Examining citizen participation in local policymaking : an analysis of Nepal’s participatory planning process

  • Thanesh Bhusal

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

    Abstract

    This thesis examines the participatory planning process in Nepal which is a local level policymaking
    process organised by municipalities to make mid-term local public policies and small-scale
    development programs. The empirical analysis focuses on the structure and functions of the planning
    process, which were redesigned to be led by appointed officials when there were no elected officials
    from 2002 to 2016. Although the participatory governance literature in developing countries in
    general is substantial, so far the participatory processes under appointed officials has received only
    limited attention. This thesis aims to understand if and how citizens participated in the making of
    local public policies and small-scale development programs in the absence of electoral politics.
    The empirical research undertaken for this thesis is designed as a qualitative case study, in
    accordance with the ideas of a single case focusing on the Butwal municipality in Nepal. The
    municipality has three different embedded organisational structures of planning: the Tole Bhèla, the
    Ward Bhèla and the Integrated Planning Formulation Committee, which are regarded respectively
    as informal, semi-formal and formal forums of planning for analytical purposes. A two-dimensional
    analytical framework comprised of the organisational structure and function of the planning process
    is devised to interpret the data. Data were generated through a total of 42 semi-structured interviews
    which were conducted between 2014 and 2016 together with the observation of several informal and
    formal planning forums in a specific ward in the Butwal municipality.
    The analysis shows that, although all planning forums have similar functions, each varies
    significantly in terms of who participates and how decisions are made. These variances have four
    general implications for Nepal’s planning processes. These include: (i) the planning process is
    structured in a hierarchical institutional design; (ii) bottom-level forums in the hierarchy are
    relatively more open than upper-level forums for citizens to participate; (iii) the more the
    participatory process progresses, the more formal they become; and (iv) compared with the formal
    forums, semi-formal and formal forums are more conducive to inclusive and representative citizen
    participation.
    The broader scholarly contribution of this research is that it provides insights about a successful case
    of a municipal-level participatory process. The empirical analysis of Nepal’s participatory planning
    process suggests that bureaucratic apparatuses which are generally not perceived as avenues for
    citizen participation can also be instrumental for participatory decision-making, though conclusions
    surrounding the accountability of participants and the legitimacy of decisions need further attention.
    The findings provide three key messages to the scholars and practitioners focusing on participatory
    planning in Nepal. First, top-down local governance reforms introduced between 2002 and 2016
    contributed to changing the institutional design and processes of planning. Secondly, such changes
    transformed the roles of appointed officials from managers to leaders in the planning process but it
    was unclear to what extent appointed officials were obliged to be accountable to local communities.
    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, both the changed institutional design of the planning process
    and the changing roles of appointed officials widened the scope for citizens of different types to
    actively participate in the local policymaking process in municipalities.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Canberra
    SupervisorJohn Halligan (Supervisor), Paul Fawcett (Supervisor) & M. Selen Ayirtman Ercan (Supervisor)

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