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Representative Democracy to Participatory Democracy

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Confucius

Decisions that are not implemented do not create value. Decisions that are not fully accepted cannot be implemented well. One of the most significant benefits of the Total Quality Management (TQM) philosophy is that it secures the proper implementation of decisions because it ensures participation in decision making. This is as valid for communities as it is for organizations.

Decisions concerning society were once made collectively by those who had the right to vote. Such “participatory” democracy later evolved into “representative” democracy as both the number of participants and the variety and complexity of issues increased. As a result, barring some exceptional circumstances, such as Switzerland, representative democracy came to dominate.

As we begin the 21st century though, this trend is being challenged. Increases in the number of educated people and the advances in communication technologies led to masses of informed citizens who are eager to be involved in public decion making processes. They are not satisfied with a limited role of having the right to choose representatives every four to five years. One important cause of dissatisfaction is caued by the cases where the interests of the representatives and those whom they represent do not quite match resulting in, what the economists call, the ‘agency problem’. Participatory democracy in a new form gains currency: International organizations and NGOs play a part in public policy making alongside elected representatives.

Success in public policy making would be increasingly difficult if one misses the meaning of this transformation. This is so, because the international community and the NGOs are instrumental in shaping the global standards, in the gathering and dissemination of the information that feeds decision making, and in problem solving. Most importantly they bring participatory democracy to life. They also help establish new markets and innovative implemenrtation mechanisms. We should not forget that the task of the international community and the NGOs is not to replace elected representatives or governmental organizations, but to support and improve their performance through a participatory approach.

TEMA (Turkish foundation for prevention of soil erosion) works on its chosen field with a multitude of state organizations. The largest public organization such as the Turkish Ministry of Education joined the National Quality Movement that is initiated as a civil initiative by KalDer, (Turkish Quality Association). These examples show that the advantages of participatory democracy are being recognized in our country as well.

Turkey’s claim to be one of the leading forces in the world can become a reality only if our society as a whole accepts and operationalizes the principles of participatory democracy.

As citizens, we should be actively involved in NGOs. NGOs, in turn, should be active in contributing to global organizations of civil society. Finally, the public sector should accept the NGO community not as rivals, but as an enriching resource that needs to be engaged in public policy formulation and implementation.

Dr. Argüden
yarguden@arge.com


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