Legitimize public action

Date: Upcoming event
Nbr of participants: X people

Language: English

How to legitimize a sustainable project / action vis-à-vis those who are the targets (users and citizens)? How to strengthen citizen empowerment?

Legitimacy is a tacit and consensual agreement created in an interactional way between individuals in situation, from legal or ethical foundations. Legitimacy relates to the concept of mutual recognition.

Concerning the sustainable city, questions of recognition arise through socio-spatial inequalities (distance of undesirable definites from urban centers) and the non-recognition of the voiceless. The demand for this recognition can be made by investing in the political system (creating a political party) or with the devices for citizens (participative democracy), or even through action (non-violent communication, self-organization, local collective projects), three mutually reinforcing strategies.

It is a question of including the citizen within governance, of recognizing his expertise and his right to speak:

  • Consult: listen citizen expectations without infantilizing
  • Concert: seek the involvement of everyone as a springboard for local action
  • Co-build: empowering everyone towards the general interest
  • Common sense policy and political will
  • Increase citizens’ power to act (collective intelligence process)
  • Recognize stakeholder resources and constraint systems
  • Establish places and moments of participatory governance.

The limits to participatory governance are many and diverse. They depend on:

  • Instruments of participation that define a degree of democratic deliberation, but collective intelligence devices and approaches make it possible
  • Socio-cultural background, acculturation to the participation process because the elites are formed by a competitive system leading to a systemic arrogance vis-à-vis the citizen voice, and the citizens have lost confidence in the elites
  • Effects produced by participation and non-citizen involvement in political consumerism, without wanting to take part in it (or by excluding itself)
  • Partial communication which leads to non-optimal sharing of information and therefore to potential conflicts.

Potential conflicts are related to the fact that legitimacy can be granted to certain groups of citizens who are organized, faced with voiceless people who do not have the means or who do not think they have the right to speak publicly. Likewise, citizens’ contributions are not taken into account politically, leading to a loss of confidence in politics.

Questions arise:

  • How to ensure citizen involvement in political decision-making? What degree of citizen involvement (from information to co-construction)? What temporality of their involvement (upstream of public policies until the evaluation)?
  • How to strengthen civic engagement and recognize this expertise in the face of sometimes incomplete data and a contribution that is sometimes instrumentalized (and not taken into account)?
  • How to support citizen legitimacy within a politico-urban strategy?

The role of third parties is important: mediators to avoid the realization of some special interests, such as landlords. Another issue seems to be linked to the formation of democratic subjectivities at school (faced to authoritarian pedagogy leading to passivity and a selection of performers) to promote citizen initiative and train in debate.