Signposts from theory to practice
This section sets out how I have designed some of the signposting in this Guide - the cross-references from problems to participation techniques. It is rather theoretical, and if you wish you can skip it and move to the next sections.
The nature of signposting
The original idea of this guide was to help practitioners who subscribe to the `why' of participation find their way to the `how'. In practice signposting is complex for several reasons:
For these reasons, this section - and the complementary `Guidelines on How to.. section - cannot provide a step by step manual. Instead I have tried to offer a number of ways of looking at the route from participation problems to solutions, with some pointers to topics and methods which are detailed in the A-Z section.
The starting point - problems
Whatever level of participation you are offering, and whatever phase you are in, there will be problems.
So what do you do when the going gets tough? Reach for a solution - a participation tool or method. You may go and talk to people, produce another piece of paper, run a workshop, set up a committee, or perhaps give someone else the job. The later section on Problems suggests which methods may be most appropriate in common situations. But what do we mean by participation methods?
The end point - participation methods
The methods for participation included in the guide fall broadly under three headings - techniques, structures and longer-term programmes.
Techniques are frequently used short-term interventions employed by consultants and trainers. They range from communication materials and simple workshop sessions through to more complex methods of decision-making, like Strategic Choice. They can be very useful ways of concentrating efforts to involve people, but should not be seen as 'quick fixes'. Participation takes time, and techniques will usually need to be part of a long-term programme, or related to a structure - see below.
Both interim and longer-term organisational structures are used in participation processes. They range from working parties and advisory committees to organisations like development trusts, and community-based coops. Local councils and similar organisations often favour structures because they mirror or can be linked to their committee systems and the procedures which go with them. They can stand in the way of real participation for those involved unless their purpose is clear, the balance of control or influence is agreed, and their proceedings are enlivened by workshop techniques.
These are processes for participation, planned over a period of time, which may involve staff devoted partly or wholly to the programme as well as the use of techniques and structures.
The bridge - key issues
The problems in
participation processes seem to relate to about 15
underlying issues. If can spot the issue, by asking the
right questions, you may be able to find a participation
method to use. I have listed what I think are the key issues
below, with some signposts to methods.
See CATWOE, Community
profiling, Stakeholders, Surveys, SWOT iin
Skills audit, SWOT in
See Aims and objectives,
Mission, Nominal Group Technique, Outcomes, Purpose, Vision
Recruitment, Roles iin
See Apathy, Commitment,
Meetings, Presentations in
See Criteria, Evaluation,
See Negotiation, Outcomes
Skills audit in
11 Generating options
Creative thinking, Ideas, Options, Nominal Group Technique
See Action plans,
Cost/Benefit Analysis, Strategic choice in
See Business planning,
Competence, Constitutions, Structures in
Governance, Management in
A community participation questions set
To ensure a broad. coherent approach to community participation, consider the following:
Has the nature and extent of commitment to participation. amongst all those involved, been made clear at the outset? Have major differences been addressed?
2 Education for participation
Has some opportunity been provided to ensure some positive `induction' to the participation process for local people, professionals, elected members and others?
Has it been decided whether, and in what general ways, a participative approach is applicable to all types of specific project or continuing initiative?
Has something been done to ensure that the pattern and detail of participation activity is not determined totally by whoever initiates it? Is there a shared feeling of `ownership'?
Within a general principle of attempting to achieve the fullest possible involvement on any project, are all parties clear about, and do they accept, the level of participation on offer?
6 Delivering agreed scope
Are those in positions of power to influence the end outcome (elected members, officers, developers, funders) able to deliver the agreed level of involvement? (If it cannot be delivered, it should not be offered.)
7 All Stages
Is participation being started as early as possible in the planning and development process, and how can you make it something which should go right through from initiation to completion (and even into later community management)?
8 Defining Overall Community
Have the definitions of `area' and `overall community', used to determine who has an opportunity to be involved, been negotiated with all parties. and how will they be redefined if necessary as work proceeds?
9 Engaging Communities
Have the ground rules for how the many sub-communities within the area are defined, located and accessed been considered at the outset and agreed with all parties, and how will it be enlarged and extended as work proceeds?
Have those managing the involvement process, along with other parties, agreed an overall, coherent approach which ensures that all relevant issues are addressed and which considers the participation process over time?
11 Relevant Methods
Have the methods to be used been carefully chosen to relate closely to the scope of the work, the definitions of communities used, the stage of the involvement and the available skills and resources?
12 Range of methods
In general, is a range of methods to be used in order to increase the chances of engaging the largest number of people?
Have all resources available for the work been assessed, considered and valued - including `work equity' by community groups and others? Is there agreement about how those resources are best disposed throughout the work?
Through what means will those managing the participation process ensure that the manner in which work is handled creates a sense of trust within the community about the fairness and neutrality of the process?
Has there been consideration at an early stage of the manner in which the many views and ideas emerging from the participation process are assembled, weighted and used in relation to reaching any decisions? In particular, who will do this?
16 Going forward
Has thought been given to
how practice should be evaluated in retrospect and time
given, for all parties, to consider how best to take forward
the lessons learned into subsequent involvement
What general support is
there from your organisation, is the time right to be doing
this, are there any specific 'windows of opportunity' you
can use to get things going? Where are the enemies and the
barriers likely to come? Can you influence any of these?
This question set was supplied by consultants BDOR.