Forms of Participation

While a citizen’s legal obligation is limited to voting (and in some countries not even that), their responsibility and power to generate positive change goes far beyond it. Some people distinguish between three different depths of civic involvement. The first, formal participation refers to those actions related to both the rights and duties that are constitutionally established such as voting, acting as officers during elections or be a member of the jury. It strives to generate awareness about the importance of voting responsibly by knowing the candidates, reading multiple sources of information and fully understanding how the electoral system works. A second type of involvement is that which arises from a specific need society feels. This spontaneous participation describes the actions taken and the organizations formed to address this need, which tend to disappear once the problem is solved. The organizations offering aid when a natural disaster occurs, vaccination campaigns and the like fall in to this category. Finally, organized participation is the deepest, most permanent level of civic action. It implies a continuous commitment to progressively improve their society by generating lasting change. NGOs working to better the education system or demanding stronger, more comprehensive environmental regulations in an ever evolving social and business context, fall into this category. And none of these levels require joining a political party; none of these actions are out of our reach.

Some of the many ways in which citizens can participate, are:

  • looking for information in newspapers, magazines, and reference materials and judging its accuracy
  • voting in local, state, and national elections
  • participating in a political discussion
  • trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way
  • signing a petition
  • wearing a button or putting a sticker on the car
  • writing letters to elected representatives
  • contributing money to a party or candidate
  • attending meetings to gain information, discuss issues, or lend support
  • campaigning for a candidate
  • lobbying for laws that are of special interest
  • demonstrating through marches, boycotts, sit-ins, or other forms of protest
  • serving as a juror
  • running for office
  • holding public office
  • Role of the Mass Media

senior members of the policy-making community and politicians express this common frustration that their constituents do not really understand what it is they do. Many policymakers believe that the media could play an important role in bridging this gap by providing some basic civic education and better coverage of public policy news. It is an important gap to fill, because limited public understanding makes it difficult not only for policymakers to serve effectively but also for citizens to hold them accountable for fulfilling (or not) their responsibilities.

If the public had a better understanding of the responsibilities and capacities of the legislature and ministries, policymakers argue, they would be able to form realistic expectations—and then hold policymakers to them. The power of the social media and the internet was amply demonstrated during the campaign for the Presidency by Mr Barack Obama. The social media and the advanced communication tools together can be and should be harnessed to mobilize the public to get involved in influencing the policies adopted for governance.