Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Roy Wood, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jean F. East

Third Advisor

Elizabeth A. Suter

Fourth Advisor

Christina F. Foust


Decison-making, Democracy, Ethnography, Local government, Public participation


This ethnographic study explores the phenomenon of citizen participation in the decision-making process of their local government. The researcher explored this topic by observing the Dog Park Master Plan process conducted by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City and County of Denver from June 2009 through April 2011.

The researcher attended and observed seven meetings of a citizens committee convened by the Denver Parks and Recreation Department to act as a mini-public to test the elements of the Dog Park Master Plan before presenting the Plan to the public, and the three public meetings held to allow the public at large to comment on the Plan. The researcher conducted interviews with citizens and city staff involved in the process. The researcher collected and analyzed textual artifacts generated in the process or related to it. Using these data sources the researcher constructed a narrative ethnography describing the Dog Park Master Plan process.

In the chapter on the academic literature, the research explores the literature on democracy, public participation, and having voice in decision making, and uses it to explain what occurred in the process. The researcher concentrates on the practical applications of the ideals of democracy and public participation, and democratic participation as envisioned in the concept of having voice put forth by Cheney et al (1998) and Senecah (2004). The researcher also explores as part of having voice in decision-making the principles of representation arising from culture and communication (Alcoff, 1991) and political theory (Young, 2000), as well as procedural justice (Tyler & Blader, 2000).

From his observations the researcher has concluded that the Dog Park Master Plan process unfolded as a process in which the Denver Parks and Recreation Department saw themselves as the experts on the matter, and so, conducted the process in such a way that the participation of the citizen committee and the public at large was to a large extent ignored. As would be predicted by the literature on public participation and procedural justice, this led to dissatisfaction with the process by the participants in it. The dissatisfaction with the process led a powerful interest group to intervene in the approval and adoption process on the Plan through opaque methods (Harnik, 2000) to short circuit the process and prevent many of the Plan elements coming out of the process being included in the final Plan.

Rights Holder

Stephen M. Griffin


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

314 p.



Included in

Communication Commons