From Citizen Control to Co-Production: Moving Beyond a Linear Conception of Citizen Participation

Journal Article by Jovanna Rosen, Gary Painter
July 1, 2019

Neighborhood Data for Social Change   (Los Angeles)

Problem, research strategy, and findings: Sherry Arnstein’s classic “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” still shapes our understanding of citizen participation within and beyond planning. However, Arnstein’s citizen control offers communities only partial authority. Rather, community control does not fundamentally alter the political and economic power differences between stakeholders that limit community influence over outcomes. In response, we describe a co-production participation model for inclusive participation to help communities confront the political and economic power relationships that limit their influential participation. Residents directly and influentially engage in a dynamic and iterative problem-solving process throughout problem formation and implementation. Co-production recognizes that truly inclusive community development requires adaptive and enduring processes to address the political and economic power inequalities that shape local decision making. In this way, co-production offers an evolving participation model, rather than a specific outcome or process, to continually refine strategies toward more equitable processes. To illustrate this argument, we describe a community-based initiative in California’s Coachella Valley. We trace the initiative’s evolution toward a co-production model of community engagement, shifting the initiative’s strategies and goals toward greater community power. This evidence shows how a co-productive model can more effectively tackle political and economic power imbalances through adaptive, flexible, and long-term participatory processes.

Takeaway for practice: Co-production models can offer new ways for planning practitioners to advance more inclusive community participation, with greater resident power sharing. Fundamentally, planners and local practitioners must extend participation beyond engagement and inclusion, using adaptive, long-term participation models, with capacity building and resource sharing, to build and sustain community power. This sustained approach challenges traditional government decision-making models, requiring power holders to shift greater power, resources, and influence toward communities. Power holders must hold spaces of power for communities while simultaneously building resident ability to effectively gain, retain, and exert local control.

Publisher Info:

Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 85, 2019, Issue 3