By Gabriele Bammer
What can researchers interested in stakeholder engagement learn from two classic frameworks on citizen involvement in government decision making – Arnstein’s ladder and the IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) spectrum of public participation?
Sherry Arnstein (1969) developed an eight-rung ladder, shown in the figure below, to illustrate that there are significant gradations of citizen participation in government decision making.
The two bottom rungs are manipulation and therapy. Manipulation refers to putting citizens on “rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards” (p. 218) to “educate” them or engineer their support. Therapy involves changing the citizen view of the problem.
Informing, consultation and placation are weak forms of participation, and may be tokenistic, especially if genuine participation is promised. Although informing and consultation (which often occurs through surveys, meetings and hearings) are first steps in genuine participation, they do not constitute this on their own. At a minimum, there needs to be assurance that concerns and views expressed will be taken into account. Placation involves working with “a few handpicked ‘worthy’” (p. 220) citizens, who are not accountable to the broader citizen group. They have neither the numbers nor the legitimacy to actually wield influence.
Partnership, delegated power and citizen control constitute genuine participation, involving power sharing and joint decision making.
Partnership involves shared planning and decision-making responsibilities through agreed structures and ground rules that are not subject to unilateral change. To be effective requires an organised powerbase in the community to which the citizen representatives are accountable.
Delegated power occurs where citizens have dominant decision-making authority over a particular plan or program and can assure that it is accountable to them. They often start the process of engagement with government, rather than waiting for government to approach them.
Citizen control exists when there is a “degree of power (or control) which guarantees that participants or residents can govern a program or an institution, be in full charge of policy and managerial aspects, and be able to negotiate the conditions under which “outsiders” may change them” (p. 223).
Writing in the late 1960s in the USA, Arnstein was particularly concerned with the relationship between participation and power, especially for what she calls the “have-nots”. She explained (p. 216): “Participation of the governed in their government is, in theory, the cornerstone of democracy – a revered idea that is vigorously applauded by virtually everyone. The applause is reduced to polite handclaps, however, when this principle is advocated by the have-not blacks, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Indians, Eskimos, and whites. And when the have-nots define participation as redistribution of power, the American consensus on the fundamental principle explodes into many shades of outright racial, ethnic, ideological, and political opposition.”
IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) spectrum of public participation
A key resource developed by the International Association for Public Participation, a non-profit organization focused on professional development, is the IAP2 spectrum of public participation illustrated in the figure below.
The spectrum describes five levels of participation: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. It differs from Arnstein’s ladder in recognising that “differing levels of participation are legitimate and depend on the goals, time frames, resources, and levels of concern in the decision to be made” (https://iap2.org.au/resources/iap2-published-resources/). It seeks to ensure genuine rather than token participation, by adding a “promise to the public” for each type of participation.
Learning from these frameworks in research
Both of these frameworks have influenced researchers who engage stakeholders. I have developed a framework specifically for stakeholder engagement, which draws on both, but especially the IAP2 spectrum. The i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework, shown in the figure below, summarises the five options for stakeholder participation and the related promises to stakeholders. It adopts two particularly powerful ideas from the IAP2 spectrum: the legitimacy of different levels of participation depending on the circumstances, and the imperative to report back to stakeholders about how their contributions have been used.
Because the i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework aims to improve researcher practice, it pays little attention to the tokenistic forms of engagement highlighted by Arnstein’s ladder. Drawing on the IAP2 spectrum, it seeks to overcome these by the “promise made to stakeholders by researchers.” It is worth asking: Is this enough? Do stakeholders need a framework specifically to help them assess whether the invitation to participate in research is genuine and not tokenistic?
At the other end of Arnstein’s ladder and the IAP2 spectrum are community control and empowerment. In a research context this generally plays out as stakeholders undertaking the research themselves, with the researchers playing a supportive, and often largely technical, role. It is worth asking: When is such stakeholder control most appropriate?
Arnstein’s ladder, the IAP2 spectrum and the i2S framework include “partnership” or “collaborate.” In the last few years there has been growing emphasis on co-production, co-creation, co-innovation, co-design and related co-terms. It is worth asking: Are these adding anything useful to the practice of stakeholder engagement?
Your responses to the questions posed above are welcome. In addition, have you been influenced by Arnstein’s ladder and/or the IAP2 spectrum of public participation? Can you see value in the i2S stakeholder engagement options framework? What else do you think is needed to ensure that stakeholder engagement in research is effective and respectful?
Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Planning Association, 35, 4: 216-224.
International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). (2018). IAP2 public participation spectrum. (Online): https://iap2.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2018_IAP2_Spectrum.pdf (PDF 160KB).
Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is Professor of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University in Canberra. i2S provides theory and methods for tackling complex societal and environmental problems, especially for synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns, and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change.