Three Essays on Participatory Governance in Public Administration

Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Tina Nabatchi


Democratic Governance, Participative Management, Participatory Governance, Public Participation, Volunteering

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation consists of three essays that address the issues of participation in different public governance contexts. The objective of this dissertation is to investigate how different participatory processes in civic and administrative arenas generate outcomes that are critical to improving the quality of public governance. Specifically, it addresses three understudied questions in the literature: (1) Does individuals’ volunteering in nonprofit organizations increase their participation in administrative and political processes? (2) Do different public participation processes differently affect individuals’ civic dispositions? (3) Do public organizations’ efforts to use participative management with their employees and public participation with citizens promote citizen satisfaction with public organizations? In addition to the three essays (Chapters 2, 3, and 4) that address these questions separately, the dissertation includes an introduction chapter (Chapter 1) that presents a theoretical framework for the three essays, as well as a conclusion chapter (Chapter 5) that discusses implications of findings from the three essays.

The first essay, presented in Chapter 2, explores the effects of volunteering in nonprofit organizations on direct forms of public participation, such as attending public meetings, signing petitions, and protesting. Focusing on the role of nonprofit organizations as schools for democracy, I test the hypothesis that when individuals volunteer for community service activities provided by nonprofits, they are more likely to participate in administrative and political processes. I propose that the extant testing of this relationship suffers from an endogeneity problem, which I counter with the instrumental variable technique. The results of the analyses with the instrument suggest that individuals’ volunteering in nonprofits increases participation in public meetings, which differs from the results without the instrument. The findings suggest that participatory processes in the civic arena can promote public participation in the larger administrative and political arenas. The chapter also shows an important contribution of nonprofit organizations to public administration, not only because they provide social services that benefit the public, but also because they play a key role in enhancing democratic values in public administration.

The second essay, presented in Chapter 3, investigates the individual-level outcomes of different forms of direct public participation. I selected three types of participatory processes (public meetings, focus groups, and citizen juries) that have varying levels of communication intensity during participation, and compare their effects on participating citizens’ issue awareness, competence, empowerment, and trust in service professionals. I hypothesize that all three participatory processes positively affect these four types of civic dispositions, but that the magnitudes of effects differ across the three processes. I test these hypotheses using data from field experiments on public participation in the context of diagnostic error and healthcare. The results provide general support for both hypotheses. This chapter is among the first (if not the first) to empirically compare the relative efficacy of different direct participatory processes. It contributes to our understanding of participatory governance in the administrative arena, particularly regarding how to better design and implement direct public participation processes aimed at promoting democratic outcomes.

The third essay, presented in Chapter 4, studies the relationship between a public organization’s use of participatory processes and citizen satisfaction. Specifically, it looks at the effects of participative management (which engages employees inside the organization) and public participation (which engaged citizens outside the organization) on citizen satisfaction with public organizations. It also investigates the interactive effect of the two participatory practices (i.e., participative management and public participation) on citizen satisfaction. I test these relationships using a cross-national public education dataset, and generally find support for the positive standalone effects of participative management and interactive effects of participative management and public participation on citizen satisfaction. The findings suggest that public organizations that such democratic efforts are not only normatively desirable, but also improve public judgments about the organization. This chapter again highlights the importance of pursuing participatory processes in public administration.


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