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.

Equalities and human rights

Everyone has the right to participate in decisions which affect their human rights. Participation in political and public life is crucial to empowering individuals and groups. It is essential to eliminating marginalisation and discrimination. It is inseparably linked to other human rights, such as the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the rights to peaceful assembly and association.

Participation, human rights and equalities are all linked: fair access to participation is an equalities and human rights issue. It complements and should be considered alongside a range of other work in this area.

Addressing inequality

A key purpose of participation is to shift power.

Those facing the greatest inequalities also face the greatest barriers to participating in decision and policy making processes. These include direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, birth, disability, nationality or other status.

Even when there is no formal discrimination, inequalities and inequities in accessing other human rights can inhibit the effectiveness of participation rights. Unless participation methods are designed with equality, equity and inclusivity at their core, inequality continues to be reproduced and power is not shifted.

This is a vicious circle – without understanding the perspectives of those most excluded in our society, policies continue to be designed that do not meet their needs and which continue or even worsen inequality.

This guidance exists to support the inclusive and equalities-focused involvement of stakeholders in all stages of the decision- making process. This rests on the central idea that power is shared in the design and delivery of the participation itself, as well as in deliberation and decision making on the issues involved.

Public sector equality duty

This guidance complements the equalities and human rights responsibilities of those who take forward participation activity in meeting the public sector equality duty (Equality Act 2010). This is a legal, binding obligation that requires Scottish public authorities to ensure due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity
  • foster good relations



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