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A Ladder of Citizen Participation

Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes in the United States, described a “ladder of citizen participation.” The ladder of citizen participation ranges from high citizen power to low (as pictured).

See Sherry R. Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224. Available online here.

This article is about power structures in society and how they interact. Specifically it is a guide to seeing who has power when important decisions are being made. The concepts discussed in this article about 1960’s America apply to any hierarchical society but are still mostly unknown, unacknowledged or ignored by many people around the world.

Here is how David Wilcox describes the 8 rungs of the ladder at www.partnerships.org.uk/part/arn.htm:

1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations.

3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.

4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual.

5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked ‘worthies’ onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.

6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.

7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.

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