Decision Thinking

Why Citizen Engagement

Engaging citizens is vital for effective governance and social unity, driven by practical benefits such as better decision-making and increased accountability, as well as ethical principles like democracy and social justice.

Instrumental Reasons

  • Effective Governance
  • Problem Solving
  • Increased Trust
  • Enhanced Accountability
  • Resource Utilization
  • Normative Reasons

  • Democratic Principles
  • Inclusivity
  • Citizen Empowerment
  • Social Justice
  • How to Host Consultative Processes?

    Every consultative and participatory process in policy-making requires addressing particular clarifications. These definitions help us understand the essential elements of any consultative process. Discover how they work together to bring in innovative ideas and make policy-making more inclusive, encouraging active discussions and meaningful participation.

    1. Clarify purpose

    The purpose of a consultative process is the first consideration, guiding the setting of objectives and expectations. The purpose can encompass broad exploration (Generative) and/or focused decision-making (Convergence). Generative thinking explores reasons for citizen engagement, while Convergence selects suitable methods and tools. 

    2. Clarify Principles/Norms

    Establishing principles for consultative processes is vital, as it establishes common expectations amongst everyone involved Norms guide behaviour during the activity.

    3. Clarify Political Space

    Forums and activities that bring people together during a policy-making process differ according to who organizes the event and who is able to participate.

    Political Spaces are moments, actions, opportunities, and channels where people work together to affect decisions, discourses, and relationships that affect their lives and their interests. Each space has its own purpose, and each space has differing participation drivers to achieve its goal.

    Political spaces can be mapped on a spectrum from top-down to bottom-up:

    • Closed Spaces are the archetypical top-down political forums led by those in power, typically traditional and formally mandated. Participation is limited to elected officials, bureaucrats, or invited experts.
    • Invited Spaces are also convened by those in power, are more open in their participation, with broader citizen-participation invited.
    • Co-created Spaces involve joint organization by both power holders and citizens, often allowing diverse participation, from open invitations to lottery selection.
    • Supported Spaces are political arenas organized by citizens and grassroots actors, that receive support from power holders. 
    • Claimed Spaces, organized by citizens, movements, and communities, prioritize inclusive participation, although access may be implicitly or explicitly limited to community members.

    4. Clarify Levels of Engagement

    How much do you intend to engage, and how much power do the participants of your activity have?.

    You can use the 5Cs of Engagement as a heuristic to characterize the level of participation:

    1. Co-exist:

    At the bottom rung of the ladder, labeled “Zero,” parties simply co-exist with (and around) one another. This represents the foundational level of cooperation where there is no intentional engagement or involvement of those affected.

    1. Communicate:

    Moving up the ladder, the second rung introduces the concept of communication. Here, power holders share information with others in a largely one-way flow of information.

    1. Consult:

    Continuing upward, we encounter the third rung, marked as “Consult.” This stage signifies a higher level of engagement where power holders invite input and feedback from others, establishing a limited two-way flow of communication.

    1. Collaborate:

    As we ascend further, we transition from engagement to participation. The fourth rung introduces collaboration, where power holders involve those affected and concerned, fostering a spirit of working together towards common goals.

    1. Co-decide:

    Finally, at the pinnacle of the cooperation ladder, we arrive at the fifth and final rung: “Co-decide.” Here, decisions are made collectively with the involvement of those affected or concerned, emphasizing a democratic approach to decision-making.

    5. Clarify Framing Questions

    Framing questions define the scope of consultative processes, guiding engagement on specific topics. They should be timely, relevant, aligned with the local context, accepted by stakeholders, and consider practical constraints.

    • Closed Response Questions are like a classic poll. It’s a clearly defined question with a discrete set of potential answers that participants can choose among.
    • Open Response Questions are a clearly defined question  without predetermined potential answers. Open response questions give participants the ability to develop their own answers.
    • Open Space Questions are participant-defined questions. This format enables new questions and answers to emerge.

    6. Clarify Roles

    In a consultative process, it’s important to identify the roles of all participants.

    A list of common roles: 

    • Organisers: Responsible for planning, executing, and managing the consultative process.
    • Facilitators: Responsible for guiding and managing the workshops within a consultative process, ensuring smooth communication and active participation among participants.
    • Observers: Individuals tasked with observing the proceedings of the consultative process without actively participating. They may provide feedback or insights afterward.

    Other Roles:

    • Developers of Information Materials: People in charge of creating informational materials such as presentations, learning materials, or reports.
    • Editors: In charge of reviewing and refining inputs after each workshop to ensure clarity, accuracy, and coherence.


    7. Clarify Recruitment Methods

    When developing a consultative process, a key step is to determine who should participate and why? Different participant recruitment approaches have different pro’s and con’s.

    • Open for All: Participation is open to anyone interested, regardless of background or affiliation. Open for all processes are often the easiest to organize, but can be criticized for only bringing in the people who were already engaged (aware of the opportunity). Generally the people that participate in public forums aren’t representative of the wider public.

    • Stakeholder-Based Approaches: These approaches seek to invite organized groups of affected communities. This is a common approach used by UN agencies, for example, which invites organizations that are formally registered with UN EcoSoc, for example. 

    • Sortition Selection: Participation is determined based on random selection, or a lottery,  with chosen individuals reflecting demographic diversity on selected topics.

    • Hybrid: Participation employs diverse methods and integrates them into various tactics to ensure greater representation, inclusivity, and engagement in the process.