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Challenges of Public Participation

Public Participation is an important aspect of citizen engagement in county processes, but there can be challenges to effective public participation. Below are some of the challenges and suggestions on how to address them.


 How to Address

Payment for participation—there has been an expectation of compensation for attending public participation events, which undermines the objectives of transparent and meaningful discussions and decision-making.

A county government’s duty is to make public participation accessible—in terms of time, location and format, and not to pay people to attend. Allowances should be limited to exceptional cases in which specific individual invitations are made.

Negative attitude or apathy from the public—this can be due to a lack of a common understanding of what constitutes public participation and the methods, processes and content needed to ensure effective engagement. It may also be because of a lack of feedback, from previous consultations, where the public feel that nothing ever comes out from their participation.


An increase in the amount and quality of civic education that citizens receive, particularly through civil society mechanisms, can help greatly towards raising awareness and inspiring action within local communities to be more involved in county government processes. Celebrate successes—if communities can see positive change resulting from their actions, they will be more inclined to participate in future processes. By providing feedback, the public feel that their previous participation efforts were worth it.

Difficulties in accessing information—communities often lack adequate information on policy, plans and budgets, programs and services, all of which is needed for effective public participation. Some of the information is difficult to obtain and understand.

Counties need to fulfil their ‘proactive disclosure’ requirements outlined in the Access to Information Act (2016). Where county governments fail to meet these requirements, citizens need to inform themselves of the processes for applying to access information, including the legislated timeframes, so that key documents needed for public participation can be accessed in good time.

High cost of public participation—has been put forward as a challenge in conducting meaningful public participation.


Counties need to adequately budget for the cost of their public participation activities, including for example, the cost of translating and printing written material for a wide audience, and the cost of hiring a venue and equipment if needed.

Inadequate representation—certain community groups may not be adequately included in decision-making processes, particularly, women, youth, persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups.

County Public Participation Acts should address the importance of including a diverse range of community groups and make specific provisions for how these groups can be adequately represented in public participation processes.

Elite capture—refers to a situation where a public participation process is dominated by local ‘elites’, who will influence the direction of local decision-making to benefit their own personal agenda, for example, priority areas for service delivery.

Public participation planning needs to ensure a diversity of methods and opportunities for input, that will ensure a wide range of voices can be heard, without one group dominating the process and its outcomes.

Need for public participation standards—a national policy, norms, standards, and regulations for public participation have not been finalised, thereby posing a challenge to the process, through a lack of a coordinated approach across counties.

The finalisation of these documents will contribute greatly to addressing this issue.

Language and literacy—in communities where there are high levels of illiteracy, meaningful public participation is a challenge, especially when there is inadequate civic education in local language on the issues in question.

County governments should make information available in simplified formats, translated into local languages wherever possible.

Restrictions on timelines—the county government may be considering a policy change or planning document for a long period of time, but the public participation process may be short and may not allow the community adequate time to research and prepare in order to effectively participate.

County governments should facilitate spaces for engagement and plan well in advance their dates for public participation, which allows adequate time for CSOs and citizens to prepare and participate. This will often mean allowing more time for public participation than what is legally required.

Structural barriers within government — this refers to the bureaucratic procedures and processes involved while approaching issues in government, which slow down the pace that public can pursue certain issues—all of which can also discourage the public to the point of giving up.

Some county governments have successfully set up ‘Liaison Offices’ or ‘Call Centres’ for the public, so that citizens have a focal point within the county government where they can go to raise issues and engage with government, and in doing so, bypassing some of the bureaucratic ‘hurdles’ that can exist.

Relationship between the county government and citizens—this relationship is often strained by the community’s perception that the government does not understand their issues and is not open to addressing their concerns.

Approaching engagement between county governments and CSOs and citizens as a ‘partnership’ rather than taking an adversarial approach can help build trust on both sides, leading to a more open county government, which is better placed to pay close attention to the expressed concerns of the community.

Inadequate decentralisation of public consultations—In some cases, public consultations by the county government (Executive and Assembly) are mainly held at the sub-county level, and do not always reach the ward or even sub-ward level. Community members find the transport costs to the venue of the forum too high, especially where no transport reimbursements are provided.

Ideally, county governments should organise the citizens for purposes of public participation at more decentralized levels, preferably the village level. Making sure that public forums are held at venues closer to the citizens (rather than the county centre) is a critical success factor for effective public participation by county governments.


Source: Adapted from Devolution and Public Participation in Kenya, Civic Education Handouts for Participants, 2016, MoDP.