The provision of ‘de facto’ opportunities for empowerment embodies what can be termed a ‘field of dreams’ approach. Here the processes take precedence over people, as those responsible for engagement within government often believe that “if we build it, they will come”. Across the country there are countless consultation events and meetings that are focused around engagement for its own sake rather than aiming to meet the needs of local people. This approach to public participation in turn favours those who feel comfortable in these environments – and who have the time, skills and persistence to sit through a multitude of meetings.
While there has been a lack of uptake in these types of opportunities to engage with political and democratic processes volunteering and social activism remain a consistent part of British public life.
The same can be said for volunteering in the U.S. More people volunteer year to year, but very few actually turn out for the deep political engagement type activities, like caucuses. Just expecting people to show up and engage in party politics once every two years is absurd. We need to make the local parties more transparent, more relevant and more open.