Often participation is
treated as a limited set of events - a survey, an
exhibition, one or two meetings. However, if participation
is to be more than superficial consultation it must be
treated as a process which takes some time. This section
deals with the main phases of participation, and stresses
that success depends on careful preparation.
The Framework section
suggested treating participation as a process which has four
(Thanks to Allen Hickling
for suggesting these phases during a workshop in Glasgow
Of course, in reality life is never that tidy, and we find
that we are pitched into trying to do things without enough
Often it is difficult to see what to do before trying
something out, and reflecting on what happened. It may only
be then that we find out what the real problem is.
This cycle goes on throughout any process to carry out a
project or programme. Participation is no different.
Because participation doesn't run on predetermined tracks it
isn't possible to set out a step by step guide - every
situation will be different. However there are some key
issues which keep cropping up, and some are more important
in particular phases. The questions and checklists in this
section all relate back to the main question set in the
Signposts from theory to practice section.
The process of participation
may be triggered in many ways:
- A campaign of protest
may be turned into a more collaborative programme of
- An authority may promote
- Government may announce
funding is available for community-based
Often situations will be
messy and unclear, with different people and groups having
different views of what is going on. In order to move into a
planned process of participation, it is important to start
asking some key questions. These will recur in different
- Who is going to champion
- Who pays? Who
administers? Who convenes ?
- What are you trying to
achieve through participation?
- Who are the key
interests in the community?
- Who are the key
interests within any organisation promoting
participation, and what are their attitudes?
- What level of
participation is likely to be appropriate and
- How will you know when
you have succeeded?
For guidance see the section
on How to.., and
Aims and objectives, Confidence, Levels of participation,
As these key issues become
clearer, it is important to prepare on three
- Initial spadework with
whoever is promoting the process.
- Agreeing the approach
with key interests.
- Developing a
facilitators and trainers agree that 80% of successful
participation lies in preparation - so don't skimp on it
Spadework with the
In my experience the
toughest problems in participation processes do not stem
from apathy, ignorance or lack of skills among residents or
other community interests. Given time and effort these can
be worked through.
The most intractable problems arise because organisations
promoting participation aren't clear about what they want to
achieve, are fearful of sharing control, and seldom speak
with one voice.
Unless these issues are tackled at the outset they are
likely to lead to frustration, conflict and disillusion
further down the line.
The key issue is, what does the promoting organisation want
from the participation process? The most common goals
- Improving the quality of
the outcome - the project or programme.
- Developing the
capabilities of the participants.
- Building working
relationships of benefit for the future.
- Increasing ownership and
the acceptability of the outcome.
In preparing a participation
process it is important to consider the mix of these desired
goals, and whether they are they realistic. In particular,
is there the internal commitment within the organisation to
bring them about? A group of experienced practitioners who
discussed these issues at the Gorbals workshop in November
1993, developed the following checklist.
- What does the
organisation want to achieve from the participation
- What are the boundaries
of the task? What is fixed, and what is still
- What level of
participation is appropriate with the different outside
- Can the organisation
respond to the outcomes of the process or are they
intending to manipulate the participants towards
- What is the `real'
agenda? Are there any hidden agendas?
- What is the history of
the issues, and what are the positions of the various
- Who owns the process
within the organisation? Is there more than one owner and
if so how will this be managed?
- Are the senior officers
and politicians prepared to make a public commitment and
to be accessible to the participants?
- Who is involved
internally? Have they got their internal act together?
Are they really committed to the process? Will they stick
at it when the going gets tough?
- What resources are
available? How much time is there?
- How does this measure up
to the support or involvement expected by community
If you are acting as the
manager of the participation process it is important that
the internal `client' understands, agrees and values your
In order to achieve this understanding it is a good idea to
apply participation techniques to the internal process with
the client After this experience they are more likely to
understand the techniques you use and support you when you
apply them externally.
Before starting the formal
processes of producing leaflets, calling meetings or running
workshops it is important to understand who's who and what
outcomes they may be looking for. Here's a checklist of some
of the early tasks and issues:
- Consider the potential
obstacles to participation, for example: rigid views,
authoritarian cultures, grudges and antagonisms, passive
and hard-to-reach interest groups, NlMBYs (Not in My Back
Yard), professionals and technicians with poor
communication skills, groups defending perceived power
and status, or lacking the confidence, skills, or
knowledge to participate. How will these be
- Meet the key agencies
and lobbies. Get out and network formally and informally.
Open new lines of communication. Meet one-to-one when
possible to encourage candid responses.
- There are four main
groups of participants: politicians; decision makers and
resource holders; activists; and ordinary people. How
will you get beyond the (often self-appointed) activists?
How will you pro-actively involve hard-to-reach
- Not everyone has an
equal stake: build in different levels of involvement for
different levels of commitment. Not everyone needs to be
involved in every issue at every level and at every
- Help the parties decide
how their representatives will relate to their
- Research the
availability of additional resources. Bring potential
funders into the process.
- Get back to the client
and gain assent to the process design.
Agreeing the approach - a
After discussions with the
internal client and external interests, you should be able
to develop a strategy for the participation process. The
precise nature of the strategy will, of course, depend upon
circumstances and the level of participation sought with
different interests. These issues are dealt with in more
detail in the `How to...' section. Here are some of the main
points to cover:
As far as possible gain
agreement of all parties to the following:
- The aims of the process
and how progress will be evaluated.
- The `feel' of the
process: the style and tone.
- The groupings, forums
and decision cycles to be employed.
- Precisely what authority
is being delegated to whom.
- The appropriate
approaches and techniques, taking into account time
scale, objectives, resources, openness of information
- The ground-rules: how
are we going to deal with each other?
- The resources available
and any conditions attached.
- The technical and
administrative services available.
- The mechanisms for
recording and disseminating information.
- The level of support and
resources to be made available.
Some of these issues may
have to evolve with the process: it may not be possible to
agree everything at the start. If it seems worth the risk,
you may just have to get some action off the ground and work
out the details as you go along. You should also:
- Bear in mind that people
have limited patience and attention spans: how will you
deal with long lead times?
- Be sure everyone
understands the constraints: what the process will
not achieve for them. Unrealistic expectations can
only lead to disillusionment.
- Be realistic about what
can be achieved with the time and resources
See also items
the A-Z on
Action plans, Budgets for participation, Communication,
During this phase you will
be running events, producing printed materials and using a
range of methods. The Guidelines
on How to... section
The following are some of tips which emerged from
brainstorming sessions with experienced practitioners about
this phase of the process:
- Don't underestimate
people. Give them tools to manage complexity don't,
shield them from it.
- Divide the issues into
- Start with people's own
concerns and the issues relevant to them. Don't
superimpose your own ideas and solutions at the
- Help people widen their
perceptions of the choices available and to clarify the
implications of each option.
- Build in visible early
successes to develop the confidence of participants.
`Staircase' skills, trust and commitment to the process:
offer a progressive range of levels of involvement and
help people to move up the ladder.
- Direct empowerment
training for participants may not be appreciated - it may
be better to develop skills more organically as part of
- If at all possible,
avoid going for a comprehensive irreversible solution.
Set up an iterative learning process, with small, quick,
reversible pilots and experiments.
- Continuously review and
widen membership. As new interests groups are discovered
how will they be integrated into the process?
- Help people to build
their understanding of complex and remote decision
processes which are outside the delegated powers of the
participation process but which are affecting the
- Nurture new networks and
- Plans must be meaningful
and lead to action.
- Manage the link between
the private ability of the various interest groups to
deliver on their commitments and the public
accountability and control of the
- Build in opportunities
for reflection and appraisal.
- Make sure people are
Continuation - keeping going
The final phase in a
participation process. By this time it should be clear how
any agreed proposals are going to be taken forward. How this
is done will depend very much on the level of
At one level - of consultation - you may have worked through
some prepared options with different interests and then
agreed to take the results away for evaluation and
At another level - working together - you may be setting up
new partnership organisations.
- Did we achieve what we
set out to do in the process?
- Were the key interests
happy with the level of involvement?
- Have we reported back to
people on the outcomes?
- Are responsibilities
clear for carrying projects forward?
- Are there major lessons
we can learn for the next time?
Groups and organisations,
like relationships, go through recognisable stages. The
early stages have been described as:
- Forming: coming
together as a group, getting to know each other, deciding
what the group's concerns and emphases should
- Storming: coming
to terms with differences within the group.
- Norming: agreeing
objectives, priorities, procedures, ways of relating to
getting on with the work, without having to spend a lot
of time and energy deciding what needs doing and how it
should be done.
All of this is difficult
enough in a group which meets frequently, or in a formal
organisation. It should be no surprise that it is even more
complex in a participation process when so many different
interests have to find a common vision. Don't be