This section summarises a
theoretical framework for thinking about participation which
brings together ideas from the 10
Key Ideas section.
The summary below covers the main ideas:
- There are different
levels of participation appropriate for different
situations, and it is important to decide where you
- There isn't one
`community' but many interests - or stakeholders - to
- Participation takes
These ideas are then
developed in more detail in following sections:
Summary of the framework
The framework is developed
from the idea of a ladder of participation discussed in the
Key Issues section.
The framework adds two other dimensions to the idea of the
level of participation on a ladder:
- The phase or stage of
- Different interests - or
stakeholders - may be at different levels or stages of
1 The level of
participation - where do you stand?
See the set of questions at
the end of this section about who `you' are and what you are
trying to achieve.
The ladder of participation model described in the
some levels are better than others. In this framework I
suggest it is more of a case of horses for courses -
different levels are appropriate in different
The key issue is what `stance' are you taking as someone
managing a participation process, or controlling resources,
and your reasons for doing so.
I suggest thinking of five levels - or stances - which offer
increasing degrees of control to the others
- The least you can do is
tell people what is planned.
- You offer a number of
options and listen to the feedback you get.
- You encourage others to
provide some additional ideas and options, and join in
deciding the best way forward.
- Not only do different
interests decide together what is best, but they form a
partnership to carry it out.
independent community initiatives
- You help others do what
they want - perhaps within a framework of grants, advice
and support provided by the resource holder.
The 'lower' level of
participation keep control with the initiator - but they
lead to less commitment from others.
Compare this diagram with Sherry Arnstein's ladder in
Each of these levels is discussed in more detail in the next
main section: Where
do you stand?
2 The phase - where have you got to?
Participation is a process
in which people have to think through what they want,
consider some options, and work through what should happen.
I suggest there are four main phases:
- The phase at which
something triggers the need to involve people, and you
start to think what that involves.
- The period when you
think through the process, make the first contacts, and
agree an approach.
- The phase in which you
use participation methods with the main interests in the
- What happens in this
phase will depend very much on the level of participation
- you may be reporting back on consultation, or at
another level setting up partnership
These different phases are
discussed in more detail in the section It takes
3 People - who is involved?
Some people will want - or demand - more involvement than
others. Others will wish not to be involved. Identifying
these different interests - stakeholders - and negotiating
the level of participation appropriate is the third
dimension of the framework
Some of the main issues in
participation are about where power and control lies between
these interests, and the role of `you' in this.
Before starting a
participation process it is important to reflect on the role
you have - the hat you are wearing. The way you act may be
influenced by how far you control resources, to whom you are
answerable. People's attitudes to you will certainly be
influenced by the role and power they think you
It is also essential to
clarify the purpose of participation - because that will
determine which stakeholders benefit.
These issues are discussed
in the items on Beneficiaries, Power and
The nature of effective participation
I think participation may
work best for all concerned when each of the key interests -
the stakeholders - is satisfied with the level of
participation at which they are involved.
That is, those who don't have much at stake may be happy to
be informed or consulted. Others will want to be involved in
decisions and possibly action to carry them out.
The difficult task for the practitioner managing the process
is to identify these interests, help them work out what they
want from the process, and negotiate a route for them to
The power of the practitioner lies in influencing who will
benefit. Participation is not a neutal process. As
- What is the purpose of
- Who benefits? Who pays?
With different interests seeking different levels of
participation, and being in different phases, effective
participation can seem like shooting an arrow through a
number of keyholes.
Some early questions
At the start of a
participation process a number of key questions should help
you decide your approach:
Who are you? For example:
- Someone in a position of
power controlling funds or other resources.
- Someone with influence
because you are planning or managing a participation
- Someone with
professional expertise or knowledge?
What do you want to
achieve by working a participatory style?
- To try and develop plans
that meet people's expectations.
- To give people a say in
- To give people control
over the solutions.
Who will have the final
say over decisions?
- A management
- Everyone who gets
- A political institution
or other body
How ready are people, and
organisations, to work in a participatory
- Do they have the
- Do they have the
- Do they have the