Conclusion: Can Democracy Remedy Social Challenges? Findings on the Effect of Participatory Governance Institutions
Participatory governance institutions do matter. I started this project with a healthy dose of skepticism that participatory governance institutions could be the panacea to marginalization of the poor that many scholars, donors, and activists suggest. Could these forums really lead to policy change, or were governments merely paying lip service to the idea of civil society incorporation in policy making? Though scholars had thoroughly documented the benefi ts of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, I was not convinced that participatory institutions in other contexts would have similar effects. But, after several years of studying Brazil’s municipal housing councils, talking to numerous government offi cials and civil society leaders, and conducting quantitative analysis controlling for other effects, I can say with some certainty that participatory governance institutions do matter for policy outcomes. Like any blanket statement, however, this one comes with a number of caveats. Not all participatory governance institutions produce the same effects. Context, infl uenced by civil society-state dynamics, institutional rules, and commitment of actors, matters for the direction and strength of impact. In addition, housing policy is determined by factors outside of council control. Though municipal councils for housing have an effect on policy outcomes, they will never be the only determining factor of housing policy. No participatory governance institution will ever be the only site for policy making in a particular issue area. Politics, economics, and institutional constraints will always also matter to policy making.