The National Policy of Social Participation

Note: This is the English-language translation of a case study that is also available in Portuguese

Brief Description

The National System of Social Participation is organized, so, in a set of institutional measures and strengthening of the tools and existing participation mechanisms and their interface with the new forms and languages, especially virtual, in a flexible way, not hierarchical and complementary.

Problems and Purpose

The starting point for the proposal of the National System of Social Participation was the desire of the federal government to improve participation to the point of making it a method of government in which all subjects and areas of government, at some point, experienced participation of civil society. To this end, the system established a series of objectives focused on broadening the channels of dialogue between the State and civil society and on mechanisms for articulation between participatory institutions and other government bodies.

The National Policy of Social Participation (NPSP) was born with promulgation of the decree 8.243 signed by the president Dilma Rousseff on May 14th, 2014. The decree implements the National Policy of Social Participation (NPSP) that explicits the principles and general guidelines of the social participation that concerns to a government management and defines the role of the State as a promotor agent of humans rights to participation, making the social participation, the govern method (Maldos e Pontual, 2012).

The core of the National Policy of Participation encounter in two main words: interdependence and integration. In a country where there are more than 10.000 municipal councils, hundreds of experiences of participatory budgets, thousands of ombudsman's offices, dozens of nationals councils and conference, dialogue tables, among others ways of participation, the implementation of the National Policy of Participation takes place with the objective of deepening relations between instances that interact, enabling the sharing of common objectives, aiming the improvement and strengthening of democracy.

Although the decree doesn’t create any new council, commission or body in the federal public administration, nor withdraws any of the prerogatives of the National Congress, was the target of many criticisms and accusations, stigmatized as “bolivarian”, “coupist”, “totalitarian” e “opportunistic”, under the serious stigma of threatening the representative character of the Brazilian democracy (Lavalle, 2014). Faced with such repercussion, the decree was overthrown by the Senate in 2015.

Origins and Development

The idea of a National System of Participation arises in the first mandate of Lula government (2003 to 2006), in response to the necessity of articulate and integrate the multiple participation spaces with extremely plural and diverse features, existing not only at the federal level of the government, but also in the states and brazilians municipalities, making the participatiory decisions closer of the government and consequently more effective. So that, since 2005, have been discussed an institutional format of integration of social participation in Brazil whose objective is turn the social participation into a method of government and state management  (Maldos e Pontual, 2012).

Since 2007 began series of cycles of debates for the discussion and preparation of a National System of Social Participations. Between the years of 2011 and 2013 were performed 45 debates with councils, society organizations and different bodies of federal government, to then proceed the initial preparation of the Draft Decree of the National Policy of Social Participation. The draft was submitted to public query, by the internet, between July 18th and September 06th of 2013, period in which the population could opine and give their considerations about the decree. Subsequently, the draft was revised and the contributions left by civil society were added. In addition, the government held the Forum of State Secretaries, with the objective of elaborating the term of adhesion of the National Commitment for Social Participation, which is one of the great institutional innovations of decree 8.243, which will be better explored ahead.

The National System reflects part of the theoretical debate ever developed in Anglo-Saxon countries about the so-called deliberative systems, which exposes the need to examine the interconnection between different deliberative arenas, not only institutional, linking daily conversations, with free demonstrations and discussions on participatory institutions (Mansbrigde et al, 2012). An idea of a deliberative system consists of an interconnection and public exchange of reasons, in which the deliberation is not space-temporally restricted (Mendonça, 2008). The construction of the National Participation System has taken the direction in establishing, even institutionally, integration mechanisms among the different formats that the deliberation can take.

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Analysis and Lessons Learned

The starting point to the implementation of the National System of Social Participation was the desire of the federal government to improve social participation, a mark of the PT governments in Brazil, to the point of making it a method of government, in which all the themes and areas of Government at some point pass through the participation of civil society. To this end, the system established a series of objectives focused on broadening the channels of dialogue between state and civil society and mechanisms of articulation among participatory institutions and other governing bodies.

One of the main articulation mechanisms instituted by decree 8.243 / 2014 was the National Commitment for Social Participation, which calls on the three spheres of government (Union, states and municipalities) to adhere to the commitment. The commitment is guided by the articulation between the government structures responsible for participation in each of the federative levels, in order to commit to guarantee the civil society a better intersectorality among the local participatory spaces and its interaction with the other spheres of government, preventing overlapping or repetitions of decisions. In addition, the commitment requires that the municipality or the state that adheres to the commitment must publish within 120 days a plan of action for the improvement of social participation in its locality following the standards of the national system. Until the decree fell, there were 10 states and 37 Brazilian municipalities that adhered to the national commitment.

Another point of institutional innovation coming from the SNPS was the inclusion of citizens who are not linked to any formal institution, opening space for participation also through social networks. In this sense, the national system responds to a growing movement since the days of July 2013 which is the expansion of participation beyond institutional mechanisms. Most, if not all, manifestations started from initiatives via social networks, so that participation could no longer be restricted to the traditional mechanisms of social participation. In this sense, the system aimed at the use of free software with the invitation of hackers (developers) and the inclusion of new digital instruments. The website was one of those initiatives of the government to approximate citizens who are not linked to formal institutions, but have effective participation, generating information and instruments of social control.

The system was also intended to deepen relations with social movements, supporting their initiatives and integrating them into institutional channels of social participation. In addition, the federal government would consolidate one of the most recent democratic innovations, which are the tables of dialogues between the entities with the federal government in order to stimulate the culture of social participation in Brazil. Analysis and Lessons Learned

The SNPS would consolidate a series of initiatives that have made Brazil a country with a high participatory propensity, but which are starting to show signs of possible limits. The system would be one of the alternatives to prevent the overlapping of decisions, the disarticulation between the participatory institutions themselves and with the other organs of government, besides trying to promote greater impact of the participatory decisions in the own political system. Although the system was not effectively implemented, it indicated possible solutions to these limits. Somehow, thinking about participation under the systemic bias is an inevitable path for participation in Brazil, which has been consolidated with diverse and different forms of participation, but which still generates little result in relation to the Brazilian political framework, and can be one of the hypotheses for the fall of the decree.

The decree did not create any new participatory institution, or control body, would only consolidate institutions that have been in force since the 1990s. Surprisingly, the SNPS was the subject of numerous criticisms and accusations not only from the National Congress but also from the mainstream media, which shows a failure in the very construction of social participation in Brazil. Despite having an expressive number of participatory institutions, a group of actors is unaware of its real meaning and function. Social participation is still restricted and does not reach the population at large. The idea of the system would be to integrate citizens who are not linked to participatory institutions and to try to make it more accessible to all.

Through the accusations of parliamentarians that the intention of the decree was to implant "Bolivarianism", "communism" and even "absolutism" in Brazil, was also evidenced a strong conservative bloc in Brazil that strongly rejects the idea of a deepening of the social participation. If, in the past, the impasse was to conquer the support of the federated entities for the adhesion to the system, what was really discussed was the political adhesion to the own national system of participation.

See also


LAVALLE, A. G., & SZWAKO, J. (2014). Origens da Política Nacional de Participação Social: Entrevista com Pedro Pontual. Novos Estudos-CEBRAP, (99), 91-104.

MALDOS, P. PONTUAL, P. Uma agenda para a construção do Sistema Nacional de Participação Social. Relatório do I Seminário Nacional de Participação Social. Brasília, 2012.

MANSBRIDGE, J. ET AL. A systemic approach to deliberative democracy. Deliberative Systems (2012): 1-26.

MENDONÇA, R.F. Representation and deliberation in civil society.  Brazilian Political Science Review, v. 2, n. 2, p. 117-37, 2008.

External Links


1st version 05/16 by Priscila Zanandrez Martins, UFMG, Brazil.


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