Local government decision-making - Local government decision-making in New Zealand: An interpretivist inquiry into influences and citizen preferences related to large capital investments
Citizens’ active participation in local government affairs today is low, and no measurable signs indicate any improvement. To the contrary, evidence suggests citizen participation is deteriorating. Considerable debate has been involved in trying to establish whether its cause is citizenship deficits or democracy deficits. Alternatively, does another, yet-to-be-discovered driver explain the disconnection between local government and its citizens? Of greatest concern is that, in the near future, significant investment decisions and the outcomes they provide are likely to set the tone for our communities for the next 100 years or more. In this context, the diminishing participation may beget further disconnection. Furthermore, if citizens are not really in a position to make an informed decision, who is? Can we be sure those decision-makers are making the right decisions? Has the intent behind our participatory or deliberative democracy in the local government sector established itself in practice, as we might expect? Compounding this challenge is the complexity of the decision-making environment, which only enhances the gap between how citizens sense they are able to participate in these important long-term decisions and the political environments that struggle to find enduring solutions in which citizen preferences are weighted in a way that reflects community expectations. While the literature to date has covered citizenship and democracy deficits in some detail, understanding is more limited of the bureaucratic and representative deficits that are struggling with similar, if not identical issues. This research examines the concept and practice of local government decision-making. Its focus is on the influences that elected members weight in this process, and specifically the weight they give to citizen preferences in making their decisions. Moreover, if these preferences are not being given due weight, what are the implications for our deliberative democracy? And do the findings have any implications for how our communities ought to view the current decision-making environment?