The Public Value of Citizens’ Initiatives: Evidence from a Dutch Municipality

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Active citizens who take initiative are generally regarded as desirable. However, the precise reasons why citizens’ initiatives are considered valuable and what their value consists of remain unclear, vague, and often unanswered. In this study, we used Q methodology to explore how civil servants, local politicians, and societal actors in a Dutch municipality view the public value of citizens’ initiatives. The analysis reveals four distinct views of the value of citizens’ initiatives: a view that values intangible results, a view that values a hands-on mentality, a view that values acting out of a sense of purpose, and a view that values citizens organizing and acting out of their own interests. Theoretically, we distinguish between material, immaterial, and process-oriented interpretations of values, and empirically this distinction shows that across the four value views, the process-oriented values are the most disagreed upon. Finally, we find common ground between the value views that we label “selfish collectivism.” This is the view that appreciates citizens’ initiatives for solving problems for the sake of the community, not for their altruism, but because they are self-serving. The strong differences in value views suggest that there is a risk that subsequent policy language and instruments based on these views could lead to conflict between the actors involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-279
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
VolumeOnline First
Issue number7-8
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2023

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