Participation Models

A ‘ladder of participation’ was devised by Sherry Arnstein in 1969.

Ladder of Participation. Sherry Arnstein 1969

The bottom rungs of the ladder are (1) Manipulation and (2) Therapy. These two rungs describe levels of “non-participation” that have been contrived to substitute for genuine participation. Their real objective is not to enable people to participate in planning or conducting programs, but to enable powerholders to “educate” or “cure” the participants.

Rungs 3 and 4 progress to levels of “tokenism” that allow the have-nots to hear and to have a voice: (3) Informing and (4) Consultation. When they are proffered by powerholders as the total extent of participation, citizens may indeed hear and be heard. But under these conditions they lack the power to insure that their views will be heeded by the powerful. When participation is restricted to these levels, there is no follow-through, no “muscle,” hence no assurance of changing the status quo. Rung (5) Placation is simply a higher level tokenism because the ground rules allow have-nots to advise, but retain for the powerholders the continued right to decide.

Further up the ladder are levels of citizen power with increasing degrees of decision-making clout. Citizens can enter into a (6) Partnership that enables them to negotiate and engage in trade-offs with traditional power holders. At the topmost rungs, (7) Delegated Power and (8) Citizen Control, have-not citizens obtain the majority of decision-making seats, or full managerial power.

Obviously, the eight-rung ladder is a simplification, but it helped to illustrate significant gradations of citizen participation over the following years.

The Consultation Institute have sought to update Arnstein’s ‘ladder of citizen participation’ and has set out four essential parts of engagement with the public:-

  • information-giving: where residents are informed, but have no influence
  • consultation: where residents can inform decisions, but don’t have the final say
  • co-production: where things are done jointly, acting together
  • supporting citizen power: where residents lead and the council stands back

Freelance Communications Facilitator & Community Engagement Consultant

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