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Designing Public Participation Processes


The purpose of this article (2013) by authors John M. Bryson, Kathryn S. Quick, Carissa Schively Slotterback, and Barbara C. Crosby is to present a systematic, cross-disciplinary, and accessible synthesis of relevant research and to offer explicit evidence-based design guidelines to help practitioners design better participation processes. From the research literature, the authors glean suggestions for iteratively creating, managing, and evaluating public participation activities. The article takes an evidence-based and design science approach, suggesting that eff ective public participation processes are grounded in analyzing the context closely, identifying the purposes of the participation effort, and iteratively designing and redesigning the process accordingly.

The article was featured in Public Administration Review (Volume 73, Issue 1, pages 23–34, January/February 2013), a publication of The American Society for Public Administration.

The article outlines 12 design guidelines:

  1. Design to address contexts and problems
  2. Identify purposes and design to achieve them
  3. Analyze and appropriately involve stakeholders
  4. Establish the legitimacy of the process
  5. Foster effective leadership
  6. Seek resources for and through participation
  7. Create appropriate rules and structures to guide the process
  8. Use inclusive processes to engage diversity productively
  9. Manage power dynamics
  10. Use information, communication, and other technologies to achieve the purposes of engagement
  11. Develop participation evaluation measures and an evaluation process that supports the desired outcomes
  12. Align participation goals, purposes, approaches, promises, methods, techniques, technologies, steps, and resources

The article includes a very useful chart (Table 2: Multiple Purposes of Public Participation, with Associated Design Considerations and Proposed Outcome Evaluation Criteria), which lists various purposes of public participation (e.g. meet legal requirements, advance social justice, manage undertainty, etc.), associated design considerations, and proposed outcome evaluation criteria.

Here’s one example from the chart that is particularly relevant to the NCDD community:


Create and sustain adaptive capacity for ongoing problem solving and resilience—for example, by emphasizing social and transformative learning; relationships, social capital, and trust; and sustained engagement (Forester 1999; Goldstein 2012; Innes and Booher 1999, 2010; Jordan, Bawden, and Bergmann 2008; Webler et al. 1995)

Design Considerations:

  • Deliberative, consensus-based, or collaborative approaches frequently facilitate transformative learning; include diverse
  • perspectives to optimize learning and involve key stakeholders; support developing shared meaning via interacting and learning
  • about each other’s interests, preferences, values, and worldviews through “collaborative science” (Mandarano 2008)
  • Build social capital among participants for ongoing work by building connections, enhancing relationships, and fostering trust that can carry on beyond a single decision-making process into future collaboration and communication (Innes and Booher 1999; Quick and Feldman 2011)

Proposed Outcome Evaluation Criteria:

  • Creation of new structures (relationships, partnerships, and resources) to support broad participation in ongoing planning, implementation, and evaluation
  • Sustained, diverse participation in management that adapts to changed circumstances
  • Use of collaboratively agreed criteria for decision making or performance management
  • Sustained collective ability to address new problems and support ongoing management (e.g., of program, resources, problem)
  • Improved alignment of participants’ expectations and actions with collective understandings and goals

From the conclusion:

The design guidelines outlined here are intended to integrate evidence from across a wide range of disciplines and contexts. They are intended as practical guidance for practitioners to use as they make decisions about the design of participation processes. The guidelines are necessarily general, but they do offer some important evidence based insights into how to approach issues of context, purpose, stakeholder involvement, leadership, process management, and evaluation. Practitioners are encouraged to draw on what the literature has to offer and to integrate it with their own insights about what would work best given their specific circumstances as they formulate a specific design for participation (while recognizing that the design may well need to change as the situation changes).

Resource Link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2012.02678.x/abstract


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Add a Comment

  1. Tim Bonnemann Says:

    From the paper (page 27):

    “For example, drawing on the International Association for Public Participation’s widely used spectrum of participation, levels of participation can range from ignoring, to engaging as a data source, to informing, consulting, involving, collaborating, and finally to empowering stakeholders to make all decisions themselves
    (see http://www.iap2.0rg/associations/4748/fi les/spectrum.pdf).”

    Not sure what exactly “ignore” is supposed to mean in the context of public participation, but it’s worth pointing out that the IAP2 Spectrum does not mention the term.

  2. Sandy Heierbacher Says:

    Oh no! It must be a typo. Don’t you think they meant “informing.” Maybe a bit of a freudian slip about what we all think about just “informing” the public? 🙂

  3. Tim Bonnemann Says:

    That’s what I thought at first. But check again and you see it adds “ignore” and “engage as a data source” below the five levels in the IAP2 Spectrum.

  4. John Bryson Says:

    My colleagues and I did mean to include “ignore” and “engage as a data source” as additional categories to think about when designing a public participation process. These are in addition to those in the IAP2 set of categories, which is why we say we are “drawing on” the IAP2 Spectrum. We are drawing on and extending the spectrum to include additional logical choices. In doing so we are simply making a practical point that given the context and purpose of a participation effort, and given available time, staff, and other resource constraints, as well as the other design guidelines, it certainly can make sense to ignore some stakeholders out of the conceivable universe of stakeholders. We are most emphatically not saying, however, that the public interest can be ignored!

  5. Sandy Heierbacher Says:

    Thank you so much for clarifying this, John! This helps a lot.