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Initiatives by citizens is of all times, however, over the last few years the attention has increased significantly. That means the citizen gets a bigger role in developing policy. The potential is there. Everywhere active citizens who want to contribute to the improvement of living environments are present and practically every government has formulated the ambition to involve citizens. That often leads to good results, but it also leads to disappointments and even to a large group of people who don’t feel welcome to participate. There are several obstacles in the interactions between citizens and local governments. Those are persistent and have the form of a paradox, an apparent contradiction.


Paradoxes are tough and maintain problems. A natural immune response would be to ignore them. We advocate a different approach. Embrace the uncomfortable paradox as the beginning of your participation-ambition and play with it, in a co-creation process between citizens and government. It is our experience that the mutual understanding increases and in many cases people will find unexpected solutions. 


Commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, de Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten en het Landelijk samenwerkingsverband Actieve bewoners, we created the Partipation Paradox Atelier. Therefore, we had a look at three trendsetting municipalities, supplemented with a research in 15 other municipalities and corporations which were visited in the project called Mayborhood.

By embracing the participation paradoxes an important step is taken to pursuit the necessary full relationship between the decision-making government and the participating citizen. 

The material

  • Currently, the material exists of seven clusters of participation paradoxes. Each paradox is illustrated by the the Mayborhood examination questions. These examination questions contain practical examples, whereby we are wondering: ‘Is that okay?’.

  • The participation paradoxes are uncomfortable mechanisms which we have to deal with in a participation process. In the process we distinguish four phases: ‘the initiative’, ‘participating’, ‘deciding.. and acting’ and ‘and then..’


  • We linked each participation paradox to how-questions, which help to manage (parts of) the paradox. The answer to these how-questions provides you guidance for your practice to achieve a full relationship between citizens and government.


  • The answers to the how-questions are context specific. With the Participation Paradox Studio we can help you to formulate tailor-made how-questions and answers, by using examples, inspiration and ideas.