10 key ideas about participation
Behind the detailed suggestions in the guide about how to manage participation effectively are 10 key ideas. Each of these is also dealt with in the A-Z and in other sections.
Level of participation
Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes in the United States, described a ladder of participation with eight steps. I have altered this model to five stances detailed in the Framework section:
I do not suggest any one
stance is better than any other - it is rather a matter of
`horses for courses'. Different levels are appropriate at
different times to meet the expectations of different
Sherry Arnstein's ladder is available in full here
Initiation and process
This guide deals with situations where someone, or some organisation, seeks to involve others at some level - that is, participation doesn't just happen, it is initiated. Someone (termed here a practitioner) then manages a process over time, and allows others involved more or less control over what happens. In the guide the process is described during four phases: Initiation - Preparation - Participation - Continuation.
The initiator is in a strong position to decide how much or how little control to allow to others - for example, just information, or a major say in what is to happen. This decision is equivalent to taking a stand on the ladder - or adopted a stance about the level of participation.
Power and purpose
involves understanding power: the ability of the different
interests to achieve what they want. Power will depend on
who has information and money. It will also depend on
people's confidence and skills. Many organisations are
unwilling to allow people to participate because they fear
loss of control: they believe there is only so much power to
go around, and giving some to others means losing your
Role of the practitioner
This guide is written mainly for people who are planning or managing participation processes - here termed `practitioners'. Because these practitioners control much of what happens it is important they constantly think about the part they are playing.
Stakeholders and community
I think that `stakeholders' is one piece of jargon which really helps our understanding of participation. On the other hand `community' can be a hindrance.
A stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in what happens. The term forces us to think about who will be affected by any project, who controls the information, skills and money needed, who may help and who may hinder. It does not follow that everyone affected has an equal say; the idea of the ladder is to prompt thinking about who has most influence.
Community is a problem term if it is used as a blanket description for `all those other people'. There are many communities, defined by, for example, people's shared interests, locality, age or gender. The `community' which participates will depend on the project or programme because different people are interested in different issues. Where community is used in the guide it is shorthand for communities.
Partnership, like community, is a much abused term. I think it is useful when a number of different interests willingly come together formally or informally to achieve some common purpose. The partners don't have to be equal in skills, funds or even confidence, but they do have to trust each other and share some commitment. In participation processes - as in our personal and social lives - building trust and commitment takes time.
Commitment is the other side of apathy: people are committed when they want to achieve something, apathetic when they don't. But what leads to commitment? Not, in my experience, telling people `you ought to care', inviting them to public meetings or bombarding them with glossy leaflets. I think people care about what they are interested in, and become committed when they feel they can achieve something. Hard selling won't achieve that. If people are apathetic about your proposals, it may simply be that they don't share your interests or concerns.
Ownership of ideas
People are most likely to be committed to carry something through if they have a stake in the idea. One of the biggest barriers to action is `not invented here'. The antidote is to allow people to say `we thought of that'. In practice that means running brainstorming workshops, helping people think through the practicality of ideas, and negotiating with others a result which is acceptable to as many people as possible.
Clearly this isn't possible if you are simply providing people with information about your own ideas, or consulting them on a limited number of ideas of your own. Apathy is directly proportional to the stake people have in ideas and outcomes.
Confidence and capacity
Ideas and wish lists are
little use if they cannot be put into practice. The ability
to do that depends as much on people's confidence and skills
as it does on money. Many participation processes involve
breaking new ground - tackling difficult projects and
setting up new forms of organisations.