Good Practice Participation Principles

These principles apply to all participation activities and will help make your exercise a successful one, whichever tools you employ.

Click on a principle to read more about it.

1. Clarity

The entire process needs to be transparent from the initial design of the ‘challenge’ to its ultimate outcome. From the outset you and all interested parties need to be clear about the aims, remit and scope. In particular, you should prepare a format for the outcome of the exercise and validate it both with those who are going to participate and with subsequent decision makers.

2. Inclusivity

If your participatory exercise is going to be effective in informing policies and decisions, you will need to engage an appropriate range of different political voices and citizen perspectives. In ensuring that all affected interests are represented you will often need to go beyond the 'usual stakeholders' to include marginalised voices and hard to reach groups.

3. Appropriateness

The tool or methods you choose for your exercise must be appropriate to your goals and intended audience(s). For example, statutory public sector consultation processes might require specific individual responses, whereas a more open public forum has less structure and therefore more flexibility. It is therefore important to select the right bundle of methods that suit the nature and timing of your exercise, the intended audiences and those who might use/analyse the data afterwards.

4. Timing

You will need to schedule participation at the points when input to policy discussions and/or decisions can be most effective. Avoid the trap of ‘too little too late’, or using participation to validate decisions which have already been made.

5. Informing

You should aim to involve participants throughout the process, not just as a one-off. There should be active engagement in considering a range of options and the trade-offs involved in any preferred choice. You should be ready to explain how the results of such exercises will inform any consequent policy or decision.

6. Bounding

You will need to be clear about the scope and limits of your participation exercise. The remit should be realistic; to avoid raising unrealistic expectations you will need to make explicit the non-negotiables (i.e. what can’t be changed) at the outset so that participants know the limits of their influence.

7. Effective

You may need to be flexible and adapt the engagement process to ensure that it meets the logistics, milestones and timescales while also reaching valid and timely outcomes. Your needs are likely to be met best through an iterative approach, with two-way exchange of information about what is happening throughout the exercise and afterwards.

8. Recording

If the key points and outcomes of the process are to be respected, and make a proper contribution to consequent discussion or decision-making processes, you will need to make a formal record of the discussions/conclusions in a format agreed at the start. You should also encourage the organisers and participants to evaluate the process.

9. So What?

Never forget to address the ‘so what?’ questions. What needs to be followed up? And what needs to change as a result? Good communication after the exercise will ensure that participants appreciate how their input is being valued and used, and may also win more confidence among the wider public.

Recommended Reading

For those wanting more in depth information on conducting participation exercises the following guides are recommended:

1. Scottish Natural Heritage Talking about our place (toolkit and guidance)

2. Richards et al Practical Approaches to Participation SERG Policy Brief Macaulay Land Use Institute

3. Scott et al 2014 The NEAT tree