Participation, influence and voice: Inequality in the capability to participate in decision-making, have a voice and influence
The capability to participate in decision-making, have a voice and influence, affects political, social and family spheres of life. Different forms of participation covered in this domain, include, participation in democratic processes (for example, national and local elections), the ability to join workplace associations and community action groups, as well as involvement in decision-making within the family. In terms of inequality, it is recognised that it is possible for some individuals to have 'too much' influence as well as 'too little'. The domain includes measures designed to capture evidence of political elites, political revolving doors and corruption.
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This domain includes inequality measures designed to quantify differences in participation in various groups which cover public, political and work organisations such as: community groups; residents’ associations; patient groups; parent groups; student groups; passenger and consumer groups; worker associations, etc. These forms of participation are important to ensure that individuals have a voice but it is also key to measure differences in influence as well as voice. Direct measures of influence are difficult to find but survey evidence of perceived influence provide useful measures which are included in this domain.
In terms of inequality, it is recognised that it is possible to have ‘too much’ influence as well as ‘too little’. Too much influence by some individuals and groups can have a negative effect on other people’s capabilities. There are growing concerns that economic inequality has led to political capture by elites, eroding democratic governance, influencing policy making in their favour and to the detriment of others (Fuentes-Nieva and Galasso, 2014; Stiglitz, 2012). The relationship between economic inequalities and inequalities in the capability to participate in decision making, have a voice and influence can run both ways. This can be evidenced by: members of wealthy families having a greater likelihood of gaining positions of power and the power of donations on political parties in terms of shaping policy in particular policies related to taxation and government expenditure which are favoured by the donors (Gilens, 2012; Gilens and Page, 2014).
Inequality in political participation is marked by social gradients in voter turnout as well as poor representation of some groups in national and local governments. This domain seeks to capture inequalities in the form of identifying links between privilege, participation and influence, corruption and evidence of powerful elites with excess influence in public and political life.
Unequal influence and power also exists within families which leads to forms of gender domination, mainly by men. This domain includes measures designed to capture inequalities in decision making in families.
References and selected readings
Al-Sharmani, M. (ed) (2010) Feminist Activism, Women's Rights, and Legal Reform, Zed Books
Fuentes-Nieva, R., and Galasso, N. (2014). Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality, Oxfam Briefing Paper 178, published by Oxfam GB for Oxfam International under ISBN 978-1-78077-540-1
Gaventa, J and McGee, R (2010). Citizen Action and National Policy Reform: Making Change Happen, Zedbooks
Gilen, M. (2012) Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America, Princeton University Press.
Gilens, M. and Page, B.I., 2014. Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12 (3), 564–581.
Gurumurthy, A., Bharthur, D., and Chami, N. (2017) Voice or chatter? Making ICTs work for transformative citizen engagement, IDS research report
It is fairly straightforward to measure the existence of groups and associations designed to involve people in decision making. Equally it is possible to quantify differences in membership of these groups or identify if the political systems have formal ways to channel the electorates’ views and preferences and be accountable for that. It is much harder to find measures of the influence the different members of those groups have on decision making. People’s perceptions of influence can provide a useful indicator, where available, and reluctance to join groups may well be a reflection of (perceived) lack of influence. There is some case study evidence on the influence of citizen action on legal reforms, for example on women’s rights and civil rights (Al-Sharmani, M. (ed), 2010).
Measures included in this domain are designed to measure differences in participation between individuals and groups, political capture by elites and corruption. The measures of influence extend beyond the political, public and work spheres to decision making in families.
Click on the button beside each sub-domain to see related indicators, inequality measures and references to any relevant UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators. You may click on the Expand All button to view all inequality indicators, their measures and SDG indicators within each of the sub-domains.
|Participate in and have influence over democratic and other decision-making processes at any territorial level, and including indigenous, customary or community decision-making processes|
Percentage of the population entitled to vote for: (a) all levels of political office; (b) only some of the most powerful political positions; (c) none
Inequality in voter turnout in national or local elections
Percentage of seats in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments by sex, age, disability status, privately educated, family background and population groups (eg ethnicity)
Reference: UN SDG:
Proportions of positions (by sex, age, persons with disabilities and population groups) in public institutions (national and local legislatures, public service, and judiciary) compared to national distributions
Proportion of seats held by women in (a) national parliaments and (b) local governments
Percentage who have formally contacted local representatives /national government representative/political party in last 12 months
Percentage who have exercised their right to petition or protest in last 12 months
Percentage who attended a political rally, meeting or speech in last 12 months
Percentage who have been involved in any official consultation, town-hall meeting and/or any other official governmental practice in rulemaking (national, regional and/or local level)
Percentage who feel they can influence decisions affecting their local area
Percentage of population who believe decision-making is inclusive and responsive, by sex, age, disability and population group
Reference: UN SDG:
Number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information
Proportion of population who believe decision-making is inclusive and responsive, by sex, age, disability and population group
|Evidence of powerful elites with excess influence and control over decision-making processes in public and political life|
Political privilege and evidence of undue influence and corruption
Evidence of a political elite (a) political dynasties; (b) narrow educational background (particular schools/universities); (c) median wealth of elected politicians
Evidence of political revolving doors: (a) personnel moving between influential political positions and roles in the lobbying industry; (b) personnel moving between roles as legislators and regulators and members of industries affected by the legislation and regulation
Extent of corruption: Proportion of persons who had at least one contact with a public official and who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials, during the previous 12 months
Reference: UN SDG:
Proportion of persons who had at least one contact with a public official and who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials, during the previous 12 months
Proportion of businesses that had at least one contact with a public official and that paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials during the previous 12 months
|Participate in decision-making and make decisions affecting your own life independently within your household and family|
Decision-making within families
Who makes decisions within the family on key aspects such as where to live, children's education, work, finances, etc.: (a) decisions are made jointly; (b) decisions are made by head of family (specify gender)
|Participate in non-governmental organisations concerned with public, political and working life|
Participation in non-governmental organisations
Percentage who are a member of a local decision-making body (town/village council, local association, local education or health bodies)
Percentage of employees who are a member of a trade union or workplace organisation active in relations and conditions of work
|Have freedom to form and join civil organisations, social movements and solidarity groups, including trade unions; freedom of assembly and association and enjoy active citizenship|
Taking part in civil organizations, social movements and other social collective actions
Percentage active in a campaigning group, social movement or political party (can be via social media)