Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

Bringing the Public into Policymaking: National Participatory Institutions in Latin America


Participatory experiments have been adopted throughout Latin America in an attempt to reinvent democracy to be more responsive to all citizens - not just an elite few. Participatory policymaking institutions are formal, institutional spaces that engage civil society groups in policy debates and decision-making processes. Participatory policymaking is particularly strong in Latin America, where 12 countries require subnational governments to incorporate civil society organizations into the policymaking process in policy sectors ranging from health to the environment to agriculture policy. Yet there is great variation in what happens after participatory institutions are created: some participatory institutions develop a major role in policymaking, while others only exist on paper. This project seeks to explain under what conditions national participatory experiments become institutionalized.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brazil and Colombia established the region's most expansive national participatory frameworks, requiring dozens of participatory institutions across a range of policy sectors. Facing major legitimacy crises, both countries created participatory institutions as part of democratizing reforms that sought to amplify the voices of excluded groups and enhance accountability. Despite their shared origins, participatory institutions followed very different trajectories in the two countries. Why has participatory policymaking become institutionalized in Brazil, yet decayed over time in Colombia?

While national participatory institutions were created with the goal of deepening democracy, this democratizing impulse is insufficient to secure institutionalization, which requires ongoing material, human, and political investments from the government. Governments will only sustain these investments when pressured to do so by a reform coalition of diverse stakeholders. I show that such a broad coalition only arises when councils are created alongside the introduction of substantive policy changes, and when elite stakeholder groups mobilize other stakeholders in support of the councils. The broad reform coalition will unite to advocate for council implementation as a means to ensure overall reform implementation, as happened in Brazil. In contrast, participatory institutions are doomed when adopted as part of reforms that seek to deepen democracy but do not shift the substance of policy. This was the case in Colombia, where the councils only attracted those stakeholders directly interested in participatory policymaking. The narrowness of this reform coalition hampered its ability to apply pressure on the government, ultimately resulting in failed institutionalization.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View