Article , Infographics / Policy Innovation
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Published: 19.01.2023

What does civil engagement look like? More importantly, how can we check if the process is actually democratic and open to the community’s ideas? Is it enough just to listen to the community’s feedback? Or do we have to take it a step further – by allowing citizens to design and decide projects? 

The ladder of citizen participation is an easy way for government officials, policymakers, and social workers to determine the level of engagement ordinary citizens will have with your project. Let’s look at the 5 steps in this ladder. 

  • Democracy starts from transparency 

The lowest rung of the participation ladder is the disclosure and dissemination of relevant information. Local authorities must notify the community about upcoming actions in a transparent and timely manner – through posters, meetings, or updates on the city website, etc. 

  • Consult the community 

The next step is allowing the community to voice their opinion on the effects of a project or policy. This can be done by asking for feedback, conducting surveys, meeting with the community, or discussing in groups. Listening to the community can lead to action and policy improvements. However, the reason consultation ranks low on the ladder is that we cannot be sure how much the community input will be taken into account. 

  • Continued community involvement 

The third step is making an effort to keep the community continuously engaged, but the authorities – the local government or the project owners – still make the final decision. However, by engaging citizens to take part in the process, the community will naturally have more of a say as they have more access to information and can communicate their opinions to authorities. 

  • Co-creation and equal power

The second-to-last step allows the people to design their community on an equal footing with the authorities. The decision-making power is shared equally between the community and the local government, policymakers and project owners. In this step, the community members and authorities work together and make decisions through joint meetings. 

In London, the borough of Newham let 360,000 community members help set priorities, draft a shared vision for the neighborhood and directly talk to local governments. Over 500 people signed on to co-create their improved neighborhood. 

  • Empowerment: Freedom to the people

The highest level of community engagement is empowering the community to reach a stage where they can independently make decisions as the power lies with the people. The local administrations should place importance on the community’s decision, and the community has the right to veto projects. This level of community engagement requires a strong community and trust between them and the administration.

In Sterling, Scotland, community members can share ideas and propose projects to the local government. The community’s petitions will transparently enter into the plans of the local government. So far, two community-led projects have been added to the council’s agenda. 


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