Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

David S. Brown

Second Advisor

Susan Clarke

Third Advisor

Andersson Krister

Abstract

Can democratic institutions be created to address social challenges? Democratic institutions should promote accountability of government officials to the needs of citizens. Civil society then plays a role in exposing corruption as well as in communicating the needs of low-income residents to officials. Neither the institutions of representative democracy nor the presence of civil society, however, appears to automatically guarantee adoption of social benefits for the poor. Scholars, development practitioners, donors, and activists propose participatory governance institutions as mechanisms to create accountability and responsiveness through a public forum incorporating civil society. To date, however, little comparative research exists to confirm whether these institutions do influence adoption of social policies. I seek to fill this gap by assessing the impact of Brazil’s municipal housing councils. Housing represents an issue of critical importance in Brazil and other developing countries where large populations reside in informal settlements in unsafe and insecure conditions. This dissertation seeks to provide evidence to confirm whether participatory governance institutions are effective mechanisms to coordinate government officials and civil society to alter policy-making.

Using a mixed method approach based on fieldwork in Brazilian cities and government data, I argue that municipal housing councils should affect policy adoption at the municipal level. I find that in the aggregate municipal housing councils are associated with greater likelihood of program adoption. Contrary to expectations, the depth of civil society does not increase the probability of program adoption where municipal housing councils exist. Looking further into case studies, civil society-state dynamics strongly influence the policy process within municipal housing councils. The responsibilities afforded to municipal housing councils also make a significant difference in the likelihood that councils are associated with housing programs. Finally, I find that actors working through municipal housing councils created in response to local demand rather than to a new federal mandate are more committed to the process. This commitment matters for the policy outcomes the councils produce. In sum, based on the case of municipal housing councils in Brazil, I conclude that participatory governance institutions do generate responsiveness and accountability, resulting in policy shifts to address social challenges.

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