Participative Democracy and Voice: Rethinking Community Collaboration Beyond Neutral Structures


Milam JM, Heath RG. Participative Democracy and Voice: Rethinking Community Collaboration Beyond Neutral Structures. Journal of Applied Communication Research [Internet]. 2014;42 (4) :366-386.


Decision-making in community-based, interorganizational collaboration often influences educational, environmental, and other civic policies thereby constituting it as politically and socially consequential. As such, we rethink collaboration through the lens of participative democracy rather than as a neutral organizational structure or process. We sought to understand how participative democracy was hindered and accomplished in an interpretive case study of two community collaborations. Data indicate the normative processes and structures of communication practiced by stakeholders primarily deterred voice and participation by prioritizing information exchange, practicing invisible decision-making, and emphasizing harmonious relationships. These findings: (1) add to theories of interorganizational collaboration by establishing voice as both a discursive and political feature of shared decision-making; (2) provide empirical exemplars that extrapolate political and social implications from specific communication practices; and (3) inform the development of a heuristic to improve collaborative participation and increase political accountability. Flowing from these data, we recommend practitioners utilize the heuristic of VOICE—promoting visibility and ownership of decision-making processes, less emphasis on informing, and purposeful fostering of gracious contestation—ultimately delimiting expressive modes of communication that decrease participative democracy and political accountability.

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