The need for greater accountability, better coordination and strengthened public consultation topped the agenda at the latest in the Centre for Public Impact’s #FindingLegitimacy series of events, this one taking place in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi.
Hosted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, the event aimed to develop an understanding of citizens’ perception of legitimacy in the Indian context. A group of 20 citizens, with backgrounds ranging from artists to non-profit leaders, a member of a political party to college students, took part and this diversity of backrounds ensured that a range of different opinions were represented.
After a brief discussion around the concept of legitimacy, participants were divided into four groups to discuss a specific issue: the relationship between perceived legitimacy and democratic procedures, public consultation and support for policy outcomes, and the effect of social and digital media on the trust in governments. After an hour-long discussion, each group presented their key insights to everyone.
So, what did we conclude?
Improving the public consultation process
There was general consensus that transparency in the way policies are formed is crucial in a democracy and builds trust in government actions.
Participants felt that government must not only have public support to govern at the time of elections, but must also reach out to the public while formulating or implementing policies in order for its actions to be perceived as legitimate. Some expressed frustration about what they felt were government policies that had been implemented without adequate public consultation – and this subsequently led to delivery challenges.
However, there were also concerns about the risk of consultations becoming delaying tactics by the government or leading to ‘analysis-paralysis’. Many participants also felt that it is almost impossible for consultative exercises to be truly representative in India, given the lack of accessibility of government-appointed committees for lower income or marginalised groups.
Improved coordination between different branches and levels of the government
In a federal republic, there exists a separation of powers between the central government and different state governments. This separation of powers was originally seen as a way to increase the government’s responsiveness to public demands and accurately represent them.
However, participants felt that there is increasingly a lack of coordination between these different levels of government due to partisan animosity and confusion regarding roles and responsibilities. This lack of coordination leads to inaction that can be costly, especially in times of crisis. This, in turn, leads to distrust in “government systems”. It was felt that all levels of government and politicians should make an effort to “visibly coordinate”, especially in times of crisis, to build trust in their action.
Accountability with access
Most participants agreed that social media has improved access to the government. Today, citizens find it much easier to reach out to government officials and their elected representatives.
However, they also felt that with increased access, there are increased expectations for the government to deliver. Even though governments today are able to benefit from real-time citizen feedback on services and policies, they have not developed capabilities to address this feedback systematically. This often leads to a mismatch between expectations and actual experience of citizens, leading to erosion of trust and legitimacy.
More details about the event will be available soon; watch this space!