More participation, better policies?

5 Mar

Elena TorrenteElena Torrente, Coordinator of digital health. DKV Servicios

For us [the Athenians legislators], the debate is not a stepping stone towards action, but the first step essential to taking any wise decision.” – Pericles

I read this quote in the book “És la política, idiotes!” by Professor of Political Science Quim Brugué where he firmly defends politics and the need for collective decisions in politics. Right now when political disaffection prevails, this is an interesting book to say the least that points to an issue that for me is paramount: Intelligence is always collective.

Nowadays, in the era of social networks where we can share knowledge and contribute ideas, interesting debate has never been so easy. But, how about in the area of public policy? Is collective intelligence taken into consideration when they design it? Does it make sense to do it?

In its report Citizens as Partners: Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making, OECD raises three main reasons why the governments should encourage citizen participation in public policy development:

  1. Better public policies (incorporating the real needs of the public service recipients and easier implementation)
  2. Increased confidence in governments (greater acceptance of policies by the citizens and more government legitimacy)
  3. Stronger democracy (more active citizens better involved in public affairs)

In health policy, there is a long tradition of founding formal bodies of professional involvement and, increasingly, of providing mechanisms for better listening to the citizens (The NHS belongs to the people: A call to action). Examples such as the one described herein, from the Ministry of Health of Canada, show how a process of public participation (16 focus groups in 8 different cities and participation of over 200 citizens) served to introduce changes in the communication strategy of the federal health policy.

The participation per se has no miraculous effects. Any participation process should have a very clear reason: clearly define what the desired end results are (informing, collecting opinions, discussing, engaging …) so that it can determine the strategy and the tools required to achieve them.

In any case, addressing the major challenges of our health system such as aging, technological advances, attention to chronic disease undoubtedly requires transversal and multidisciplinary approaches. And for this reason, the participation of health professionals and citizens alike in the design of future health policies is vital.


According to the Greek myth, Ariadna, being in love with Theseus, decides to help him kill the Minotaur and get out of the labyrinth in Crete. She handed him a magic ball of yarn that enabled him, after killing the monster, to find his way back and out of the labyrinth. We’re looking for that magical yarn that can help us advance …

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