Guide home
Guide introduction
Guided tour
10 key ideas
Easy answers
Where do you stand?
It takes time
Theory to practice

A tour of the Guide

The start of the guide is a mixture of theory and practice which signposts readers to topics and methods for participation in the A-Z. It doesn't read like a step-by-step manual or cookbook for several reasons:

  • Every situation is different, and while there are some common guidelines and pitfalls, you have to work out your own menu and which recipes are appropriate.
  • Effective and successful participation is about style and approach as much as particular recipes.
  • Different methods suit different people.


The main theoretical ideas are summarised under 10 key ideas for participation. For example:

  • I have adapted Sherry Arnstein's idea of a ladder of participation in which the rungs are different levels of participation that authorities may allow to citizens. Are people being manipulated, or offered some control over their lives?
  • Perhaps the most important issues then are who's who - and who decides. Who controls the money, the design of projects, how services are run? What are the different interests in the community? And who decides their levels on the ladder? These are the stakeholders.
  • This guide is written mainly for people - here termed practitioners - who have to make those decisions and work with the different interests.
  • This participation process takes place over time, and four main phases are identified: initiation, preparation, participation, continuation.
  • Different interests may seek different levels of participation, and be involved at different phases of participation.
  • The commitment - or apathy - of different interests will depend mainly on the ownership they have of any ideas, and the involvement they are offered in putting ideas into practice.

This theory is developed in more detail in later sections:

A Framework for participation brings together the ideas about levels, phases and stakeholders.

Where do you stand? develops each of the levels in more detail, with guidelines on when each may be most appropriate, and the methods you might use.

It takes time explores the phases of the process from initiation through to continuation, and places strong emphasis on the need for preparation before you start participation proper.

Signposts from theory to practice identifies some common issues and questions which keep cropping up in participation processes, and uses them to provide some signposts to topics and techniques in the A-Z section. Signposts is the most complex of the sections, and is included so that you see the ideas which underlie the other sections.


The first practical section - Easy Answers - comes directly after the Key Ideas to provide some light relief and a flavour of the difficulties that off-the-shelf recipes can produce. Later there are two sections which offer practical suggestions:

Guidelines on how to... provides some overall guidelines for participation, then deals with the main tasks in the participation process from the point of view of someone planning and managing the process.

The A-Z

The A-Z section is a mix of topics and methods which aims to provide a pool of ideas and practical advice to supply more detail for the theory and practice sections.

Using the guide

The guide is not designed to be read through from front to back - you should be able to dip in to it and find cross-references to other sections which will lead you to areas of interest. There is deliberately quite a lot of repetition to allow for this. However, I suggest:

  • Read the sections on 10 Key Ideas and the Framework before tackling any of the practical detailed sections.
  • Use Easy Answers as a way to find some pointers to key practical issues in the A-Z.
  • Only try and use the Guidelines on how to ... section when you feel familiar with most of the rest of the guide.

On to 10 key ideas about participation