Less complex language, more participation: how consultation documents shape participatory patterns

Paper by Simon Fink, Eva Ruffing, Tobias Burst & Sara Katharina Chinnow: “Consultations are thought to increase the legitimacy of policies. However, this reasoning only holds if stakeholders really participate in the consultations. Current scholarship offers three explanations for participation patterns: Institutional rules, policy characteristics, and interest group resources determine participation. This article argues that additionally the linguistic complexity of consultation documents influences participation. Complex language deters potential participants, because it raises the costs of participation. A quantitative analysis of the German consultation of electricity grids lends credibility to the argument: If the description of a power line is simplified between two consultation rounds, the number of contributions mentioning that power line increases. This result contributes to our understanding of unequal participation patterns, and the institutional design of participatory procedures. If we think that legitimacy is enhanced by broad participation, then language of the documents matters….(More)”.