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Community Participation | Types, Process & Facilitation

Community participation, public participation or participatory planning are the terms which are used interchangeably but aims at involving people in the community to get the maximum benefit for the whole society. Community participation is about gathering different views from whoever wants to participate and making people in the city feel welcome to voice their opinions. Participatory planning is usually used by planners to get people to come together on various important issues that are being conducted by city planners and people in authority such as those in city councils, state or government bodies. There are many strategies that are used to bring the community together and these usually involve research methods being undertaken by the councils and councillors. It is not about getting the majority of the votes, but it is about gathering different views to conclude the best methods for planners to adopt strategies that fit and prove important for the community based on what the community prefers.

Collective action and decision making is done by taking suggestions from all the stakeholders. Having citizens in the decision making process is essential for the bottom up approach and community development. Community engagement results in inclusive planning and overall improvement in the community integration.

Importance of Community Participation

Community participation is provided and facilitated by various legal provisions. In many states constitution provides the basic framework for empowerment of both the urban local government and the citizens. The mechanism of creation of Wards Committees, local groups, self help groups, educating public etc, provides the structure for citizens participation. Institutions of local government are highly participatory, primarily by virtue of their close interface with local communities. It enables ownership of local development initiatives, which contributes to successful implementation of local development initiatives through collective action.

Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public’s contribution will influence the decision. The role of public participation in economic and human development was enshrined in the 1990 African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation.

In a democratic region, public participation plays a vital role for peoples’ empowerment.

  • Public participation is part of “people centred” or “human centric” principles.
  • Public participation is advanced by the humanist movements, social movements and in the context of postmodernism.
  • Public participation may be advanced as part of a “people first” paradigm shift. In this case, it is argued that whether it can sustain productive and durable change.

Related Article: Sherry R Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation

Types of Community Participation

Participation or community involvement can be viewed from different perspectives and there are several types of participation. They include:

  • Passive Participation: People participate by being told what is going to happen or has already happened through unilateral announcement by administration.
  • Participation in Information Giving: People participate by answering questions posted by extractive researchers using questionnaire surveys or similar approaches and do not have the opportunity to influence proceedings.
  • Participation by Consultation: People participate by being consulted, and external people listen to views and may modify these in the light of people’s responses but do not involve them in decision-making.
  • Participation for Material Incentives: People participate by providing resources, for example labour, in return for food, cash, or other material incentives, yet people have no stake in prolonging activities when the incentives end.
  • Functional Participation: People participate by forming groups to meet predetermined objectives related to the project after major decisions have been made.
  • Interactive Participation: People participate in joint analysis, development of action plans, and formation or strengthening of local institutions.
  • Self-mobilisation: People participate by taking initiatives independent of external institutions to change systems. They develop contacts with external institutions for resources and the technical advice they need, but retain control over how resources are used. These can also take form of social movements and bring about social change.

Community Participation

Why Should We Encourage Public Participation in Planning, Problem Solving and Policy Making?

  1. Participation is important for a healthy representative democracy. Involving citizens in decisions that affect them locally is one way to renew public trust and return credibility and legitimacy to all levels of government.
  2. While participation has long been part of the tradition of planning, we continuously need to find new ways to actively engage and promote citizens in decision making. A part of this process is helping citizens understand the role they can play in deciding their own futures. In other words, citizens come to understand they have a contribution to make, and therefore become full participants in the process, rather than waiting to see what programs and services they will receive for their tax dollars.
  3. A carefully constructed participation program encourages an open exchange of information, ideas and clarity about social goals to be achieved. This requires that planners consider alternate opinions, especially those of underserved or underrepresented minority, low income, elderly, and disabled populations. Together the participants establish a collective vision for the future, and share responsibility for problems as well as their solutions.
  4. Collaborative problem solving generally can be accomplished with less confrontation and fewer hurdles, since participants understand what opportunities are available and also whatever resource or other constraints must be considered.
  5. Involving citizens and educating them also assures that the solutions (and possibly some very creative or unconventional solutions) are tailored to local needs.
  6. State planning enabling legislation often provides for public input regarding land use and other decisions.

How to Facilitate Participation and increase community engagement?

  • By stressing the benefits to be gained. This will work only so long then the benefits must become obvious. The intangible benefits as well as the tangible should be emphasized. These are frequently omitted and are, by far, the true gains of community action and results in improved community health and public health.
  • By adopting online participating model, The Internet facilitates sharing of the key ingredient of participation – information – to assist vision formation, informed decision-making, scenario-building and the like.
  • With an appropriate organizational structure available for expressing interest. This may require organizing a more neutral group than may be in existence in a community. However, in some situations, existing groups are adequate. Situation judgment is required by persons with appropriate experience and competency.
  • By helping citizens find positive ways to respond when their way-of life is threatened. Most people want to act responsibly. Use these situations to help people find positive ways to deal with threatening predicaments.
  • By stressing the commitment or obligation each of us have toward improving the community. However, people will not continue to participate unless the experience is rewarding, or at least not too distasteful.
  • In crisis situations have long been successfully used as a basis for gaining citizen participation. Crises should not be invented but, if they exist, they become powerful motivation. The closing of a major plant, closing of a school, loss of train service, and a major drug problem are examples of threats to a people’s way-of-life that have served as rallying points for citizen participation.

The most positive of all approaches to facilitate greater participation is to provide citizens with better knowledge. Obviously, the knowledge has to be in their value system. When it is, experience shows they usually act accordingly. Adequate time and means of diffusing the new knowledge must be employed for satisfactory results.

Improving Community Participation

Helping new or potential volunteers feel comfortable with the group probably has the greatest potential for getting and keeping citizens in community development work. This aspect is often overlooked in community participation because people are reluctant to say why they are uncomfortable. Reasons often given are that they are too busy or don’t have time. But, they really are uncomfortable with the group. Careful consideration of these problems can greatly reduce these concerns.

Related: Examples of PPP Projects

Ideal Condition for Citizen or Community Participation

Innes et al. (1994), Margerum (2002), Beierle (1999), and Howell, Olsen, and Olsen (1987) provide a comprehensive array of strategies to employ in constructing effective participatory practices in environmental management. Commonly cited strategies are careful selection of a representative group of stakeholders; a transparent decision-making process to build trust among the participants; clear authority in decision-making; competent and unbiased group facilitators; regular meetings; and adequate financial resources to support the group process through the potentially long learning and decision-making process. However, even if the above strategies are employed, the success of the initiative in achieving significant outcomes (more-effective community decision-making and a public that accepts the new policy as the most effective choice) may depend strongly on the locale. Concrete ways to determine whether collaborative or participatory decision-making may work are provided with typologies using environmental (Yoder 1999) and stakeholder descriptions. Yet none of these typologies provide a unifying decision structure that is germane for the administrator with limited resources Given a finite budget and a set of policy outcomes to produce, what issues are critically in need of stakeholder involvement prior to (and even during) implementation? What decisions, on the other hand, would be unusually laborious to accomplish in a participatory format? Following are several considerations that may be described as ideal conditions for implementation of enhanced citizen participation in agency decision-making:

Low-Cost Indicators

  • Citizens readily volunteer for projects that benefit the entire community.
  • Key stakeholders are not too geographically dispersed Participants can easily reach meetings.
  • Citizens have enough income to attend meetings without harming their ability to provide for their families.
  • The community is homogenous, so the group requires fewer representatives of interest groups. Smaller groups speed decision-making.
  • The topic does not require representatives to master complex technical information quickly.

High-Benefit Indicators

  • The issue is gridlocked and a citizen mandate is needed to break the gridlock.
  • Hostility toward government entities is high, and the agency seeks validation from community members to successfully implement policy.
  • Community representatives with particularly strong influence in the community are willing to serve as representatives.
  • The group facilitator has credibility with all representatives.
  • The issue is of high interest to stakeholders, and may even be considered at ‘crisis stage’ if actions are not changed.

Challenges faced by the local government

Participation, in order to be meaningful, requires institutional capacity of the local governments to come up to the aspirations of local communities. Fiscal strength constitutes the most important parameter of institutional capacity. Citizen and Community participation, therefore becomes an imperative in strengthening fiscal strength of local government through generation of local government revenue and efficient allocation of the locally raised resources to various local development initiatives. Community Participation aims at involving the citizens in municipal functions e.g., setting priorities, budgeting provisions, etc. They provide for the participation of citizens in the decision making process on local issues.

Related: Rational Planning Model, Healthy City Project, Advocacy Planning Concept