Participation handbook

This handbook provides a guide to good practice in participation work across Scottish Government. It provides information about participatory methods and when to use them, the development of an effective participation strategy, and signposts to further resources.

When to involve

Taking an involvement approach to participation emphasises a two-way relationship between government and participants.

Involvement-based approaches tend to work best in the early stages of a policy making process. This is when people have the most opportunity to influence the policy options being developed.

The goal of an involvement approach is to open up space for an exchange of information and perspectives, and to explore ideas for a solution. This is helpful when there are a number of possible outcomes available. Often participants are required to understand complex information or to step outside their own interests and recognise the (sometimes competing) needs of others.

Involvement promotes dialogue between government and participants, and sometimes between participants themselves. ‘Dialogue’ is a specific form of conversation that aims for all participants to hear and understand the opinions, reasoning and priorities of others.

The ‘offer’ made to participants is:

  • we will keep you informed
  • we will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the outcomes or alternatives developed
  • we will provide feedback on how your input has influenced the outcome

It must be recognised that this ‘offer’ is contingent on decision makers balancing the views of participants in the engagement process alongside a variety of other evidence, arguments and policy priorities that they have been presented with. There should be transparency to participants about the different pieces of evidence that are involved in this balance of decision- making, so there is clear understanding that outputs from a participatory engagement will not be the only influencing factor on a resulting decision.

Methods that support involvement include:

  • qualitative interviews
  • focus groups
  • workshops
  • deliberative engagement models
  • roundtables or working groups
  • participatory strategic planning
  • user research
  • people’s panels
  • improvement methods
  • citizen research

The most effective methods engage people in ways that are relevant to them. Successful processes start from where participants are ‘at’. This means physically (by going to participants in environments they are already in or comfortable with) and mentally (by beginning with a learning phase to ensure all participants have a foundation of relevant knowledge).

This helps everyone involved understand the issues in the context of their own realities (personal or professional) and focus on the things that are most important to them, whilst having an awareness of different points of view.

Involvement at different stages of the delivery cycle

Visioning: help give you a better understanding of different perspectives on the issue under consideration and provide an opportunity to understand why people may hold the views they do. Concerns or aspirations can be considered early on. Participants can also be supported to understand different points of view.

Development: gathering an understanding of views to contribute to proposals, alternatives, recommendations or service models developed.

Appraisal: understanding their preferences and priorities.

Decision making: there is no role for involving approaches to participation at the decision-making stage. Instead it is about decision makers using what they have learnt through the involvement of people in the earlier stages to help inform their decisions.

Evaluation: an involvement approach could help better understand the impacts of a policy or decision from the perspective of those impacted by it.



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