Engaging Citizens in Democratic Governance and the Decision-Making Process with Congressional Committees

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Public Policy and Administration


Robert Levasseur


Democratic societies generally view the electoral process as constituting the means by which citizens express views on the performance of legislative officials in responding to public needs. While special interest groups have the means to shape and influence public policy outcomes through direct involvement with members and staff of the Congress, the general public does not typically participate in the process while legislation is being formulated. There is a gap in the literature regarding citizen engagement in the decision-making process which is problematic because the lack of active citizeninvolvement raises questions regarding the legitimacy of representation, and the adequacy of policies developed on behalf of the citizens. This study investigated the citizen's role with the Congress by exploring the evolution of theories of ancient thinkers, 17 th and 18th century political philosophers, framers of the U.S. Constitution, and contemporary scholars and experts. Research questions centered on the current and most appropriate roles for citizens, and steps to enhance participation. Interviews with 10 citizens and 10 Congressional officials resulted in a citizen engagement theory, grounded in the data, indicating that campaign financing reform; increased citizen awareness; heightened media focus; and review of the impacts of redistricting, polling, and partisanship concerns are essential to citizen engagement in decision making with Congressional committees. Positive social change may result from increased dialogue onthe subject among citizens, the Congress, the private sector, and academic scholars and researchers.

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