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 collaborate

Collaboration involves government sharing power with partners or organisations outside of government to influence a decision and sharing responsibility for an outcome.

Collaborative approaches tend to be most constructive when policy makers are genuinely uncertain about how best to proceed, or need to innovate in response to changing external contexts i.e. when there are multiple possible solutions.

Collaboration is also particularly valuable when the ultimate decision may have different implications for different segments of the population. In these cases a collaborative process should enable stakeholders to test, evaluate and negotiate potential impacts against the wider common good. They should also propose measures to mitigate against any negative impacts before decisions are made. Collaborative processes are usually time intensive and demand a significant commitment from all involved.

Distinguishing features of a collaborative approach

Collaborative approaches to policy and decision making start from the position that the government is just one of a number of stakeholders with an interest in the outcome of the process. Unlike informing, consulting and involving approaches to participation, in a collaborative process the government steps back from its central framing and decision making role.

The ‘offer’ made to participants is:

  • we will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions
  • we will incorporate your advice and recommendations into decisions or implementation as far as possible

In most government contexts, the conditional statement ‘as far as possible’ is particularly relevant, as final decision making authority is retained by Ministers. In undertaking a collaborative process this must be made clear to participants to avoid creating false expectations about the strength of their influence.

Methods that support collaboration

There are a number of broad approaches to collaboration that are central to establishing more participatory forms of policy and decision making:

  • qualitative interviews
  • focus groups
  • workshops
  • deliberative engagement models
  • roundtables or working groups
  • expert advisory and lived experience groups
  • participatory strategic planning
  • user research
  • improvement methods
  • citizen research
  • panels

These methods are the same as those that can be used to Involve people. The difference between the two approaches is how you use them and what your offer to participants is.

Collaboration at different stages of the delivery cycle

Visioning: collaboratively defining the problem, need or issue that will be addressed. This can be an important step in ensuring that elements of a situation are not overlooked, which could cause problems at later stages.

Development: collaboratively identifying solutions that will best meet the needs of all stakeholders.

Appraisal: identifying points of common ground that could enable a proposal to meet the needs of both government and external stakeholders.

Decision-making: sharing the process and the responsibility for any decision made, up to an appropriate point.

Evaluation: working together to assess impacts, in order to better understand the impacts of a policy or decision.



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