Roles of Participants and Levels of Participation
End-users may participate in various forms in the designing and management of services. Four different user roles are defined in the co-production of services:
An extreme approach may be for users to co-produce the services that they use.
The process of co-creation has been classified according to three types of involvement:
In public service development, citizens are traditionally seen as the target group of services. In the last decades, the principles of the customer-oriented approach have generalized, with the belief that it is more effective to develop public services according to customers’ needs. Recent literature consists of several conceptions beginning with “co” (co-design, co-produce, co-create, etc.), which describe the joint role of citizens and developers. However, what usually is still lacking is the link between developing public services and policy responses. Even in many sophisticated participatory or co-creation practices, the result of the process might be a bunch of jointly created solutions, while it remains unclear, to what extent these solutions are implemented and sustained as valid procedures.
This aspect is apparent in the Ladder of Citizen Participation, the model for assessing the quality of participation. It was formulated by Sherry Arnstein, already in 1969. According to her, real participation is not implemented until the decision-making is involved. All other levels of participation are tokenism. Even though Arnstein’s model is a simplification and made in a provocative manner, it is still relevant and gives a good perspective to participation planning.
Arnstein’s ladders have been a significant initiator in the public participation field and several participation models ground on these original principles. However, more recently the concepts have changed. Arnstein’s partnership level is corresponding with co-creation approaches. The citizen control level is replaced with the principles of empowerment. Recently launched modes of participatory budgeting could meet the criteria of the citizen control level.
Some partner and follower cities have already experiences of participatory budgeting:
Arnstein sees eight levels in participation, regarding the extent that citizen has possibilities to influence issues. Two levels from below are pure tokenism. Manipulation (First level) means a situation where “In the name of citizen participation, people are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards for the express purpose of “educating” them or engineering their support”.
Therapy (Second level) means the level in which peoples’ inability or poverty is associated with mental health issues.
Information (Third level) means a one-way flow of information without possibilities to feedback or negotiations. This can also be the case when information is delivered in such a late stage of planning that people have no possibility to influence the decision. Arnstein points out importantly that also meetings, which allow discussions, can turn out to this level while providing superficial information, discouraging questions, or giving irrelevant answers.
According to Arnstein, the consultation level (Fourth level) is still “sham” if it is the only used mode of participation. It does not ensure that citizens’ ideas and concerns are taken into account. The usual methods (attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings, public hearings) can remain just a “window-dressing ritual”, which is assessed by the number of participants but gives evidence to power holders that they have “gone through the required motions of involving “those people”.
Placation (Fifth level) means that citizens are placed to local agencies or public bodies and boards. Citizens are allowed to advice and plan, but the power holders keep the right to judge the feasibility of citizens’ contributions. Representing the minority of the board, citizens are also easily “outvoted or outfoxed”.
Partnership (Sixth level) is the first level, which allows some degrees of citizen power. The power structure and decision-making responsibilities are agreed upon and redistributed between citizens and power holders with joint committees and a solving mechanism for contradictions. An effective partnership requires that citizens have proper resources for preparing issues and there is a mechanism regulating the representatives´ accountability to the community.
Delegated power (Seventh level) means that citizens have achieved dominant decision-making authority over some plan or programme. It can be manifested as citizens having the majority of seats in boards, provision for citizen veto, or subcontracts to citizen groups to plan or operate particular issues. The difference between lower levels is that power holders are forced to negotiate with citizens if they want changes.
The highest level of ladders is citizen control (Eighth level). In practice, the pressure for this level has become in the mode of community or neighbourhood control over local programmes or institutions, e.g. schools. Citizens want the full charge of policy and governance of the target issue. Arnstein mentions neighbourhood corporations as the most advocated model of this level. In this model, there are no intermediaries between the corporation and the source of funds. The implementation of this level demands that not even the city council restrains the final approval power, even though it is argued to represent the community.
To assess the level of participation in GreenSAM, we have applied the model of the International Organization for Public Participation. In origin, the model consists of five levels, including in the middle a level of “involve”. We interpret that involvement is inherent to nearly all levels and to make the model more practical, we combined two middle levels. Thus, our approach includes four levels: Inform, Consult, Collaborate, and Empower (Figure below).
Informing is a one-way communication from the provider’s side to inform target groups about those issues the provider considers important. The Inform level of public participation does not actually provide the opportunity for public participation, but rather provides the public with the information they need to understand the decision-making process. However, the inform level is quite useful in many situations (e.g. letting people know about changes to legislation).
Consulting involves obtaining feedback about plans, ideas, options, or issues, but little interaction with the public. It is still one-way communication. The Consult level is a relatively low level of community engagement, representing the basic minimum opportunity for public input to decision-making. In many European countries, consulting is statutory at formal city planning. Questionnaires, interviews and the feedback method are widely used tools for consulting. In addition, advisory boards, hearing of experts and citizen panels might stay at consult level, regarding the role they are allowed.
Collaborating means working together. At the “Collaborate" level, citizens are engaged in decision-making, but the public organization is still the ultimate decision-maker. This level often includes an explicit attempt to find consensus solutions. To what extent consensus is sought and how much decision authority is willing to share the power, must be made explicit. Finally, the public organization will take all of the input received and make independently the decision. Negotiation and partnership are inherent approaches in the collaborate level.
At the Empower level, public organizations provide the public with the opportunity to implement and manage a certain project or programme independently and to make relevant decisions for themselves. Public organizations rarely conduct public participation at the Empower level, even though subcontracts to third-sector organizations in the social and health sector are close to this. Currently, participatory budgeting represents empower level operation at the clearest. In general, public organizations are not permitted to delegate their decision authority to the public. Creating a fair, legitimate, and inclusive process for empowerment beyond basic voting is a complex and challenging effort.
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