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International public participation models 1969-2016

As democratic societies around the world increasingly commit to collaborative governance, public participation has emerged as a rich and contested arena. Grounded in democratic notion that decisions be shaped by affected citizens and stakeholders, participation models have emerged to better map public participation in practice and theory.

Building on International frameworks for citizen engagements and civic society, International Participation Models’ is the second in the series of Framework primers, a suite of resources for the public engagement sector that address models of thought, methodologies and theoretical frameworks for understanding participation in practice. This resource list draws on the work of Andreas Karsten, of, who documented 36 models between 1969 and 2012.

Providing annotations and linking to primary sources, International Participation Models Primer brings this number up-to-date with the addition of 15 new models since 2012. Annotating 51 International Participation Models, it provides direct links to original source material, publication details and summarizes methodological approaches to simplify the research process for engagement theorists and practitioners.

1. Ladder of Citizen Participation, Sherry Arnstein, 1969

First published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Sherry Arnstein‘s ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ describes a ladder made of eight rungs, each representing a higher degree of citizen power in the interaction between decision-making agencies and citizens. Arnstein’s typology of citizen participation equated citizen participation with citizen power, arguing that effective public involvement in planning processes would require the sharing and redistribution of power. This classic model remains a widely referenced influence on participation theory and practice.

2. Ladder of Children’s Participation/Ladder of Youth Participation, Roger Hart, 1992

Borrowing from Arnstein, Roger Hart, in ‘Children’s Participation: From Tokenism to Citizenship’, his Innocenti essay for UNICEF, created a ladder representing eight levels of young people’s participation in projects. Hart’s model ascended from non-participatory involvement to information, consultation, adult and youth-initiated collaboration, and ultimately placed-shared decision-making between youth and adults. This model was also featured in Hart’s groundbreaking book Children’s Participation: The Theory And Practice Of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care, published in 1997.

3. Typology of Participation, Sarah C. White, 1996

In her article ‘Depoliticising development: the uses and abuses of participation’ published in Development in Practice, Sarah C. White offered a model of participation that looked beyond previous parameters and into the diversity of function and form. White identifies four forms of participation with corresponding characteristics of interests and function for top-down and bottom-up stakeholders. Her typology drew out the tensions around stakeholders and power in the politics of participation. White argued that full, meaningful participation would include public involvement in the management and decision-making processes.

4. Degrees of Participation, Phil Treseder, 1997

Phil Treseder’s  Empowering children and young people: promoting involvement in decision-making was published by Not-for-Profit organization, Save the Children as a practitioner’s resource. Building on Hart’s ladder of youth participation and informed by David Hodgson’s five conditions for youth participation, Treseder’s model presented five degrees of participation that replace progressive hierarchies and sequences of earlier frameworks toward improved responsivity, access and agency for youth in participatory processes.  

5. Wheel of Participation, Scott Davidson, 1998

Moving away from earlier hierarchical models, Scott Davidson’s Wheel of Participation, developed in collaboration with the South Lanarkshire Council and published in Planning, offered an innovative approach to implement effective levels of public involvement in the planning system. The Wheel’s quadrants present a strategic framework that conceptualizes engagement and communication processes so that participation techniques can be leveraged in the most effective way to achieve identified objectives.

6. Spectrum of Public Participation, IAP2, 2000, 2005, 2007

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) created the Spectrum of Public Participation in 1999 as a learning resource and an integral component of their overarching mission, published thereafter. The Spectrum offers a matrix of participation levels designed to aid defining levels of citizen participation in line with project objectives. The Spectrum consists of five types or levels of participation – inform, consult, involve, collaborate, empower – and shows the increasing level of public impact progressing from inform through to consult.   Widely referenced, this framework illustrates the varying levels of participation, their legitimacy, and relationship to project objectives and resources.

7. Active Participation Framework, OECD, 2001

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the landmark handbook Citizens as Partners: Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making, developed by the OECD’s Public Management Service (PUMA) Working Group on Strengthening Government-Citizen Connections, drafted by Marc Gramberger. It conceptualized information, consultation and active participation in relation to the nature of government-citizen interaction. In this model, active participation suggests a collaborative relationship in which citizens actively shape the process and content of public policy.

8. Pathways to Participation, Harry Shier, 2001

In ‘Pathways to Participation: Openings, Opportunities and Obligations’, published in Children & Society, Harry Shier presents a model for children’s participation built on Article 12.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As a practical resource for planning and assessment, the Pathways to Participation model is designed to help practitioners enable youth participation through a flow chart in a matrix of participation levels and commitments.

9. Clarity Model of Participation, Clare Lardner, 2001

Clare Lardner utilizes the Edinburgh Youth Social Inclusion Partnership (EYSIP), Treseder’s five degrees of participation and Hodgson’s five conditions for youth participation. This model presents a grid for the evaluation of the degree of empowerment offered by different participatory approaches and methods.  The Clarity model features six dimensions of participation across a continuum of power.

10. Strategic Approach to Participation, UNICEF, 2001

‘The Participation Rights of Adolescents: A strategic approach’, a UNICEF Working, presents a strategy for youth participation as a resource for practitioners and advocates with the objective of encouraging participation for youth at local, national and global levels. The model focuses on capacity-building, increasing opportunities and enriching supportive environments for youth participation, represented diagrammatically across intersecting axes.

11. Triangle of Youth Participation, Jans & de Backer, 2002

Marc Jans and Kurt de Backer in ‘Youth (-work) and Social Participation’, a research report for the Flemish Youth Council, Brussels, Belgium, argue that youth participation would be energized by a dynamic balance between challenge, capacity, and connection. Represented by a triangle of participation, a ‘challenge’ would entail a relevant and motivating theme as incitement for participation, while the dimensions of ‘connection’ and ‘capacity’ manifest community and competency as enabling factors.

12. Youth Participation in Society, Jans & de Backer, 2002

Marc Jans and Kurt de Backer build on their Triangle of Youth Participation, ‘Youth (-work) and Social Participation’Flemish Youth Council, Brussels, with an illustration of internal versus external participation, and direct versus indirect participation in interactions between youth, organizations, society and other stakeholders.

13. Dimensions of Youth Participation, David Driskell, 2002

David Driskell, in collaboration with the UNESCO Growing Up in Cities Project, published Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth: a manual for participation as a resource for community development practitioners and planners. Driskell presents a model which borrows from Arnstein and Hart to organize a model with two defining dimensions: the decision-making power of youth, and youth interaction with community.

14. Seven Realms of Participation, Francis & Lorenzo, 2002

Mark Francis and Ray Lorenzo, in their article ‘Seven Realms of Children’s Participation’, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, review youth participation in urban planning and design to discuss seven participatory approaches or realms. The seven realms (romantic, advocacy, needs, learning, rights, institutional, proactive), conclude with proactive participation that suggests youth involvement as a visionary, communicative, learning activity.

15. Ladder of Volunteer Participation, Adam Fletcher, 2003

Adam Fletcher generates a ladder of volunteer participation in Purpose, empowerment and the experience of volunteerism in the community, a resource created for the Freechild Project. Adapted from Hart’s ladder of participation, it is designed to realize the emancipatory potential of volunteerism for volunteer and community stakeholders.

16. Youth Engagement Continuum, FCYO, 2003

The Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) developed a continuum of youth engagement as part of their Occasional Papers Series (OPS), OPS1 – An Emerging Model for Working with Youth. The continuum arranges participatory approaches into five broad, related categories, from traditional youth services to youth organizing.

17. Four C’s of Online Participation, Derek Wenmoth, 2006

Derek Wenmoth illustrates participation in digital communities with a model that arranged a cumulative relationship between the four Cs of online participation: Consumer, Commentor, Contributor, and Commentator. Wenmoth’s diagram identifies phases for digital participatory behavior, with participants moving from passive to active to proactive involvement in their digital communities.

18. Power Law of Participation, Ross Mayfield, 2006

Ross Mayfield’s Power Law of Participation deconstructs participation in the context of digital communities to find that community participation could be plotted along a power law, from low threshold to high engagement. Low threshold participation is linked to collective intelligence while high engagement offers a collaborative intelligence, with both forms capable of coexisting within groups.

19. Levels, Spaces and Forms of Power, John Gaventa, 2006

In Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis, published in Exploring Power for Change, Institute of Development Studies, John Gaventa presents a power cube that identifies levels, spaces, and forms of power and illustrates how these aspects relate to each other. The forms, spaces and levels refer to the manifestations of power, participatory spaces, and decision-making layers.

20. The Clear Participation Model, Lawndes & Pratchett

Vivien Lawndes and Lawrence Pratchett, in CLEAR: Understanding Citizen Participation in Local Government – and How to Make it Work Better, developed at the Local Governance Research Unit, De Montfort University, offer a diagnostic tool for identifying barriers to empowerment and  connecting these to decision-making.  The CLEAR model establishes five enabling factors for impactful citizen participation: what citizens ‘can do’, ‘like to do’, are ‘enabled to’, are ‘asked to’, and are ‘responded to’ for meaningful participation.

21. Four L Engagement Model, Tony Karrer, 2006

The 4L Model – Linking, Lurking, Learning, Leading, first published on the Learning Circuits Blog of the American Society for Training & Development, built on patterns of community interaction behavior to present four types of roles in digital communities. Blurring the boundaries between each type of role reflects the nature of member participation in these communities, with members determining the nature of their participation.

22. Participation 2.0 Model, State Services Commission, New Zealand, 2007

Responding to the OECD Framework, the State Services Commission of New Zealand created the Participation 2.0 model, published in their Guide to Online Participation. The model articulates the ability of the Web 2.0 user to create and share content and communities – and illustrates citizen-government interactions in the digital and offline contexts.

23. Engagement in the Policy Cycle, Diane Warburton, 2007

In Making a Difference: A Guide to evaluating public participation in central government, published by the UK Department for Constitutional Affairs and Not-for-Profit organization Involve, Diane Warburton presents a model for public engagement that offers methods for various stages of the policy process.

24. Online Participation Behaviour Chain, Fogg & Eckles, 2007

 BJ Fogg and Dean Eckles, in ‘The Behavior Chain for Online Participation: How Successful Web Services Structure Persuasion’, published as part of Lecture Notes in Computer Science in 2007, identify a digital participation behavior chain. They analyze more than fifty online services and examine how these services invited participation from users, to find that effective digital services shared a pattern of target behaviors.

25. Key Dimensions of Participation, Driskell & Neema, 2009

David Driskell and Neema Kudva present key dimensions of participation  in ‘Creating Space for Participation: The Role of Organizational Practice in Structuring Youth Participation’, published in Community Development. This model represents participation as a spatial practice made up of five overlapping dimensions: normative, structural, operational, physical, and attitudinal.

26. Matrix of Participation, Tim Davies, 2009

In his article ‘Can social networks bridge the participation gap?’, Tim Davies builds on Hart’s Ladder of Participation on its vertical axis, with a horizontal axis comprising varying participation approaches that range from short- to long-term. Davies’ matrix offers a way to interrogate engagement initiatives for sustainability.

27. Pathways through Participation, NCVO & IVR

The Pathways through Participation project published ‘Understanding Participation: A literature review’,  in collaboration with the UK’s National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR). The review presented a model that articulates participation through experiential elements: actors, activities, locations, time.

28. Changing Views on Participation, Pedro Martín, 2010

Pedro Martín in E-Participation at the local level: the path to collaborative democracy, offers a comparative view of Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation, the IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation and the OECD’s Active Participation Framework. The comparison highlights the importance of the transfer of power and control impactful participation. Martín contends that the ‘vicious cycle of participation’ – of heavy investment and little impact – is a result of ignoring the role and location of power.

29. Ladder of Online Participation, Bernoof & Li, 2010

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, in their book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, present a ladder of online participation founded on the concept of social technographics which views online activity from spectator to creator. While the ladder shows ascending degrees of participation, it is does not represent a sequential progression. Overlapping levels are profiles rather than segmentations, reflecting the nature of participation.

30. Online Participation Across Age, Rick Wicklin, 2010

Published in Bloomberg Businessweek, Rick Wicklin analyses the distribution and popularity of social media activity across different age groups in his article ‘How does participation in social media vary with age?’. Wicklin identifies critics, spectators, creators, joiners, and collectors across these groups.

31. Three-lens Approach to Participation, DFID-CSO, 2010

‘Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers’, a manual published by the DFID CSO Youth Working Group, UK Department for International Development, presents a three-lens approach to participation. As an assets approach to youth participation in development, this approach involves working for youth as beneficiaries, engaging with youth as partners, and supporting youth as leaders.

32. Behaviour Grid, BJ Fogg, 2010

BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Grid, developed to arrive at a clearer understanding of behavior change, represents 15 ways behaviour can change with different persuasion techniques and psychological strategies. The Grid offers a model to identify and analyze specific behaviours, with each behaviour type linked to its own psychology.

33. The Participation Tree, Harry Shier, 2010

Harry Shier, in ‘Pathways to Participation Revisited: Learning from Nicaragua’s Child Coffee Workers’, published in ‘A Handbook of Children and Young People’s Participation: Perspectives from Theory and Practice’ , illustrates participation as a tree, with each part representing various functions, stakeholder groups, roles, spaces and processes. The leaves of the tree represent youth in impactful, meaningful roles as community educators, rights defenders, representatives.

34. Typology of Youth Participation, Wong et al, 2011

Naima T. Wong, Marc Zimmerman, and Edith Parker, in their article ‘A Typology of Youth Participation and Empowerment for Child and Adolescent Health Promotion’, published in American Journal of Community Psychology, present a conceptual framework to identify degrees of youth-adult participation. They identify five types of youth participation: vessel, symbolic, pluralistic, independent, and autonomous. The typology articulates degrees of participation for the promotion of youth health.

35. Six Principles of Online Participation, Tim Davies, 2011

Tim Davies, Sangeet Bhullar, and Terri Dowty, in their article ‘Rethinking responses to children and young people’s online lives’, published as part of the EU Kids Online 2 project, transform the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into a triangular framework for participation, protection, and provision. The model articulates a responsive, digitally enabling, empowering, resilience-building, positive and youth-driven approach to youth participation in projects.

36. The Yinyang Model, Shier et al, 2012

Harry Shier, Marisol Hernandez Mendez, Meyslin Centeno, Ingrid Arroliga, and Meyling Gonzalez published ‘How Children and Young People Influence Policy-Makers: Lessons from Nicaragua’ in Children and Society. Reflecting on a participatory research project on youth political advocacy in Nicaragua, this model identifies eight key concepts for effective and responsive youth participation, drawing on human rights and human development approaches.

37. Connor’s Ladder of Participation, Desmond M Connor, 1988

Desmond M. Connor, in his article ‘A New Ladder of Citizen Participation’ published in the National Civic Review, builds on Arnstein’s ladder to create a systematic approach for the prevention and resolution of public controversies on programs, projects, or policies. The rungs of the ladder begin with education, information/feedback and consultation, moving upwards to joint planning, mediation, litigation, and finally resolution/prevention.

38. Ladder of Participation for Waste Management, Peter M Wiedemann & Susanne Femer, 1993

Peter M Wiedemann and Susanne Femer published ‘Public participation in waste management decision making: Analysis and management of conflicts’ in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. This offers a comparative analysis of case studies of public participation in risk-related decision-making. It locates case studies along a ladder of participation that ascends from the public right to know, information, the right to objection, participation in agenda-setting, risk assessment, and solution recommendations, and topmost, to public partnership in final decisions.

39. Framework for Participation, David Wilcox, 1994

David Wilcox’s ‘Guide to Effective Participation’, presents a framework for participation shaped by three dimensions: levels of participation, phases of participation, and the people involved (local groups, businesses, residents, activists, officers, politicians). Wilcox identifies five levels of participation – information, consultation, deciding together, acting together, and supporting independent community initiatives – and four phases of the participatory process: initiation, preparation, participation, and continuation.

40. Typology of Participation in Development Programs and Projects, Jules Pretty, 1995

In ‘Participatory Learning for Sustainable Agriculture’, published in World Development, Jules Pretty presents a typology of participation in the context of development programs, identifying seven types of participation with distinguishing characteristics. These types are located along a spectrum from passive to consultative, incentive-driven to interactive, manipulative participation, passive participation, participation by consultation, participation for material incentives, functional participation, interactive participation, and self-mobilization.

41. Rocha’s Ladder of Empowerment, Elizabeth M Rocha, 1997

Responding to the contested meanings of empowerment, Elizabeth M Rocha developed ‘A Ladder of Empowerment’ published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Informed by Arnstein’s ladder, Rocha’s Ladder of Empowerment is arranged from individual to community empowerment as follows: atomistic individual empowerment, embedded individual empowerment, mediated empowerment, socio-political empowerment, and political empowerment.

42. Silverman’s Citizen Participation Continuum, Robert Silverman, 2005

Robert Silverman published ‘Caught in the Middle: Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and the Conflict between Grassroots and Instrumental Forms of Citizen Participation’ in Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society. Silverman presents a continuum of citizen participation that illustrates the range of potential grassroots activities and outcomes that a community organization could pursue. The continuum identifies driving stakeholders and participatory forms with instrumental participation at one end, and grassroots participation at the other.

43. Five Components of Participation, Robin S Smith, 2005

Presented through the PICT conference, Robin S Smith’s paper ‘Digital Participation for Planning Practice’ addresses the diverse ways in public participation is understood across territories, and acknowledges its fluidity. Smith approaches the definition of participation comprising five related but distinct components: notions, issues, audience, outcomes, and methods.

44. Varieties of Participation, Archon Fung, 2006

Archon Fung’s article ‘Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance’, published in Public Administration Review , presents a framework for understanding the range of institutional possibilities for citizen participation. Fund identifies three dimensions along which mechanisms of participation can vary: the selection of participants, the nature of communication and collaborative decision-making between participants and how these deliberations manifest in policy action.

45. Lundy’s Model of Child Participation, Laura Lundy, 2007

Laura Lundy’s article ‘’Voice’ is not enough: conceptualizing Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’, published in the British Educational Research Journal, presents a model that a conceptualizes a child’s right to participation. Lundy’s model features four interrelated elements of the UNCRC provision in rational chronological order: space, voice, audience, and influence.

46. Consumer Framework for Digital Participation, Communications Consumer Panel UK, 2010

The UK’s Communications Consumer Panel published their ‘Digital Participation Research Review’, presenting a model for digital participation. It takes consumer perspectives to identify consumer needs, including provisioning and assessment needs. The framework illustrates five stages in the digital participation journey: getting interested, getting online, making it work, enjoying the benefits, and managing the risks.

47. Bryer’s Model of Social Media Participation in Urban Infrastructure Projects, Thomas A Bryer, 2012

Thomas A Bryer, at the annual seminar of The City Factory, identified a model for utilizing social media for effective public participation in urban planning. Bryer’s model presents four forms of civic engagement necessary for meaningful participation through social media: adversarial engagement, information exchange, civil society, and collaborative engagement.

48. Kaizen’s Archetypes of Community Participation, Kaizen Partnership, 2012

The Kaizen Partnership developed a framework to identify and illustrate the different core archetypes of community participation, suitable for application across scales and sectors. The model explains community participation as activity that is: helping, reactive, responsive, strategic, supportive, generative, and engaging.

49. Scotland’s Digital Participation Pathway, The Scottish Government, 2014

The Scottish Government’s Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action is a resource for the implementation of their national plan for digital literacy and connectivity towards a digitally empowered Scotland.  The guide features a digital participation pathway that illustrates progressive phases and related competencies, representing a spectrum going from passive to proactive participation.

50. Canadian Union of Skilled Workers (CUSW) Participation Model, CUDW, 2016

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers conceptualizes a member participation model that illustrates the interaction of Units, Committees, Representatives, E-board, and Members in the workplace, and across the Union. The model represents the Union’s commitment to ensuring that members can actively contribute to driving change and discussing workplace issues.

51. Les Robinson’s Curiosity-Ometer, Les Robinson, 2016

In his article ‘Is the Spectrum dead?’, Les Robinson proposes an alternative spectrum for the effective identification of community engagement objectives and tactics: the Curiosity-ometer. Robinson’s model locates consultation objectives along a spectrum that ranges from ‘endorsement seeking’ to ‘open-mindedness’ – and maps the corresponding methods.


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