The Promise of Participation: Experiments in Participatory Governance in Honduras and Guatemala

Politics and Economy
Review by: 
Palgrave Macmillan
Daniel Altschuler
Javier Corrales
Palgrave Macmillan
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Published by: Palgrave MacMillan, November 2013

Political economists have long wondered whether civic participation can have spillover effects—that is, whether civic participation in one domain of public life can lead to more participation in other domains. This book manuscript argues that participation can indeed be generative—participation can breed newer forms of participation. Our study is based on a large survey—among the broadest in its class—of participants in community-managed schools (CMS) in 425 communities from all of rural Honduras and Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (n = 2150). We also conducted case studies in 8 communities. We found that despite various obstacles to spillovers, participation engendered further participation. Many participants acquired and applied new skills, and some joined new organizations. These spillover effects are stronger if participants receive state support and perceive the participatory arena to be democratic.

While our optimism remains guarded, since we recognize that the scope of action of new participants remains limited, our findings offer reasons to be optimistic about the promise of participation. Our book serves as a counterbalance to more pessimistic works that treat participation as ultimately a dead-end or recycling affair.
The evidence that the gains from participation can accrue beyond those who have always participated will help transform the way scholars think about the prospects for democratic deepening, even in the poorest regions of Latin America.

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