Engaging citizens in local health policymaking: A realist explorative case-study

Esther De Weger*, Hanneke W. Drewes, Natascha J. E. Van Vooren, Katrien G. Luijkx, Caroline A. Baan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Background
Municipalities have been trying to involve citizens as citizen participation is thought to improve municipalities’ accountability, the quality of services, and to align policies and services to communities’ needs. This study examined citizens’ participation preferences in policymaking by investigating their health policy priorities, expectations of involvement, and required support.

Methods
For this case-study the realist evaluation approach was applied to focus groups with citizens and to a workshop with a local panel consisting of professionals, citizens and citizen representatives.

Results
This study showed that citizens want to be involved in (health) policymaking with the aim of improving their communities’ quality of life and living environment and prioritised local services and amenities (e.g. suitable housing, public transport, health and care services). Instead, professionals’ priorities were focussed on singular public health issues related to prevention and lifestyle factors. The results also show that citizens felt responsible for driving citizen participation and representing community needs to the municipality, but needed the municipality to improve their communication and accessibility in order to do so successfully. Furthermore, the professionals on the panel indicated that they needed training on how to reach out to citizens. Such training should highlight how to better align their language to citizens’ lived experiences. They also wanted their organisations to provide more space, flexibility and resources to build relationships with citizens in order to provide improved communication and accessibility to citizens.

Conclusion
The difference in priorities between citizens and professionals highlights the importance of involving citizens in policymaking. Moreover, citizens’ involvement can act as a lever for change to bring a wider range of services and policy sectors together and has the potential to better align policies to citizens’ lived experiences and hopefully increase the democratic legitimacy of policymaking. However, to fulfil such potential municipalities will need to invest in improving their accessibility and communication with communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0265404
JournalPLOS ONE
Volume17
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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