Knowledge Area BEPs: Civic Empowerment Principles


By civic empowerment or citizen participation, we mean an “interaction among individuals through the medium of language” (Renn, 1995, p. 40). In participatory democracy, “each citizen [should] be able to co-determine political decisions that affect his or her livelihood.” According to this theory, “democratic institutions must be responsive to the social psychological character of the citizenry” (Renn, p. 21). Participation is thought to enhance the responsiveness and legitimacy of public institutions, as well as help to implement decisions and reduce or resolve conflict (Renn, p. 23). “The ability of democracy to function is measured by the soundness of the decisions reached in the light of the needs of the community and by the scope of public participation in reaching them” (Bachrach, in Renn, 1995, p. 21).

To reflect values of political equality and popular sovereignty, the participatory process should manifest the general goals of fairness and competence. “Fairness is key to producing a forum where equality and popular sovereignty can emerge and personal competence can develop. When participation is fair, everyone takes part on an equal footing. This means that people are provided equal opportunities to determine the agenda, the rules for discourse, to speak and raise questions, and equal access to knowledge and interpretations.”

Competence refers to the functionality of the system and the exercise of individual liberties. When the purpose of public participation is to produce a collective decision, competent understandings about language use, the natural world, the social-cultural world, and the subjective worlds of individuals are all essential(Renn, p. 38-39). Citizen participation models include citizen advisory committees, citizen panels, citizen juries, citizen initiatives, negotiated rule making, mediation, compensation and benefit sharing and study groups.

Modern societies exhibit a growing complexity, scale, and social differentiation. This dynamic generates increasing policy problems for which regulatory enforcement, programmatic entitlement, market incentive, and professional intervention prove inadequate. New forms of civic trust, cooperation, deliberation and learning enhance the likelihood that society will identify effective policies.


To accomplish this goal,

  • “Citizens and civic organizations need much greater knowledge and capacity to learn amidst uncertainty;
  • They need to interact with a broader array of stakeholders unlike themselves; and
  • They need to learn to build trust while monitoring the behavior of those who have many incentives to act opportunistically and with whom they might regularly come into conflict.”

Civic renewal entails investing in civic skills and organizational capacities for public problem solving on a wide scale and designing policy at every level of the federal system to enhance the ability of citizens to do the everyday work of the republic (Sirianni, 2005, pp. 1, 122-3).


Renn, O., T. Webler, & P. Wiedemann. 1995. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Sirianni, C. & L. Friedland. 2005. The Civic Renewal Movement. Community-Building and Democracy in the United States. Dayton, Ohio: Charles F. Kettering Foundation.

Wondolleck, J. & S. Yaffee. 2000. Making Collaboration Work: Lessons from Innovation in Natural Resource Management. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.