Democracy by Design: The Institutionalization of Community Participation Networks in Los Angeles
The paper uses network theory to examine the institutionalization of community governance in Los Angeles. Since the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 mandated the created of neighborhood level bodies to foster “maximum feasible participation” in program development and implementation, we have witnessed rapid growth in local participative bodies. Their success in developing legitimacy and promoting government accountability, however, has been highly varied. Scholars have attributed this variation to a number of centralized design features (e.g. the degree of political support, the provision of organizational resources, the training for participants) and community characteristics (e.g. social capital, community capacity, SES). Others point to system dynamics and historical processes. For example, Putnam, Feldstein, and Cohen (2003) propose a model of positive feedback in which neighborhood-level activism promotes improved accountability which in turn promotes great activism. Building on the dynamic proposed by Putnam et. al., we develop a network model of institutionalization to explain the process by which neighborhood governance becomes regularized and meaningful. We specifically incorporate the influence of central system features and community characteristics, acknowledging the goal complexity of citizen engagement entities (fostering community capacity, information sharing, greater government accountability, and popular mobilization). We then illustrate the model employing social network data on the political networks that have arisen through the implementation of a system of neighborhood councils in Los Angeles. At the system level, we show how the pattern of network evolution is related to the central design features of the LA system and pre-existing social capital. Then we turn to community level factors and assess the extent to which community contextual factors and organizational dynamics influence network development, with implications for subsequent patterns of involvement and policy influence.