Section E - K
Empowerment is a working
style which aims to help people achieve their own purpose by
increasing their confidence and capacity.
If you aim to empower those
involved in a participation process:
- Be explicit about what
you are trying to do, and your role.
- Start where people are
at - relate your proposals to their concerns.
- Use language and ideas
everyone can relate to.
- Help clarify what the
various interests are trying to achieve, individually and
- Look for agreement on
the outcomes people want. If that is not possible, be
clear who your actions will help.
- Build on people's skills
and experience, rather than always expect them to step
- Be realistic about what
can be achieved.
See also Communication,
Confidence, Limits, Outcomes, Role of the practitioner
and the section on Power.
Enabling within a
participation process is helping people achieve their
purpose at agreed level of participation. It
involve helping people understand, join in decision making,
or participate actively in some initiative.
opportunities means thinking about and challenging
situations in which people may not participate fully because
of, for example, their disabilities, culture, gender,
ethnicity, learning difficulties. Equal opportunities mean
taking participation seriously.
- Do examples you use
reflect only `white' culture?
- Do you refer to temples,
mosques, synagogues as well as churches?
- Does your language
suggest norms which may not be shared by all - for
example, wife and husband rather than
- Do you use large enough
type faces for people with visual
- Is material produced in
languages which reflect the cultural mix of the
- Do you provide a signer
at public meetings?
If possible work with a
co-facilitator of a different race, gender class or
sexuality from yourself.
Evaluation is checking
whether you have succeeded, monitoring is checking how you
are doing along the way. Both require criteria.
Exhibitions may be used to
highlight an issue, report on a survey, or offer people some
options. As such they provide information, and allow some
consultation. Unless they are part of more substantial
process they will not, in themselves, help people
participate actively in making decisions. Creating
Involvement provides guidelines for publicity and
- Involve the community
your are addressing in preparing material
- Avoid jargon - use
- Use memorable phrases or
- Be imaginative in using
illustrations, video and drama
- Make sure you are
relevant and timely - give people enough time to
- Take the exhibition to
people, perhaps using mobile displays
- Provide back up
There are few things more
demoralising for all concerned than to have the key person
pull out part way through a complex participation process.
Almost as bad is for someone who presented themselves as
facilitator or enabler to hang in long after key issues have
been resolved, or a group developed its own momentum and
confidence. For that reason it is important, if you are
managing a participation process, to consider how and when
to leave as well as how to start.
Everyone is ignorant,
only on different subjects. Will Rogers.
It may be necessary to seek professional advice on several
fronts: for example, it is important to consult a solicitor
when setting up a charitable company if you are to avoid
problems and delays.
The local Citizens Advice Bureau, and Council for Voluntary
Service provide signposting to advisers. However, empowering
participation processes are about finding out how to do
things for yourself, and a good place to start is with the
group you are working with.
See also Skills Audit.
Much of this guide is about
facilitation - helping others think through what they want
and organise themselves to achieve it. The role of the
practitioner - as someone managing a participation process -
is frequently that of facilitator.
Three books, listed in Useful Publications, provide detailed
guidance on facilitating groups:
Change and how to help it happen covers preparation,
team building, equal opportunities, problem solving, and
Resource Manual for a Living Revolution includes a
section on facilitation, problems that commonly arise, and
tools frequently used at meetings.
A Manual for Group Facilitators deals with the ethics
of facilitation as well step-by-step guidelines, techniques
and what may go wrong.
The simplest questions
are the hardest to answer. Northrop Frye
Whatever you are planning to do five Ws provide a simple
checklist to help you think of the issues:
What are you trying to do, decide, explain?
When must you start and finish?
Why is it necessary?
Who needs to be consulted, involved?
Where is it happening?
H stands for How, which you need to consider after
running through the Ws.
See also Action plans.
Focus groups are small
groups of people who work through a particular issue in
Decide: to succumb to the
preponderance of one set of influences over another set.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary.
An even simpler version of Cost/benefit analysis, also known
as pros and cons.
When, in decision making,
you have more than one possible option which could provide a
- Make two columns on a
sheet of paper, one headed For and one
- List all the points in
favour and against, for each solution.
- Add at the bottom of
each list any other factors which might influence
- Weigh the fors and
againsts in making a decision.
This is a technique for
working out the forces driving towards a solution you
want, and those against.
1 Describe the problem
- The present
- The situation as you
would like it to be.
2 List the forces for, and
those against. Underline those most important, and identify
those you can influence.
3 Brainstorm how you can increase the forces for, and reduce
The idea behind force field analysis is that you can achieve
more by reducing the forces against than simply pressing
harder - which may simply increase the resistance.
Adapted from Getting Organised.
This guide suggests thinking
about three dimensions of participation:
- The level of
participation which is appropriate, from simply providing
information to offering support for independent community
- The phase of the
activity, from Initiation to Continuation.
- The key interests, or
If the participation process
is more than simple information-giving or consultation,
there may well come a time when outside resources will be
needed. In planning any fundraising consider:
- What do you need the
money for, and how much? Do a Budget.
- When will you need it?
Produce a Timeline.
- What will you do if you
can't raise the total you need?
- Who is likely to give
you the money?
- Why should they want to
- Will you need more money
later when initial funds are used up?
Games and simulations offer
some of the most effective techniques for helping people to
`play through' the issues and understand the interests of
the different stakeholders.
Designing simulations obliges you to think through who the
different interests are, the problems they may face, the
rules by they may operate and so on.
At their simplest simulations may involve taking a
particular issue and getting people to adopt different roles
and negotiate with each other. More complex simulations can
run over several days.
I have listed two books in Useful Publications, one
educational, and one about management games, but haven't
found any references which are particularly relevant to
participation process. The technique Planning for Real has
achieved popularity not least, I suspect, because it is one
of the few packages available.
I have developed a `Business Planning for Real' simulation
in which a steering group or Board plays through different
project, staffing and funding options with the aid of a
computer running a spreadsheet and found that highly
See also Community planning weekends.
It is easier to seek
forgiveness than to ask permission. Paddy Docherty.
How you make things happen within a participation process
depends on the style you adopt , the role you play, and what
you are trying to achieve. The style needed to run a project
or organisation may not be appropriate for someone seeking
to help others to understand problems and make
See also Approach,
Enabling, Facilitation, Leadership, Role of the
Understanding groups is
important in participation processes because:
- Many of the participants
- stakeholders - will be members of formal or informal
- Working in groups - that
is, holding workshops - is one of the most effective
- Groups are generally
necessary to plan and take forward projects.
- Well-tried methods of
developing and running groups can be more widely useful
in participation processes.
The most effective
longer-term groups are those where people share a common
purpose and can provide support for each other, recognising
that each person brings different skills, ideas and
attitudes. See two of the books in the Useful publications
Planning Together offers a detailed set of exercises
particularly suitable for groups within organisation. These
range from taking stock, developing and sharing a vision, to
getting organised and evaluating progress.
Training and How to Enjoy It is a collection of
training exercises covering groups and meetings; publicity
and campaigning; equal opportunities; finance and funding;
planning and problem solving.
See also Team building.
Icebreakers are techniques
to help a group of people get to know each other. At its
simplest, just ask people to turn to their neighbour and
come up with a few questions or ideas around a point you
have raised. People usually start by explaining who they
are, why they are there before getting around to what you
asked - which is the purpose of the exercise.
An idea is a feat of
association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.
The book 101 Ways to Generate Great Ideas provides
sections on generating ideas yourself, and in groups. These
- Carry a pocket dictating
- Close your eyes and let
you mind wander.
- Don't say 'But, say
- Have a brainstorming
- Use a
- Make a clay model of the
Or take Robert Frost's
suggestion and think of an analogy - see that item. Ideas
can be refined to become the options you need in order to
See also Options.
We judge information by
style as well as content - just as we form judgements about
people by the clothes they wear. Corporate identity is the
designer's term for the way everything about an organisation
looks and sounds, from the typeface of the letterhead to the
way staff answer the telephone. This is important in
participation processes because:
- People are sophisticated
in their judgements of identity. They will subconsciously
check whether for example, your open, friendly, personal
style fits with the aggressive, inflexible promotional
material of your organisation. If not, they won't trust
your ability to deliver what you say if that involves
others in your organisation.
- Working with a designer
and writer to develop identity on a large project is an
excellent way of clarifying what you are trying to say
and to whom.
- Once you have developed
a strong sense of identify you have to live up to it. If
presentation starts to outweigh performance, people will
spot it rapidly. The resulting feeling of discomfort is a
useful form of monitoring - either you deceived yourself
at the outset or you are off course.
Developing agreement on
To develop agreement within
a group about the way you wish to present yourself:
1 Write on a chart 'What image do we need if we are to meet
our objectives?' Everyone writes down three words
characterising the organisation.
2 People pair up and explain their choices
3 Each pair in turn to announces and explains their words.
Write the words up on a chart. You could use Post-it notes
and cluster similar terms. Redraw the chart if it is
4 Ask 'Who is the image for?' and discuss if the same image
works for all. If not, make new sheets for each
5 List ways the organisation relates to outsiders - e.g.
telephone contacts, letter-writing. Small groups develop
ideas on how to live up to the image.
6 Produce summary charts from 3, 4 and 5. Develop an action
Summarised from Organising in voluntary and community
groups resource pack. Resource 32.
See also Communication.
Knowledge is power.
Information is the level of participation which offers least
involvement - it is more an essential basis for real
participation at `higher' levels than participatory in
itself. It is appropriate where, for example:
- There really is no room
- The course of action
doesn't affect others.
- At the start of a
consultation or other process.
Choose a different level
- You are seeking to
empower community interests. Information is necessary for
empowerment, but seldom enough on its own.
- There are alternatives
and others have a legitimate interest in developing
See the section on
information in Where
do you stand?
Information systems are the
means by which you organise the collection, storage and
dissemination of information. These may include your
internal administrative systems, the letters you write,
print you produce, meetings you hold. The methods may
include the use of information technology.
A participation process requires an information system which
can deal with:
- The lack of a common
language - jargon often gets in the way.
- The lack of common ways
of communicating - people don't all work in the same
organisation, read the same papers, go to the same
meetings. Information systems are particularly important
if the organisational structure you are moving towards is
a network. Information is the glue which hold networks
together that may lack a formal constitution.
A basic system
A basic information system
for participation might include:
- A card index or database
- A range of ways of
providing information - face to face networking as well
as leaflets, meetings etc.
- A system for recording
and reporting back what has occurred. This might be a
bulletin, or follow up meeting for example.
- Appropriate elements of
an administrative system.
To err is human but to
really foul things up requires a computer. Farmers Almanac
Information technology is the collection, processing,
storage and dissemination of information using computers and
Like all communication methods IT can work for or against
the involvement and empowerment of different groups. As the
cost of computing falls, small groups can manage their
mailing lists, produce newsletters and even manage their
accounts using computers. They can also waste a lot of time
and effort. Before using computers:
- Clarify the aims and
objectives of a project of organisation. If these aren't
clear IT may just add to the confusion
- Work out the type of
information you are handling and the channels it must
flow through (letters, mailing lists, newsletters,
project records). This will define the software you use -
word processing, database etc.
- Define who is
responsible for managing the information
In buying computers expect
to spend as much on software and training as you do on the
hardware - the computers, printer and other equipment.
Expect to take some time to get a system up and running.
Some participation techniques use computers. See Priority
Search, Village Appraisals.
The first of four stages of
the participation process described in the section
In this phase some event - a campaign, plans for a
project, an offer of funding - triggers the need to involve
different interests. The key issues are then who should be
involved, and at what level.
See also Stakeholders, Level of participation.
Groups undertaking any
significant activities should check their requirements for
insurance. For example:
- Public liability
insurance to cover members of the group and public for
personal injury or damage to property.
- Premises and
- Use of
- Professional advice
Consult another voluntary
organisation or an insurance broker, and assign
responsibility for maintaining insurance cover. See the book
Voluntary but not Amateur.
Brenda Rogers offers this
four minute method of making decisions in How to solve
With a clock, first get
clear what event or problem you are considering, then:
1 Spend one minute considering how you feel -
emotions, not profound ideas.
2 Spend another minute reflecting on these
3 During the third minute ask yourself about your
theories on 1 and 2 - why you feel that, what you expect to
4 Take half a minute to reach a decision.
5 In the final half minute consider actions.
See also Decision making, Plan, Act, Review, Yes or