Realizing Advanced Governance

Internationalization is a guiding principle in the strategic direction of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, as my colleagues and I strive to prepare students to be global citizens and future leaders.

In one of the courses I lead, Advanced Governance, this internationalization principle is realized through the participants that sit around the seminar table, and embedded in the content of the course and the exercises that animate the readings and discussions.

Advanced governance deals with broad questions about the manner in which authority to make policy decisions is distributed and stakeholder consent is obtained. In short: who has the power to determine what, and how will that power be exercised.

Governance is changing in front of us, whether through political and social forces, or the impact of new technologies. To be effective public servants, we need to understand this change and consider how to respond appropriately. The objectives of this course include providing learners with a framework through which to understand modern-day governance systems and arrangements, and to evaluate the effectiveness of these arrangements with attention paid to how they may help or hinder the achievement of desirable public policy outcomes.

The Participants

I’ve always been impressed by the breadth of global exposure that JSGS students bring to the classroom, and this year’s class is no different. It’s one thing to talk about governance or conflict resolution as abstract concepts. But where those discussions are animated by first-hand accounts of civil war, inter-state rivalries, extreme poverty, or rapid industrialisation, it causes me to be more careful in using words like “instructor” when describing what I do.

One thing I do with every class is have the participants identify “places we’ve called home” on a Google map. Different than asking “where are you from”, this allows participants to talk about their varied experiences that define them beyond their birth certificate. This year’s map, like previous versions, looks both similar and different than prior ones – but it’s always interesting (btw that one east of Madagascar? that’s Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius).

The Content

In the version of the course I teach, we spend very little time talking about the theory of governance, and more time focused on applied ways in which this changing notions of governance can be understood and acted upon. Topics include participatory budgeting, citizen juries and deliberative polling, electoral reform, the role of social capital in governance, governing common property and collective action problems, opening governance, the sharing economy and disruptive governance, collaborative governance, and using gamification in governance.

This content is explored in the standard graduate school seminar fashion, with assigned readings and group discussions. Participants take turns leading the seminar for one of the articles, and using examples to illustrate the concepts. It’s at this point where the global experience of the room becomes invaluable, providing real examples of governance challenges and pointing to successful implementation and future opportunities for the application of the ideas being explored. Students discuss their experience with different electoral systems, for example, or how social capital works at different scales and what can be done when social capital has been destroyed. There are first-hand examples of common property failures and successes, and recounting of experiences with disruptive governance like Uber. And these discussions always prove the universal rule: that everyone has a strongly-held view on restaurant tipping, leading to general principles on the tradeoffs between social norms and enforceable measures.

The Exercises

But what really animates the class are the exercises: mini-case studies, formal debates, experiments, and simulations. An “ultimatum game” determined whether a pair of students would each receive some share of two bonus point or walk away with nothing each (most pairs agreed upon an fairly equitable split). A “public goods game” saw more bonus marks allocated in exchange for a whole-group commitment to blitz the class discussion board with comments (though some last-minute whipping was required to enforce the group agreement and meet the quota). Unfortunately, an effort to fund an end-of-class cake through cash contribution commitments failed (though some Keebler elves worked on a solution to this collective action problem).

One of the exercises brought together the applied readings on participatory budgeting and the use of Internet tools to solve collective action problems. Participatory budgeting is a method for the public to provide input on how to spend real money on projects that matter to them. An example of a collective action problem is the funding of micro-loans by multiple lenders; this is something that the website Kiva facilitates.

Operating with a budget of $100, seminar participants used the Kiva website to identify potential loan recipients. Students then engaged in an in-class participatory budgeting discussion to advocate for their preferred options, seeking to persuade their colleagues that their preferred loan was a good choice based on different criteria: worthiness, a viable business plan, emotion, connection.

After making their pitch, the class voted for their preferred options (students could support any number of loans up to the $100 available). (This exercise was adapted from a much more ambitious project developed by my colleague Erik Johnston at Arizona State University.)

The class helped three individuals seeking Kiva loans, and donated $25 to the Kiva Foundation.

When these loans are paid back, and additional contributions are made to the base amount, future classes will be able to select Kiva micro-loan recipients in their own participatory budgeting exercise.

Besides being fun, this experiment helped to illustrate some of the concepts explored in the course readings and discussion, and served to bring the idea of internationalization directly into the classroom.


Should We Pay People to Participate?

Do citizens and stakeholders need to be incentivized to participate in government engagement exercises? If governments believe that engagement is necessary both for policymaking effectiveness and perceived legitimacy, we need to ask whether it’s enough to simply offer the opportunity for citizens and stakeholders to participate. Rather, we need to take seriously the challenge of how to create engagement opportunities that people want to engage in for reasons other than narrowly defined political self-interest.

Internet participants have over a decade of experience with receiving something of benefit as a result of their Web involvement (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010). These benefits include:

  • receiving a service of value from a “free” website in exchange for opening their data to a commercial company (e.g., Google services such as search, email, document management, or mapping; see Anderson 2009; Beresford, Kübler, and Preibusch 2012),
  • obtaining virtual rewards of intrinsic value through a gamified platform (Deterding et al. 2011),
  • getting positive feedback from other participants (Hearn 2010; Scissors, Burke, and Wengrovitz 2016), or even
  • earning monetary compensation for completing a digital action (Paolacci and Chandler 2014).

In the absence of real or virtual rewards or recognition, efforts to engage participants online will face diminishing success in the face of increased competition for attention (Wald, Longo, and Dobell 2016). Without a compelling argument for why citizens and stakeholders should engage, or a clearly perceived benefit from engaging, the impulse to get involved in policymaking will likely fail to translate into participation.

Does this mean that we should pay people to be involved in citizen engagement (Panagopoulos 2012)? Should we offer non-refundable tax credits for participating in engagement exercises? Should you get AirMiles for filling out a government survey?

Maybe not. But governments will need to consider ways of initiating engagement that provide participants with a reason and incentive to engage. If government continues to rely on an argument that people should engage in policy dialogue processes by implicitly referencing civic duty, it will increasingly draw from a very limited pool of hyper-engaged participants at the risk of representativeness and, ultimately, policy effectiveness and perceived legitimacy.


Anderson, C. (2009). Free: The future of a radical price. New York: Random House.

Beresford, A. R., Kübler, D., & Preibusch, S. (2012). Unwillingness to pay for privacy: A field experiment. Economics Letters, 117(1), 25-27.

Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011, May). Gamification. Using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts. In CHI’11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2425-2428). ACM.

Hearn, A. (2010). Structuring feeling: Web 2.0, online ranking and rating, and the digital ‘reputation’ economy. Ephemera: theory & politics in organisation, 10(3/4), 421-438.

Ritzer, G., & Jurgenson, N. (2010). Production, Consumption, Prosumption The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’. Journal of consumer culture, 10(1), 13-36.

Panagopoulos, C. (2012). Extrinsic rewards, intrinsic motivation and voting. The Journal of Politics, 75(1), 266-280.

Paolacci, G., & Chandler, J. (2014). Inside the turk: understanding mechanical turk as a participant pool. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(3), 184-188.

Scissors, L., Burke, M., & Wengrovitz, S. (2016, February). What’s in a Like? Attitudes and behaviors around receiving Likes on Facebook. In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1501-1510). ACM.

Wald, D. M., Longo, J., & Dobell, A. R. (2016). Design principles for engaging and retaining virtual citizen scientists. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 562-570.

Undocumented Citizen Engagement

I’m writing on the subject of citizen and stakeholder engagement, and I’m reminded that the word “citizen” can take on deep meaning in some settings.

“Citizen engagement” – or even when Government of Canada seeks to involve “Canadians” in consultation initiatives – does not require proof of citizenship or even residency. The term “citizen engagement” generally adopts a definition of citizen as a person concerned about an issue—a definition that coincides with terms such as “citizen science” (Woolley et al. 2016)—rather than having the status of a legally recognized subject or national of a state.

I’ve never heard anyone object to the term “citizen science” by complaining that non-citizens might be entering illegally. But I don’t think the term “citizen engagement” is used much in the United States. There, the term “citizen” can be especially jarring where concepts of citizenship, the legal right to reside in a place, and to have influence on social and political life are highly contested (Mossberger, Wu, and Crawford 2013).


Mossberger, Karen, Yonghong Wu, and Jared Crawford. “Connecting citizens and local governments? Social media and interactivity in major US cities.” Government Information Quarterly 30(4), 351-358.

Woolley, J.P., McGowan, M.L., Teare, H.J.A., Coathup, V., Fishman, J.R., Settersten, R.A., Sterckx, S., Kaye, J., Juengst, E.T. (2016). Citizen science or scientific citizenship? Disentangling the uses of public engagement rhetoric in national research initiatives. BMC Medical Ethics 17(33).

Consultation, or Engagement?

“Engagement” – when not being used to signal a prelude to marriage – as a replacement for the less enthusiastic term “consultation”, is a meta-concept for a general set of government-initiated opportunities for those outside government to be involved in policymaking processes.

While related terms such as “public consultation” have been prominent in the past, I have been asked to use the term citizen and stakeholder engagement for a forthcoming paper to signal a broad range of efforts by governments to communicate with those outside of government, coupled with opportunities for those outside of government to provide input into policymaking processes happening inside government.

The labels given these initiatives have shifted in recent years. In the seminal “ladder of participation” (Arnstein 1969), where the term “engagement” is not used, “consultation” rested on a mid-point bar as a form of tokenism, perhaps indicating why “consultation” has given way to various forms of “engagement”—though not Arnstein’s preferred terms of “partnership”, “delegation”, or “citizen control”.

Consider these graphs where the terms “public consultation”, “public engagement”, “citizen engagement”, and “stakeholder engagement” are compared:

Though the term “civic engagement” is dominant in Ngram and Trends searches, I didn’t include it because it connotes engagement by individuals in public life, rather than attempts by governments to engage people in the policymaking process (Skocpol and Fiorina 2004).

I also note that the Public Policy Forum avoids the problem of whether a participant in a citizen engagement exercise is a legal citizen by using their preferred term of “public engagement.”  However, I didn’t include that term here because of it’s different meaning, especially in the U.K where it centres on institutions like universities explaining to the public how they’re relevant.


Arnstein, S 1969 ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’, Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35(4):216–24.

Skocpol, T., & Fiorina, M. P. (Eds.). (2004). Civic engagement in American democracy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.