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A-Z intro

The A-Z of Effective Participation

Section E - K here....A-D | L-R | S-Z |

Equal opportunities
Five Ws plus H
Focus Groups
For and Against
Force Field Analysis
Framework For Participation

Games and simulations
Getting things done
Identity and image
Information system
Information Technology
Kolb's cycle


Empowerment is a working style which aims to help people achieve their own purpose by increasing their confidence and capacity.

Guidelines for empowerment

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 collectively.
  • 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 beyond them.
  • Be realistic about what can be achieved.

See also Communication, Confidence, Limits, Outcomes, Role of the practitioner and the section on Power.

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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.

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Equal opportunities

Considering equal 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 partner?
  • Do you use large enough type faces for people with visual disabilities?
  • Is material produced in languages which reflect the cultural mix of the community?
  • 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.

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Evaluation is checking whether you have succeeded, monitoring is checking how you are doing along the way. Both require criteria.

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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 exhibitions.

Exhibition guidelines

  • Involve the community your are addressing in preparing material
  • Avoid jargon - use familiar terms
  • Use memorable phrases or facts
  • Be imaginative in using illustrations, video and drama
  • Make sure you are relevant and timely - give people enough time to respond
  • Take the exhibition to people, perhaps using mobile displays
  • Provide back up information
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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.

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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.

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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 planning.

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.

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Five Ws plus H

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.

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Focus Groups

Focus groups are small groups of people who work through a particular issue in workshop sessions.

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For and Against

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.

Pros and cons

When, in decision making, you have more than one possible option which could provide a solution:

  • Make two columns on a sheet of paper, one headed For and one Against.
  • List all the points in favour and against, for each solution.
  • Add at the bottom of each list any other factors which might influence you.
  • Weigh the fors and againsts in making a decision.
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Force Field Analysis

This is a technique for working out the forces driving towards a solution you want, and those against.

Force field analysis

1 Describe the problem as:

  • The present situation.
  • 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 those against.

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.

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Framework For Participation

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 initiatives
  • The phase of the activity, from Initiation to Continuation.
  • The key interests, or stakeholders involved.

See the Framework section.

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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 support you?
  • Will you need more money later when initial funds are used up?
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Games and simulations

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 effective.

See also Community planning weekends.

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Getting things done

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 decisions.

See also Approach, Enabling, Facilitation, Leadership, Role of the practitioner.

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Understanding groups is important in participation processes because:

  • Many of the participants - stakeholders - will be members of formal or informal groups.
  • Working in groups - that is, holding workshops - is one of the most effective participation methods.
  • 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 section:

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.

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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.

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An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.

Robert Frost.

The book 101 Ways to Generate Great Ideas provides sections on generating ideas yourself, and in groups. These include:

  • Carry a pocket dictating machine.
  • Close your eyes and let you mind wander.
  • Don't say 'But, say 'And'.
  • Have a brainstorming session.
  • Use a facilitator.
  • Make a clay model of the problem.

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 make decisions.

See also Options.

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Identity and image

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 your image

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 messy.

4 Ask 'Who is the image for?' and discuss if the same image works for all. If not, make new sheets for each audience.

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 plan.

Summarised from Organising in voluntary and community groups resource pack. Resource 32.

See also Communication.

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Knowledge is power. Francis Bacon

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 for manoeuvre
  • The course of action doesn't affect others.
  • At the start of a consultation or other process.

Choose a different level if:

  • 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 them.

See the section on information in Where do you stand?

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Information system

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 of contacts.
  • 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.

See Administrative system.

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Information Technology

To err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer. Farmers Almanac for 1978.

Information technology is the collection, processing, storage and dissemination of information using computers and telecommunications.

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 flows

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.

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The first of four stages of the participation process described in the section It takes time. 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.

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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 contents.
  • Employers' liability.
  • Handling money.
  • Use of vehicles.
  • Professional advice indemnity.
  • Trustees liability.

Consult another voluntary organisation or an insurance broker, and assign responsibility for maintaining insurance cover. See the book Voluntary but not Amateur.

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Kolb's cycle

Brenda Rogers offers this four minute method of making decisions in How to solve your problems.

Quick decisions

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 feelings.

3 During the third minute ask yourself about your theories on 1 and 2 - why you feel that, what you expect to happen.

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 No

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