A discussion of the “audience” of a participatory exercise draws on two themes. The first relates to the nature of those actors from outside and inside organizations who are involved in activities. The second is the interaction between elected representatives and the people they represent that impacts on democracy.
“External audiences” vary, and a single “public” does not exist. An authority’s desired external audience may include responses from groups who would not normally participate, shown by the desire to recruit younger participants to citizen panels or offering to translate participatory materials into community languages. Such intentions draw on ideas of equality of access and similar notions of participation. The actual external audience of participants who respond can be contrasted with the “representative” (geo-) demographic of participants an authority wants. A difference also emerges between how an authority will want to create such groups, for example: “young people,” “the elderly,” “residents,” “ethnic minorities,” “the socially excluded,” “middle-class homeowners,” or even “those with Internet access” (local government officers), and how citizens choose to view themselves. In part, this relates to the analysis and implementation of participatory activities and how organizations analyze citizens’ contributions, but it also demonstrates the complexity of social entities as an external audience.
Participants in land-use planning have been classified as major elites (e.g., other local authorities), minor elites (e.g., community councils), and individual members of the public . A desire to consult with ready-made community representatives relates well to these elites (as found in Edinburgh), but there is possibly a need to include another category between the individual citizen and the minor elites. This takes the form of organized, but possibly unexpected, reactive and rapidly created groups of citizens, such as the Rushcliffe residents’ associations. Similarly, in previous accounts of participation in planning contexts, there has been another “elite” that Thomas characterizes as educated, middle-class, middle-aged, and predominantly male . Although the demographics in the cases were not complete, younger people did not seem to be participating, online or otherwise, and the majority of participants interviewed appeared to reflect the findings of Thomas, but a question remains about their dominance. The Lewisham case, by comparison, showed that it was possible to bring together people from a variety of backgrounds to participate in online activity, including those with no experience of computers.
In contrast, internal audiences can include officers from other service departments, those involved in improving service (such as the United Kingdom’s Best
Value policy, which draws on public participation to democratize and continuously improve public services), politicians, or possibly other public sector organizations (as found in Edinburgh’s plan partners). Internal audiences may help to select the form of the exercise, either by providing guides to participation (found in Edinburgh and Lewisham), producing consultation methods and materials (as in Rushcliffe), or recognizing the need to employ a facilitator from outside of the organization (as in Lewisham) to minimize the influence of the organization on participants’ issues. Internal audiences may also influence budgets for exercises or not see the need for a consultation, as O’Doherty found in a survey of senior planning officers . Recognizing the role of various actors inside and outside organizations in shaping exercises is an emerging research area, including work by Tait that utilizes an actor- network theory approach that makes planning documents an equal “voice” alongside the officers, politicians, and participants .
Public participation in local government is often imbedded in the democratic relationships between politicians and citizens, both practically and theoretically. This in itself can construct what participation means and should be viewed alongside the discussion of notions of participation. Holden discusses “conventional” and the “radical” forms of representative democracy that help to explain some facets of the nature of an external audience . Under the conventional system, citizens believe their representatives are more knowledgeable than themselves and that their representative is a “trustee” of public opinion. In contrast, representatives in the radical perspective are delegates, “conveying the policy decisions of their constituents.”