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.

Defining participation

Participation is an umbrella term used to describe how people get involved in decisions which affect or are important to them. There are some common factors that define key features of participation.


Participation can be encouraged, supported and made more attractive, but it is fundamentally about a free choice to take part or to not take part. People participate because they want to.

About action

People are moved to action for a range of different motives and their involvement may be limited in time and scope, but all participation requires an action of some kind. Even a relatively passive form of participation such as signing an online petition involves expressing an opinion and a degree of activity and effort.

Collective or connected

Participation means being part of something. Even when the action is of an individual nature, such as contributing to a consultation, there is a sense of common purpose and the act itself has a collective impact or ambition.


All participants want to do something that is worthwhile in their own terms, and every participatory act has, and is intended to have, consequences. At the very least, participation makes a difference to the individual participant; at most, it also helps change the world around them; and sometimes it does both.

Participation can take a variety of forms:

Social participation

This involves collective activities such as volunteering, grassroots community groups, mutual aid or skills sharing.

Individual participation

People’s individual actions and choices that reflect the kind of society they want to live in, such as how individuals spend their money or charitable giving.

Public participation

This is the engagement of individuals with the various structures and institutions of democracy and decision making: it could include voting, contacting a political representative, campaigning and lobbying, or taking part in consultations or other forms of engagement initiated by government.

Community participation

Participation is not restricted to individual interests. Organised community groups are often a mechanism for participation, which can focus on issues which have implications for a place or broader community.



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