From one-off engagement to system change: How do we mainstream citizen participation in government?

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Emerging solutions such as citizens' assemblies, participatory budgeting and participatory policymaking have demonstrated the capacity to enhance public trust, promote collaboration, and yield more effective and equitable outcomes. But the challenge lies in moving beyond isolated experiments and incorporating these practices into the fabric of governance. 

To address this challenge, the 17 Rooms initiative of the Brookings Institution and The Rockefeller Foundation invited Josh Lerner of People Powered and Diana Dajer of Fundación Corona to facilitate a global planning process. 17 Rooms aims to accelerate action on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by convening participants from disparate communities in their own “rooms,” or working groups — one for each SDG. Each room is tasked with identifying cooperative actions that members can take over the subsequent 12-18 months to improve outcomes. 

Josh and Diana brought together a global team of experts to advance SDG 16, which centers on building accountable, inclusive and participatory institutions. “Room 16” focused on identifying and prioritizing the top three actionable ways to mainstream participatory and deliberative democracy around the world. The room members met in person for two days in Mexico City in May, then convened virtually several times over the following months.

Room 16 members in Mexico City

The three key proposals that emerged are:

  1. Create a support program to institutionalize citizen participation: More often than not, the actors that lead innovative PDD initiatives struggle to turn them into longer-term change because they lack actionable tools and support. This proposal aims to create global tools and guidance based on evidence and expert knowledge. This includes compiling and developing model legislation, policies, regulations and implementation guidance, and incorporating these resources into an action-learning program for government and civil society champions.

  2. Coordinate a network of international NGOs: This proposal addresses the fragmented coordination among international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) that support citizen participation, which results in the duplication of work and missed opportunities to advance institutionalization. While several international organizations (such as Democracy R&D, International Observatory of Participatory Democracy, Open Government Partnership and People Powered) link together local and national actors, there is no global space to connect and align them. 

  3. Facilitate donor innovation, impact and learning: This proposal aims to facilitate learning among the donor community about democratic innovations, their impacts and avenues to support institutionalization. The goal is to mainstream citizen participation by ensuring more significant, long-term and structural financial support. By collecting evidence and sharing experiences, the project will foster a deeper understanding in the donor community of PDD and how it can help address key issues.

For more details on the discussions and proposals, see the final report for Room 16.

The path forward

Room 16's conclusions offer the potential to reshape the landscape of participatory and deliberative democracy. By turning these ideas into actions, policymakers, funders and civil society organizations can drive transformative change, building institutions that resonate with the values of SDG 16.  

We are already advancing the collaborative work that will realize these ideas. On September 12, Josh and Diana presented the ideas to Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and chair of its Sustainable Development Group. 

Diana and Josh present the Room 16 priorities to U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Zia Khan

Several room members then presented the results of Room 16 at the 2023 summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Room 16’s goals align with OGP's challenge of mainstreaming participation across government practices and institutions. Now, we will host a meeting with international funders and partners to discuss next steps for the Room 16 proposals.  

Diana Dajer speaks about the need to mainstream participatory and deliberative democracy at the opening plenary of the OGP Summit.

A main session at the OGP summit focused on how to mainstream participation.

We are now working with the Room 16 organizations to turn the three proposals into reality. As we navigate complex global challenges, the success of participatory and deliberative democracy could be the defining factor in shaping a more just, equitable and sustainable world. The time to act is now. If you are interested in knowing more about the results of this initiative or collaborating to make them a reality, read the full report or send a message to josh(at) and ddajer(at)

Room members

  • Josh Lerner (co-lead), People Powered

  • Diana Dajer (co-lead), Fundación Corona

  • Greta Ríos (room associate), People Powered

  • Aaron Azleton, National Democratic Institute

  • Adrià Duarte, International Observatory on Participatory Democracy and United Cities and Local Governments

  • Aluna Serrano, Extituto de Política Abierta

  • Anna Downs, International Republican Institute

  • Anthony Zacharzewski, Democratic Society

  • Caroline Vernaillen, Democracy International

  • Enrique Bravo-Escobar, National Endowment for Democracy

  • Ieva Cesnulaityte, DemocracyNext 

  • James Muraguri, Institute of Public Finance

  • Rachel Locke, University of San Diego

  • Rose Longhurst, Open Society Foundations 

  • Sarah Mendelson, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Tim Hughes, Open Government Partnership


  • Ansel Herz, DemocracyNext

  • Aram Barra, Open Society Foundations

  • Beatrice Briggs, Proyectum

  • Clara Bois, People Powered

  • Clorinda Romo, Open Government Partnership

  • David Sasaki, Hewlett Foundation

  • Héctor Villareal, Proyectum

  • Lize Mogel, People Powered

  • Nicolás Díaz, Extituto de Política Abierta

  • Sam Chanthavong, National Endowment for Democracy

  • Sanjiv Rao, Democracy Fund and People Powered

  • Santiago Niño Aguilar, Democracy R&D and Ideemos

  • Sebastián Calderón, Extituto de Política Abierta


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