Communicative capacity: the added value of public encounters for participatory democracy

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Questions have arisen about the added value of public encounters for participatory democracy: Do problems with living up to its promises occur because of or despite public professionals and citizens coming together? This article presents the findings of a study that examined their public encounters, or communicative “in-between,” in participatory projects in three European cities. A narrative analysis revealed how the communicative capacity of public professionals and citizens is imperative and yet largely overlooked, that is, their ability to recognize and break through dominant communicative patterns by constantly adapting the nature, tone, and conditions of conversations to the situation at hand. Less time, energy, and resources will be lost if they pay more attention to how they communicate (process) rather than what they talk about (substance). As this proves to be inherently difficult in everyday practice, researchers could play an important role in cultivating communicative capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)656–674
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2014


  • public encounters
  • participatory democracy
  • communication
  • urban governance
  • narrative analysis


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