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There exist many diverse theoretical and empirical specifications of what makes for a democratic state and democratic participation (Dahl 2000; Dahl 1989; Dryzek Dunleavy 2009; Held 2006; Beetham 1994). Democracy can be valued intrinsically, or on the basis of some other value (such as freedom or equality) that it promotes; or it can be valued instrumentally for producing better outcomes in terms of laws and public services. It is theoretically possible for public services to be improved in the absence of, or in contradiction with, improvements in democracy.

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This study adopts a three-fold distinction between modes of democratic engagement, each linked to mechanisms of public service reform. Democratic engagement can take the form of (a) formal participation in political institutions: e.g. voting, petitions and direct lobbying of actors in power; (b) participatory, collaborative and/or community based action: including collaboration between citizens and state, and collaboration amongst citizens to solve problems outside the state; (c) individual choice: selecting services so that market processes aggregate signals about citizen preferences. In each type of interaction the information required to support an improvement of outcomes (i.e. better public services) varies, as does the mechanism by which change occurs. Table 1 illustrates this with examples of information needs and resulting decisions/actions in each type of interaction.

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