With most types of public decision-making, the aim of public participation is to ensure that the public are fully consulted and that their views are genuinely taken into account. The actual decisions are generally taken by officials acting under the authority of an elected government. In some cases, however, for example where referenda or the right of legislative initiative are used, the public or NGOs are actually the decision-makers or co-decision-makers. The successful use of these instruments of "direct democracy" in a small number of countries not only provides interesting models for other countries to follow; it also suggests that involving the public in decision-making need not be limited to building public consultation into an existing decision-making process. It can mean looking at the decision-making structures themselves and developing new structures (e.g. multiple-choice "preferenda") which empower the public.
Computers open up new possibilities for public involvement in decision-making. Just as the use of computer technology has transformed the way information is handled, so it could eventually have a similar impact on decision-making processes themselves.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends that countries should should encourage public participation in discussions of environmental policy and assessment.