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.

Identifying opportunities for participation

Identifying opportunities for participation requires knowledge of:

  • different levels of participation aka the spectrum of participation
  • different policy delivery stages when participation can be used

Using this information, you can decide what levels of participation are most appropriate depending on the stage of policy delivery you are at. You can also plan ahead, to identify future opportunities when different levels of participation may become possible and beneficial.

Spectrum of participation

The spectrum of participation is a way to classify levels of participation according to their purpose and the offer which is being made to participants. It has been widely embraced as a way of understanding the different roles people can play in a government initiated engagement process.

A version of the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation is set out below. It is a useful tool but is not intended to imply a scale of increased value or virtue. Instead, this model explicitly recognises that different levels of participation serve a different function. They are all useful and appropriate at different points in policy and decision making – you may choose to use more than one level at different stages of a piece of work.

Engagement undertaken at each level makes a different ‘offer’ to participants about how their contribution will be used. It is important to be clear with participants about the level of engagement on offer and what range of opportunities there will be for them to be involved. This helps manage expectations and allows people to make an informed choice about how and when to engage.



  • to provide the public with balanced and objective information
  • to inform those with an interest in the outcome (i.e. stakeholder groups)

Offer to participants

  • we will keep you informed
  • we will provide information openly and transparently
  • we will not withhold relevant information



  • to obtain feedback on analysis, alternatives, proposals and/or decisions
  • to inform those making the decision or developing proposals

Offer to participants

  • we will keep you informed
  • we will listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations
  • we will give serious consideration to your contributions
  • we will be open to your influence
  • we will provide feedback on how your input has influenced the outcome



  • to work directly with participants throughout the policy or decision making process, ensuring their concerns and aspirations are understood and considered
  • to enable participants to directly influence the decisions or options developed

Offer to participants

  • 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



  • to partner with participants in each aspect of a decision, including defining the issue, developing alternatives and identifying preferred solutions
  • to share the development and decision making process as much as possible

Offer to participants

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



  • to place final decision-making in the hands of the participants
  • to hand over the ability to make decisions and/or take action

Offer to participants

  • we will implement what you decide



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