and the redistribution of public goods

AuthorSounman Hong,B. Shine Cho
Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Citizen participation and the redistribution of
public goods
Sounman Hong
| B. Shine Cho
Department of Public Administration, Yonsei
University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
School of Public Administration, University of
Nebraska at Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Sounman Hong, Department of Public
Administration, Yonsei University,
Seodaemungu Shinchondong, Yonsei-ro
50 Yonhee Hall 113-3, Seoul 120749,
Republic of Korea.
Funding information
National Research Foundation of Korea,
Grant/Award Number: NRF-
This study investigates whether citizen participation in public bud-
geting resulted in increased redistributive outcomes when com-
pared with bureaucratic decision-making. We focused on a specific
budget item (i.e., the installation of surveillance cameras for crime
prevention) and examined whether participatory budgeting yielded
larger budget allocations to low-income neighbourhoods. Results
indicate that such participatory budgeting results in larger
budget allocations for low-income neighbourhoods when com-
pared with allocations produced by bureaucratic budgeting prac-
tices. The results also indicate that budgets allocated through
citizen participation may be no more or even less effective for
advancing public goals. These findings suggest a potential trade-off
between equity and public service effectiveness. Citizen participa-
tion improves budget equity, but may be less effective for achiev-
ing public goals than bureaucratic decision-making. To explain this,
we offer the social pressure hypothesis, which posits that social
pressure during public-forum discussions can influence participat-
ing citizens to make redistributive decisions.
Participatory institutions that involve citizens in the policy-making process are able to promote democratic ideals
through inclusivity and egalitarianism during governmental deliberation (Thomas 1995; King et al. 1998; Baiocchi
2001, 2005; Fung and Wright 2001; Moynihan 2003; Ebdon and Franklin 2004; Wampler 2007; Denhardt and Den-
hardt 2015; Hong 2015a, 2015b). Many scholars have emphasized the normative benefits of citizen participation
that result from increased deliberation and empowerment (Fung 2006). However, relatively few researchers have
produced empirical evidence to support these claims.
Some scholars have argued that citizen participation in the budgeting process can result in redistributive effects
on governmental policies. In the Brazilian Porto Alegre model (one of the most widely known forms of citizen partici-
pation involving deliberative budgeting in the context of a town meeting), the redistributive effects of participatory
budgeting reflect the principal reason that it was first implemented (Baiocchi 2001; Wampler 2007; Touchton and
Wampler 2014). That is, such a model was designed to increase equity. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence
related to these effects on budget redistribution and policy-making. To address this gap, we ask two key research
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12521
Public Administration. 2018;96:481496. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 481
questions. First, are policy outcomes involving citizen participatory budgeting more redistributive than outcomes
associated with traditional bureaucratic budgeting practices? Second, if different budgeting processes (i.e., citizen
participation vs. traditional bureaucracy) result in different budget redistributions, why do these differences exist? To
answer these questions, we focus on the town meeting as a form of citizen participation, and evaluate actual data
from participatory budgeting activities.
Our analyses indicate that policy decisions resulting from citizen participatory budgeting are more redistributive
than outcomes resulting from traditional bureaucratic budgeting. It is important to note that spending decisions made
with citizen participation may be less effective than spending decisions made through traditional bureaucratic
methods. This implies a possible trade-off between public service effectiveness and the equitable allocation of public
goods when citizen participation is allowed in the budgeting process.
We posit two hypotheses to explain the results of this analysis, as follows. One, citizens who actively participate
in policy-making tend to desire the benefits of the policy under consideration more than the rest of the public. The
citizen participatory process provides an institutional venue in which the opinions of such citizen groups can be
heard. In an inclusive participatory system of governance, these groups are generally the most disadvantaged in soci-
ety. Thus, their participation in policy-making may result in more redistributive outcomes. Two, citizen participation
in open-forum policy decisions produces an environment in which participating citizens are socially pressured to sup-
port redistributive outcomes. This hypothesis is derived from social psychology research, which has indicated that
pro-sociality is increased when people engage in group-based (vs. individual) decision-making processes. The first
hypothesis predicts that citizen participation in budgetary decisions will improve both the effectiveness and equity of
those decisions, while the second hypothesis predicts that only equity will improve. In this study, our results provide
suggestive evidence supporting the second hypothesis.
This study contributes to several areas of established scholarly work. Our empirical evidence provides a unique
contribution to the literature on the effects of citizen participation on policy outcomes (e.g., Fung and Wright 2001;
Daley 2007; Wampler 2007; Hong 2015a; Bua 2017; Touchton et al. 2017). More broadly, this study contributes to
the study of citizen coproduction on public service (Bovaird and Downe 2008; Yang and Pandey 2011; Jakobsen and
Andersen 2013; Bartenberger and Széscilo 2016; Hong 2016; Zambrano-Gutiérrez et al. 2017). This study also pro-
vides information for debates related to the reconciliation of bureaucratic practices and democratic values. Specifi-
cally, it contributes to the debate over the trade-off between public service effectiveness and the normative benefits
of citizen engagement (Moynihan 2003; Irvin and Stansbury 2004; Neshkova and Guo 2012; Hong 2015a).
When examining the effects of political institutions on income redistribution, past researchers have largely compared
different forms of representative democracy. These scholars have historically paid substantially less attention to the
influence of direct democracy on redistribution (Feld et al. 2010). The studies that have investigated direct democ-
racy largely indicated that such institutions (i.e., referenda or initiatives) are associated with lower public expendi-
tures, particularly those related to welfare spending (e.g., Feld and Kirchgässner 2001; Matsusaka 2004; Feld
et al. 2010). This evidence does not necessarily imply that direct democracies are less effective at reducing inequality
than representative democracies. Feld et al. (2010) addressed this by proposing that policy outcomes in systems of
direct democracy are largely dictated by the preferences of citizens rather than by the rent-seeking activities of inter-
est groups. This may result in more efficient and targeted income redistribution that benefits the lower economic
classes, thereby reducing income inequality.
Our understanding of the role of public participation in public policy-making is based on previous research on
the effects of direct democracy systems. However, the institutions of direct democracy studied by past researchers
differ from the types of citizen participation we investigated in this study. Past work on direct democracy has largely
focused on its most common form, which involves elections in which citizens vote for or against proposed laws

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