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Guidelines and How to....

It is tempting to say that every situation is so different that general guidelines on participation are misleading - but that isn't much comfort to anyone trying to work out how to start.

So here are ten guidelines intended to get you thinking, rather than provide firm rules. Cross references are provided to other main sections and items in the A-Z, and further guidelines on the main tasks are given later. This section - as others - is written for someone managing a participation process. Below the guidelines are some suggestions covering how to:


1 Ask yourself what you wish to achieve from the participation process, and what you want to help others achieve. What is the purpose?

A framework for participation, Beneficiaries, Purpose in the A-Z

2 Identify the different interests within a community that you wish to involve, and put yourself in their shoes.

See Community, Stakeholders in the

3 Clarify your own role and whether you are wearing too many hats - for example, communicator of information, facilitator of ideas, controller of resources.

See Accountability, Role of the Practitioner in the

4 Consider what balance to strike between keeping control and gaining other people's commitment, and what levels of participation this suggests for different interests.

Where do you stand?

5 Invest as much effort in preparation as participation with outside interests.

See Preparation in
It takes time

6 Run internal participation processes to make sure your own organisation is committed and can deliver.

See Preparation in
It takes time

7 Be open and honest about what you are offering or seeking, and communicate in the language of those you are aiming to involve .

See Communication, Trust in the

8 Make contact informally with key interests before running any formal meetings.

See Preparation in
It takes time, Networking in the A-Z

9 Build on existing organisations and networks - but don't use them as the only channel of communication and involvement.

See Networking, Voluntary sector in the

10 Consider the time and resources you will need.

It takes time

How to..

This section takes the guidelines above and issues discussed in the more theoretical sections and suggests how to tackle the main tasks likely to crop up in a participation process. It does so by looking at the key issues from a number of angles, providing checklists, and signposting you on to more detail to other sections in the guide and items in the A-Z section. However, it should be treated as guidance only - not a step-by-step manual.

...clarify why you want to involve others

Why is it necessary to involve other people? Is it for your benefit, theirs, or both?

1 Consider what you are trying to achieve at the end of the day, and why this may be best done with others. See Benefits of participation, Barriers to participation, Outcomes
in the A-Z

2 List the key interests who will have to be involved, both within your organisation and without. See Stakeholder analysis
in the A-Z

3 After following the steps below, try out your ideas informally on a few people you know.

...understand your role

Some of the greatest problems arise because those promoting or managing participation are wearing too many different hats.

1 Consider the part you may be expected to play in a participation process:

  • Someone who controls resources?
  • A go-between?
  • A representative of an interest group?
  • Some who will initiate, plan or manage the process?
  • Someone using participation techniques - producing newsletters, holding meetings, running workshops?

2 If you are trying to do more than one of these, could there be conflicts? How will others see you? Can you split roles with someone else?

3 See Role of the practitioner in the
A-Z and earlier sections on Where do you stand? and It takes time for more detailed descriptions of what is involved in the process.

...decide where you stand

One of the most important early decision is on the appropriate level of participation, or stance you will take.

1 Clarify why you want to involve others, and your possible role - see early steps above.

2 Read the
Framework for participation section, and consider what level of participation is likely to be appropriate:

  • Information: telling people what you are going to do.
  • Consultation: offering people choices between options you have developed.
  • Deciding together: allowing others to contribute ideas and options, and deciding together.
  • Acting together: putting your choices into practice in partnership.
  • Supporting independent community initiatives - helping others carry out their own plans.

3 Review who the key interests are, and what level of participation will be appropriate for each. See Stakeholders in the A-Z

...prepare for participation

Experienced trainers and facilitators reckon that 80 per cent of the potential for success lies in preparing well before engaging with individuals and groups.

1 See the Preparation section in
It Takes time. Work through the internal agenda within your group or organisation. For example:

  • Are your colleagues agreed on what they wish to achieve, and the level of participation?
  • Have you flushed out any hidden agendas?
  • Will the organisation be able to deliver on any promises?

2 Make contact informally with key interests.

  • Review the levels of participation different interests may seek.
  • Consider the possible obstacles which may occur, and the support you will need.

3 Begin to develop a strategy which covers:

  • The main deadlines
  • Resources needed
  • Technical support available

See the Signposts from theory to practice section, Budgets for participation, Timelinein the A-Z

...choose participation methods

The Easy answers section outlines what can occur if you don't think through carefully what methods to use.

1 See the
Signposts section for a theoretical discussion, and pointers to topics and methods featured in the A-Z

2 In choosing a method consider:

  • Is it appropriate for the level of participation? For example, powerful techniques like Planning for Real which give everyone a say are not appropriate for consultation processes where you are really only offering people limited choices.
  • Do you have the necessary skills and resources? A slide show may be more effective than a video.
  • Can you follow through? There is no point doing a survey unless you can handle the responses and use the information.
  • Do you need help? An experienced trainer or facilitator may be necessary for some of the more complex methods.

...develop support within your organisation

Many participation processes fail because the organisations promoting the process cannot deliver when others respond.

1 See the section
It takes time. After reviewing the issues there and above (in ...prepare for participation):

2 Use internally some of the techniques you plan to use externally:

  • Produce communication materials in draft.
  • Run workshop sessions.
  • Encourage others within the organisation to take ownership of the proposals, options or ideas and work them through informally with other interests. That is the best way to gain internal commitment or discover what problems may arise later.

See Commitment planning, Ownership in the A-Z

... and develop your skills as an enabler

Although many of the techniques suggested in this guide are relatively simple, it takes some degree of confidence to run a workshop with community interests for the first time or perhaps argue through with colleagues the need for a long-term participation process. Here are a few suggestions on how to develop your confidence and capability:

  • Contact anyone within your organisation, or locally, with facilitation, training or general community development experience and talk through your plans.
  • Contact one of the organisations listed in this guide who offer training and support
  • Find a low-risk opportunity to try running a workshop using some of the simpler techniques.
  • Or even better run a workshop jointly with an experienced practitioner - perhaps contacted through one of the organisations listed.

...choose an appropriate structure

Participation is not necessarily achieved just by setting up a forum, working group, committee, steering group or other structure. On the other hand, if you are planning or managing a participation process you will need some point of accountability, and the key interests may need to work together formally as well as creatively. In planning the process:

1 Clarify to whom you are accountable at the outset.

2 If you are working at the `acting together' level of participation help key interests form a working group or steering group when appropriate.

3 Review your role and accountability with that new group.

See items on the structures mentioned, and Accountability, Structures for participation, Terms of reference
in the A-Z


Participation processes do not run on rails, and they cannot be set out as a linear step-by-step process. Each of the items above may be seen as a problem which has to be tackled, but not necessarily solved at one go. Plan, act, review - or as they say in the States `do it, fix it, try it'.

Bearing that in mind here is a summary of the main tasks.

The main tasks in summary

Clarify why the participation process is being started, who has the final say, and what your brief is.

See Accountability, Aims and objectives, Mission.
in the A-Z

2 Identify key community interests, including voluntary and community organisations.

See Community profiling, Networking, Stakeholder analysis.
in the A-Z

3 Consider the level of participation appropriate, make informal contacts to identify local concerns, and whether your stance - the level you are adopting - is likely to be acceptable.

See Level of participation, Networking.
in the A-Z

4 Run a workshop session(s) within your organisation to ensure key people are clear about the purpose of the participation process, the roles and responsibilities, and the answers to basic questions which will be asked when you go public.

See Barriers to participation, Workshops
in the A-Z

5 Consider the stance (Inform, Consult etc.) you are taking in more detail, and in the light of that decide on what methods you will use.

See Levels of participation
in the A-Z

6 Review whether your organisation will be able to respond to the feedback, and follow through on any decisions reached.

Review your timescale, and prepare an action plan based on the level of participation. See Action planning
in the A-Z

Final sections are the A-Z and Resources