2. Planning, implementing, and evaluating a citizen participation process

Citizen participation processes should be organised only when there is room for meaningful citizen participation in the decision-making process. Participation processes initiated by a public authority that do not lead to a meaningful contribution to policy making or lack substance, time, or other resources to be well-implemented risk disappointing citizens and compromising their trust in government.

Citizens should only be involved in a decision-making process if:

  • There is a problem that citizens can help solve.

  • There is room in the decision-making process for citizens to have influence over certain decisions. In other words, it is possible to act on the advice received from people.

  • There is a genuine commitment by senior leadership to take into account citizens’ inputs.

  • There are sufficient financial, technical, and human resources available to implement a meaningful participatory process.

  • There is enough time to organise a participatory process, and the timeframe fits the decision-making cycle. Meaning that the decision has not been taken before the process starts.

Or when there is legislation that mandates citizen participation in a particular situation. In such cases the conditions above should also be in place for the citizen participation process to be fruitful.

To support public authorities, the OECD has developed a ten-step path to planning, implementing, and evaluating a citizen participation process. The objective is to provide guidance and advice throughout the different important steps, and ensure that the process designed is inviting, with the right public in mind, and using an appropriate participation method. Emphasis is put on ensuring quality, inclusion, and impact. Nevertheless, these guidelines do not aim at being prescriptive, and acknowledge that there might be other steps, or other paths to follow.

These guidelines encourage the readers to involve potential participants - when possible - in the early design of the participatory process to ensure it works for them, and to increase the level of participation.

This chapter outlines the suggested ten steps and provides details and advice for each.

Citizen participation can be helpful to address problems in most policy areas, from climate change, public health, housing, infrastructure, transportation, education, to combating inequality and social exclusion, among others. Regardless of the policy area, the first step when planning a citizen participation process is to identify if there is a genuine problem that the public can help solve. If there is, then the problem needs to be defined and framed as a question or issue. Defining a precise problem or question is one of the most important elements of successfully engaging citizens, as it gives them a clear ask with a clear task.

It is also important to be clear about the stage of the decision-making process in which citizens’ inputs are most valuable and can have influence. Clarity about the problem and the timing will then help define the type of input that is needed, the type of participants that should be involved, and the most appropriate method to engage them.

Identifying and detailing the problem citizens will help solve, or the question that they will answer is the start of designing a participatory process. A poorly defined problem is much more difficult to solve, as the way a problem or situation is understood and framed has an impact on the range and types of possible solutions (OECD, 2019[4]).

Public authorities can answer the following questions to help identify the precise problem citizens can help address:

  • Is the problem you are tackling clearly defined?

  • Is there agreement about the problem between different actors?

  • Is there certainty about the nature of the problem?

  • Is the problem likely to stay the same throughout the problem-solving process?

  • Are there existing, generally accepted solutions?

  • Is there previous experience tackling this problem?

  • If the problem or the challenge is broad, what are some of the smaller problems the public can help address?

  • What do you want to learn from participants that you don’t already know?

  • What do you expect from involving citizens? Is it ideas how to solve your problem? Ready-to-implement solutions? Opinions and feedback about possible solutions?

  • What precise problem or challenge will participants help solve?

The decision-making or policy cycle is usually composed of five stages: issue identification; policy or project formulation; decision making; implementation; and evaluation (OECD, 2016[5]). It is indispensable, throughout all stages, to provide citizens with clear and relevant information. Beyond this, citizens can be actively involved in any of the following stages or throughout the cycle.

In the issue identification stage, citizens can be involved to help identify the most pressing problems to solve, map the real needs of the public, or gather inputs or ideas to tackle the problem.

  • Agenda setting mechanisms can allow citizens to propose ideas, prioritise needs, and contribute with evidence to the identification of pressing issues.

  • Public authorities can involve citizens in the issue identification stage by:

    • Allowing citizens to raise awareness about pressing issues through digital platforms or petitions mechanisms.

    • Sharing the agenda setting with citizens through permanent or ad hoc mechanisms such as representative deliberative processes or citizen initiatives.

During the policy or project formulation stage, citizens can be involved to enrich a proposed solution, identify risks, prototype or test solutions, or collaboratively draft a policy, project plan, or legislation.

  • Public authorities can involve citizens in the formulation stage by:

    • Establishing digital platforms and/or in-person mechanisms to allow citizens to comment, edit, or suggest changes to draft legislations or policy documents.

    • Creating spaces for citizens to participate in the design of solutions through, for example, workshops, feedback sessions, etc.

In the decision-making stage, citizens can be involved to collectively decide on the solution to be implemented, the budget to be allocated, or the projects that will be selected.

  • Public authorities can involve citizens in the decision-making stage by:

    • Developing voting mechanisms (online or in-person) for citizens to express their preferences for suggested solutions or projects.

    • Giving citizens the final decision on the allocation of public resources through participatory budgets.

During the implementation stage, citizens can provide help in deploying the solutions or projects decided in the previous stage.

  • Co-production is an overarching term to describe how public authorities can harness the skills, capabilities, and energy of citizens and stakeholders to deliver services that best meet the needs of future users.

  • Public authorities can include citizens in the implementation phase by:

    • Engaging citizens in the creation of solutions or prototypes for services or projects, through hackathons, collaborative workshops, or maker spaces.

    • Creating spaces for co-creation between public authorities, citizens, and stakeholders as a way to continuously involve them in the implementation of projects or services. For example, open innovation labs, open spaces, recurrent public meetings, etc.

In the evaluation stage, citizens can be engaged to evaluate or monitor the implementation of the solution and to measure its outcomes and results.

  • Public authorities can include citizens in the evaluation phase by:

    • Providing information and data about the policy, legislation, or project in question: the expected outcomes, the implementation progress, and the results. For example, through open data platforms, communication campaigns, open meetings, websites, etc.

    • Soliciting citizen feedback on services or projects implemented to support efficiency and improve results. Various methodologies can gather citizens’ opinions and perceptions, such as polls, surveys, or Community Score Cards.

Before involving citizens, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the objectives or expected results of the process. This will enable clarification about the desired inputs or contributions from citizens and the impact they will have on the final decision. This step will also help to identify the right public to involve (p1) and choose the right participation method (p1). It is very important to set clear expectations on the results of the process.

Inputs and contributions gathered through a participatory process can vary from broad ideas about a policy question, experts’ opinions on the feasibility of a project, feedback on an existing proposal, or informed recommendations to solve a defined problem. The selected participation method and the design of the process will depend on the expected type of inputs or contributions from citizens, as not all methodologies allow for the same results.

In addition, the public needs to understand the future outcome of their contribution. This manages citizens’ expectations and enhances their trust in the process and its result. Public authorities should decide and communicate in advance how they plan to use inputs received from the public during a participatory process and the impact they will have on the final decision. The expected outcome of the inputs gathered though a participatory process can vary from informative purposes (information) or a consultative exercise (consultation), to more impactful outcomes, potentially with binding results (engagement).

The next step is identifying the relevant group of people to involve. This decision will affect how the public will be recruited and can help define the participatory method. Different types of groups can be involved in a process, such as:

  • Citizens (a broad, non-representative group);

  • Citizens (a representative sample of a community);

  • Citizens of a specific geographical area;

  • Citizens of a sectoral group (youth, elderly, students, indigenous communities, etc.);

  • Stakeholders such as NGOs, unions, universities, grassroots movements, businesses, etc.

In all of the above-mentioned cases, it is important to reach to participants from diverse backgrounds to increase inclusion and representation in the outcomes of the process. Defining the expected input (see Step 2) can help identify the relevant public to be involved, the type of recruitment, and the method of participation (see Table 2.2).

It is important to keep in mind that to address a specific policy issue there might be a need to engage with several types of groups that require different conditions and methods to participate. For example, for an infrastructure project, information meetings could be organised for inhabitants of the neighbourhood where the project will be built, in addition to roundtables with urbanists and accessibility experts, and a broader city-wide process to grasp public opinion. Such circumstances call for a participatory system, with separate processes planned in a sequential way, and where inputs received from one process feed into the one that follows.

There are different possible strategies for recruiting participants depending on the expected inputs, the targeted public, and the participation method. Prior to recruiting participants, a mapping exercise can be useful to identify relevant groups of citizens (for example, those affected by the problem to solve) or categories of stakeholders (for example, civil society organisations, businesses, groups of experts etc.) that hold the most relevant experiences, points of view, or expertise. It can also help minimise some of the open call risks described in this section.

In many traditional participatory processes, such as public consultations, there is often an “open call” to recruit participants, either to an in-person meeting or to participate in an online consultation or forum. Participation is usually encouraged by advertising the opportunity through different channels (online, social media, post, posters). Participation is open, so anyone who wants to is able to come in person or contribute online. In certain occasions, registration is open to anyone, but participants may be chosen through an application or selection process, depending on a criteria priorily defined (and communicated). Recruitment via “open call” aims to involve as many people as possible, however, there is a wealth of research that demonstrates that certain demographics tend to disproportionately participate, notably those who are older, male, well-educated, affluent, white, and urban (Dalton, 2008[6]; Kuser Olsen, Galloway and Ruth, 2018[7]; Smith, Lehman Schlozman and Verba, 2009[8]).

Public authorities may also conduct consultations through a “closed call” for participants, meaning that politicians and/or civil servants might choose specific members of a community who have a particular expertise or experience needed to address a policy issue. In these instances, participation could be based on merit, experience, affiliation with an interest group, or because of their role in the community (see (MASS LBP, 2017[9]).

For example, a citizen science project aiming to improve air quality in classrooms might be interested in involving schools and will require a closed call and targeted recruitment of schools to take part in a project. Based on the target group, recruitment of participants can take place via organisations that represent these groups, going to places where members of the target group might be present or via tailored online communication campaigns that catch the attention of a desired audience.

Civic lottery, or sortition, is used as a shorthand to refer to recruitment processes that involve random sampling from which a representative selection is made to ensure that the group broadly matches the demographic profile of the community (based on census or other similar data) (OECD, 2020[10]).

A civic lottery attempts to overcome the shortcomings and distortions of “open” and “closed” calls for participation described earlier. It ensures that nearly every person has an equal chance of being invited to participate in a participation process and that the final group is a microcosm of society. The golden standard is two-stage random selection. During the first stage, 2.000-30.000 invitations are sent out to a random sample of the population from the convening public authority. From those who respond positively, a second invitation to participate is sent out, stratified based on criteria such as age, gender, location, socio-economic criteria, and language (depending on the context). Invitations are usually signed by a figure of authority – for example, the mayor.

A civic lottery is most often used when organising a representative deliberative process. Although it is not its exclusive use. A group of citizens selected via a civic lottery can also be convened for a participatory budget or a public consultation – in any circumstance when a participatory process requires maximum representativeness.

Recruiting participants via civic lotteries offers multiple benefits. Most importantly, the final group of participants is broadly representative of the wider public, which creates an opportunity to hear from a range of people with different lived experiences and opinions, in particular the usually underrepresented groups. Some limitations of the civic lottery to keep in mind are its rather lengthy and expensive process, and limited breadth of participation.

Beyond the careful design, planning, and implementation of a participatory process, public authorities also face the challenge of ensuring that citizens and stakeholders will be committed throughout the process. The main motivation to participate remains the commitment from organisers to use and integrate the received inputs in the final policy decision, so that they clearly see the impact of their time and effort. However, public authorities can reduce barriers and encourage inclusive participation through other design choices as well:

  • Providing financial compensation: Public authorities can provide remuneration to participants to cover their expenses (transportation, childcare, food, digital tools, etc.) to ensure inclusiveness.

  • Providing a financial reward: Citizens might receive an honorarium, a cash prize, public services vouchers, or other material benefits in exchange of their time and participation.

  • Providing childcare services: For in-person processes, providing childcare facilities for children under a certain age can help break down the barriers of participation for people with children, particularly single parents.

  • Providing support to vulnerable groups: To encourage inclusive and representative participation, public authorities can provide support to vulnerable groups such as disabled people or the elderly (such as accessible premises, sign language interpretation, etc.)

  • Making participation a social moment: Citizens can be motivated to participate if this represents an opportunity to meet and interact with other members of their community (neighbours, co-workers, etc.) or with other citizens sharing their concerns. Participation can be part of a process to build a sense of belonging at the community level.

  • Offering recognition to citizens: Citizen participation can be recognised as a civic virtue, as citizens are willing to give their time for a collective good. Public authorities can acknowledge citizens’ efforts with diplomas, certificates, ceremonies, labels, etc.

  • Making participation fun and appealing: Participatory processes can be inspired by gamification techniques to motivate citizens to get involved. The look, feel, and interface of digital tools used is also important to make the process appealing.

  • Making participation informative and interesting: Citizens and stakeholders can learn from a participatory process (for example, about a policy area or how the government works). If citizens know that they will get new information or new skills, they might be more interested in participating.

  • Providing citizens with a questions & answers page when inviting their participation: To citizens who do not typically participate in political or civic life, engaging in a consultation or participatory process can be daunting. Providing information about how the process will unfold, who will be there, and other information such as dress code can help ease people’s fears and encourage those who are less inclined to participate for various reasons.

Once the problem to solve (see p1), the expected inputs (see p1), and the public you would like to involve (see p1) have been identified, it is time to choose the method of participation. There are many different methods that can be used to engage citizens in any given context, and new methods are continuously developed and implemented. These guidelines include eight different methods that are widely applied across public institutions, but acknowledge that there other methods that public authorities can use for their participatory processes.

The summary of methods detailed below compares their key characteristics.

The first level of participation is information. Public authorities are usually obliged by legislation to publish a minimum set of public information and data both in a proactive and reactive manner (i.e. access to information or open data legislation). However, in these guidelines, information is seen both as a prerequisite for informed participation and as an enabler for more impactful levels of participation.

The OECD recognises the value of information and data for broader objectives such as trust, stronger democratic practices, and overall healthy civic spaces. The proactive disclosure of public information and data is understood as making available clear, complete, timely, reliable and relevant public sector data and information that is free of cost, available in an open and non-proprietary machine-readable format, easy to find, understand, use and reuse, and disseminated through a multi-channel approach, to be prioritised in consultation with stakeholders (OECD, 2017[11]).

  • Information and data as a prerequisite for informed participation: public information and data can promote informed public debate and increase the quality of participatory processes. In this regard, public authorities can publish different types of information and data:

    • Legal framework and public information: constitution, laws, regulations, decrees, in different formats (text as well as machine readable) for all levels of government.

    • Policy making information: all the information needed to formulate policies like policy proposals, draft legislation, as well as speeches, press releases, benchmarks, external advice, impact assessments, audits, and policy reports.

    • Decision-making procedure, including agendas, actors involved, timeframe of debates and expected milestones to reach a decision, moments where the public can interact and influence the process, legal framework, stakeholders involved (especially interest groups), motives behind the final decision etc.

  • Information and data as an enabler for more impactful participation: public information and data can empower citizens to understand and act upon the decisions that affect their lives, enable citizens to co-create solutions and support the effective monitoring of government actions.

    • Public services information: Descriptions of services offered to the public, information on the recipients, guidance, booklets and leaflets, copies of forms, information on fees and deadlines. Governments should also publish the algorithms used for public service delivery when appropriate.

    • Budget information: all budget related documents and data, projected budget, actual income and expenditure, and other financial information and audit reports. Governments should also publish the relevant formulas and algorithms when using projections and machine-based calculations.

    • Implementation and evaluation, including information about the results of policies, annual reports, audits, and all necessary data and information to allow for public monitoring and evaluation.

In addition, public authorities should always provide the public with the possibility to request more information or provide feedback. For example, official websites could include dedicated sections or specific features (e.g., a contact box) for citizens to request further information or leave comments.

Open meetings and town hall meetings are participatory tools that can be traced all the way back to 17th-century New England meetings or colonial traditions in Latin America (cabildos). Nowadays, these processes are used worldwide, most often at local or legislative level, to foster information about public action, encourage citizen participation, and to build a relationship based on accountability and trust.

Open meetings and town hall meetings aim to gather the public in face-to-face meetings with public authorities, to provide information and openly discuss topics of interest chosen beforehand, contrary to public consultations, which aim specifically to gather citizens’ inputs on a particular topic. These processes are based on dialogue and debate rather than deliberation (OECD, 2020[10]), and are more often used for information or consultation without a specific impact in the final decision.

Its main objectives are to inform citizens about public authorities’ decisions and discuss them, to get citizens closer to public decision making, and to increase public transparency. Open meetings and town hall meetings can be complemented with other participatory methods. For example, a participatory budget can be supported by open meetings to present the process, enhance participation, and share the results.

Usually, these meetings are open to any resident the area to participate or to the broader public without geographical criteria. However, they are usually not designed to be particularly inclusive: limited and often traditional means of communication are used (street posters, for instance), therefore engaging already-interested citizens rather than pursuing representative or inclusive participation.

Town hall or open meetings are usually organised by public authorities at the local level, to support information sharing and discussions about day-to-day topics. However, these meetings can be organized at other levels of government, including the national or legislative levels.

For more information on how to design and implement an open meeting or a town hall meeting, please refer to Chapter 4.

A consultation is a two-way relationship in which citizens provide feedback to a public institution (such as comments, perceptions, information, advice, experiences, and ideas). Usually, governments define the issues for consultation, set the questions, and manage the process, while citizens are invited to contribute their views and opinions (OECD, 2016[5]).

Public consultations are used to either gather ideas, feedback, inputs or opinions about a regulation, a policy question, or a draft proposal (legislation, strategy, etc.). A consultation can help design and shape decisions, or to identify ways that an already defined solution or policy can be improved.

Public consultations can be used to involve both citizens and/or stakeholders. When involving stakeholders (such as NGOs), public authorities can send targeted invitations, but when public consultations are open to the broader public, organisers need to prepare a robust communication strategy to ensure high levels of participation and to reach a diverse range of participants.

Public consultations can be done in many different ways, either in-person, online, or hybrid. The most common types are listed below.

For more information on how to design and implement a public consultation, please refer to Chapter 4.

Open innovation practices, such as crowdsourcing, hackathons, or public challenges, are a way for public authorities to tap into collective intelligence to co-create solutions for specific public issues. Open innovation is regularly inspired from business development strategies or technological development, and can be defined as “the cooperative creation of ideas and applications outside of the boundaries of any single organisation” (Seltzer and Mahmoudi, 2012[12]).

Open innovation methods are usually used to convene expertise from citizens and stakeholders to find ideas or inspiration, prototype and test solutions, or to improve services or methods (GovLab, 2019[13]).

  • Crowdsourcing refers to the idea of using the expertise and ideas coming from the crowd (in this case broader citizens and stakeholders). It can be used to gather inputs throughout the policy-cycle of any public decision. Through digital platforms or in-person activities, public authorities can gather inputs from expert groups, targeted stakeholders (such as scientists or developers), or the wider public to answer specific public problems (GovLab, 2019[13]).

  • Hackathons (from hack and marathons) are in-person or virtual events bringing together public authorities and stakeholders to collaboratively work on ideas, prototype solutions, and services to solve public problems. The idea is to take advantage of the diversity of skills, expertise, and profiles to find new approaches or innovative solutions. Usually, hackathons involve technical communities (developers, coders, designers, data scientists, etc.) to make use of data previously published (in an open data format) by the public authority convening the event. Hackathons are organised during a short period time (24 to 72 hours), where participants can work in sprint to solve a policy problem, design or code digital solutions such as dashboards, applications, websites, etc.

  • Public challenges are co-creation mechanisms where citizens and stakeholders propose solutions to concrete public problems. The public authority publishes a specific problem or challenge, and then selects the best proposals coming from the public to solve the problem in question. Solutions can be policy proposals, prototypes of mobile applications, project suggestions, etc. Citizens and stakeholders submit their proposals, and, based on previously published criteria, the public authority selects the best ranked solutions. In some cases, the public authority provides a reward to the selected solutions (such as financial compensation, public recognition, or other awards). The public authority can then implement those solutions (as new public services, or as part of a wider policy program) or provide support for the participants to develop their project (as coaching sessions, financial resources, etc.).

There are different approaches regarding who can participate in open innovation methodologies such as crowdsourcing, hackathons, or public challenges.

  • Universal access: the process is open to all interested citizens and stakeholders without requiring a specific skill, expertise, or profile.

  • Specific audiences: some processes can be aimed at more targeted audiences or public with specific skills or expertise such as technical communities, scientists, designers, etc.

For more information on how to design and implement an open innovation process, to please refer to Chapter 4.

Citizen science has a long history, as amateur enthusiasts of science, astronomy, biology, and other sciences have been exploring and observing the world around them for thousands of years. With the advancement of online technologies, it has become much more prominent and efficient, and is now employed by researchers, advocates, and communities all over the world.

The essence of citizen science is that citizens are involved in one or many stages of a scientific investigation, like identifying research questions, conducting observations, analysing data, and using the resulting knowledge (Craglia and Granell, 2014[14]). It is a way to democratise a scientific process, opening it up to everyday people, and tapping into their motivation and curiosity to co-create and further research goals.

Citizen science methods can be used for several different purposes (Veeckman et al., 2019[15]):

  • As an opportunity for citizens to learn more about a specific field or issue. Such objectives can be achieved by citizen science projects that open access to the results of scientific research to citizens for free (such as open access journals) or organising informal learning workshops. Such efforts would be considered as an initial step of citizen participation: information.

  • As a research approach, where citizens contribute by gathering or analysing data. The key strength of recruiting citizen scientists to contribute to research by collecting and analysing data is the large amount of data citizens are able to collect, the diversity of the data (since citizens are dispersed across different geographical locations and it would be impossible to gather it otherwise), and the opportunity to process and analyse data on a larger scale. The data collection can be done via observation, such as counting a specific kind of bird in one’s neighbourhood, or using technical devices, such as air quality meters. Such efforts would be considered as citizen consultation or engagement, depending on the mandate given to citizens.

  • As a method to give citizens a voice in shaping research questions, designing a project, determining a focus of a study. Citizens can be valuable and active agents in shaping the research process for some projects. Their personal experience of living in a specific location, interacting with a specific environment, and being part of a particular community can yield important insights and helpful suggestions when identifying research questions or determining a focus of the study. In addition, involving citizens in the co-design of the research project contributes to raising awareness around the issue the study aims to analyse, and can further help influence policy decisions and demonstrate the importance of the issue. Such efforts would be considered as citizen consultation or engagement, depending on the mandate given to citizens.

Both everyday people and stakeholders can be involved in citizen science projects, depending on the purpose of the project and technical requirements. They usually play different roles: while citizens are at the heart of the process, stakeholders provide support, inputs, and access to data or tools.

For more information on how to design and implement a citizen science process, please refer to Chapter 4.

In the context of these guidelines, civic monitoring refers to the idea of involving the public in the monitoring and evaluation of public decisions, policies, and services. This participatory method can also be considered as a vertical or social accountability tool, as it allows citizens and stakeholders to directly participate in making public authorities accountable for their decisions or actions.

Public institutions can largely benefit from creating feedback channels for the public to provide inputs, comments, and complaints to improve the decisions, actions, and services provided. When involving citizens and stakeholders in the oversight and evaluation of its decisions and actions, public authorities can create virtuous circles and healthier relationships that can contribute to overall trust in government. Civic monitoring can allow the public to monitor key areas of government action, such as:

  • Budget: Opening up budgets and public financial management and providing spaces for direct citizen participation to provide ongoing feedback and timely collaboration to receive inputs can reduce corruption and waste, and increase the odds of taxes being used to deliver quality public services and to achieve real improvements in living standards and in social, economic, and environmental outcomes (OECD, 2017[16]). In addition to being accountable in the collection of revenues, governments should also be accountable for the management and execution of the budget. Concretely, citizens and stakeholders can monitor and evaluate the budget by reviewing the information and data published by public institutions or ensuring that the money was indeed spent in the way it was intended.

  • Policies: Civic monitoring in policy making is focused on the implementation and evaluation stages of the policy process. Concretely, it is about ensuring that policies achieve their expected outcome, benefit the desired publics, and are efficient vis-à-vis the public resources involved (GovLab, 2019[13]). The public can gather evidence and inform about the real outcomes of policies to be able to assess the policy impact in comparison to the expected results.

  • Public services: Involving citizens and stakeholders in monitoring and evaluation can promote efficiency and improve access as well as quality of public services. Mechanisms to hold public services to account can focus on different aspects and at different stages of the service design and delivery process, such as:

    • Spending: how much is the government spending on which activities? Is the allocated budget in line with public preferences?

    • Performance: is the public service achieving its intended results? How are public authorities delivering public services? How are users perceiving and evaluating the performance of the public service?

    • Access: is the target public being correctly given access to these services? If the public service is intended to be universal, do all groups have equal access?

Civic monitoring can be done in different ways, whether in-person or using digital tools. The most common ones are listed below.

There are different approaches regarding who can participate in civic monitoring mechanisms.

  • Universal access: the process is open to all interested citizens and stakeholders without requiring a specific skill, expertise, or profile.

  • Specific audiences: some mechanisms can be aimed at more targeted audiences or public with specific skills or expertise such as technical communities, scientists, designers, etc. It can also target users of specific public services, or residents of limited geographical areas, etc.

For more information on how to design and implement a civic monitoring process, please refer to Chapter 4.

Participatory budgeting is a democratic way for people to have a direct say on how public money is spent. It began in 1989 in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. In Brazil alone, this participatory mechanism spread to more than 436 municipalities, and today we can count more than 11,000 participatory budgeting experiences around the world (Participatory Budgeting Atlas, 2021[17]).

A participatory budget refers to mechanisms that allow citizens and stakeholders to influence public decisions through the direct allocation of public resources to priorities or projects. The Participatory Budgeting World Atlas (2021[17]) defines a participatory budget as a “process that involves a specific portion or the entire amount of an institution’s budget, so that can be freely and independently decided by all the citizens participating in the initiative”. These guidelines identify two types of participatory budgets:

  • Project-based processes: a pre-defined amount of the budget is allocated to citizens’ projects and ideas. The amount depends on each authority, and it can go up to 100 million euros per year as in Paris (France), where the biggest amount of budget is put up to citizen vote (Véron, 2016[18]).

  • Budget cycle processes: citizens and stakeholders can participate throughout the budget cycle, by providing comments or making recommendations on the overall budget or strategical priorities. This can be done by creating a dedicated participatory body or by inviting participants to public decisions bodies such as budget committees.

The majority of processes are organized by local governments; however, it is important to take into consideration those experiences organized by other levels of government such as regional, state, and national. For example, Portugal, where a national participatory budget is in place as of April 2021 (see Box 2.9).

There are different approaches regarding who can take part in a participatory budget:

  • Universal access: the process is open to all individuals of a certain territory or institution.

  • Targeted audiences: some processes can be aimed at more targeted audiences or specific social sectors such as young people, residents of a specific area, the elderly, immigrants, women, LGBTQI communities, etc.

The goal of a participatory budget should be to make fiscal public decisions more open, meaning more transparent, accountable, and participatory. It helps citizens to better understand the functioning of public budgeting, influence spending priorities, and increase budget and fiscal accountability (OECD, 2007[19]).

For more information on how to design and implement a participatory budget, please refer to please refer to Chapter 4.

Representative deliberative process: a process in which a broadly representative body of people weighs evidence, deliberates to find common ground, and develops detailed recommendations on policy issues for public authorities (OECD, 2021[20]). Common examples of one-off processes are citizens’ assemblies, juries, and panels. The use of these processes, named as a "deliberative wave", has been growing since the 1980s, gaining momentum since around 2010.

A representative deliberative process is most suited to address the following types of problems:

  • Values-based dilemmas​;

  • Complex problems that require trade-offs​ and affect a range of groups in different ways;

  • Long-term questions that go beyond electoral cycles.

There are two elements that make representative deliberative processes quite different from other methods of citizen participation.

  • Random selection of participants through a civic lottery. To be able to organise deep and substantial deliberation, the group of citizens participating in it must be relatively small, usually ranging from 15 to 100 participants. Randomly selecting citizens, stratified based on criteria such as age, gender, location, and socio-economic background, has the benefit of capturing the diversity of views, perspectives, and lived experiences of different members of society and ensuring broad representativeness of that community. Even though it is a smaller group of participants than some other participatory processes, it is designed to ensure inclusiveness and capture the views of those harder-to-reach communities and voices. See more details about this recruitment method in the Civic lottery section of these Guidelines.

  • Deliberation. Deliberation involves dialogue and debate, but also implies a careful consideration of a range of different arguments and opinions in a respectful way. It requires accurate and relevant information and adequate time, so that those deliberating can go into the core of the issue and find common ground.

Overall, because of these properties, representative deliberative processes focus on the depth of deliberation and all parts of society being represented within a smaller group of participants, whereas the majority of other methods of citizen participation place the focus on the breadth of participation – aiming to ideally directly involve everyone affected by a specific issue (Carson and Elstub, 2019[21]; OECD, 2020[10]).

For more information on how to design and implement a representative deliberative process, please refer to Chapter 4.

The use of digital tools for citizen participation is a widespread practice at all levels of government around the world. It is normal for public authorities to be prone to reach out to the public using digital tools, as it might seem more accessible, easy to put in place, allowing for an instantaneous and massive participation, etc. However, the question about digital tools should only arise after the first four steps outlined above. It should not be the starting point when planning or designing a citizen participation process. There should first be clarity about the purpose, stage of the policy cycle, expected inputs and how they will be used, and the methodology. Only then is it relevant to ask if (and if yes, which) digital tools are the most appropriate. Moreover, before using digital tools for participatory processes, public authorities must take into account some considerations:

  • Keeping in mind the existing “digital divides”: Societies can be divided into people who do and people who do not have access to - and the capability to use - digital technologies. It is important to avoid the emergence of new forms of “digital exclusion” (i.e., not being able to take advantage of digital services and opportunities). For example, men, urban residents, and young people are more likely to be online than women, rural populations, and older persons (International Telecommunication Union, 2021[22]). When possible, digital tools should be implemented alongside in-person methods, to increase inclusion and bridge the digital divide.

  • Using digital tools requires resources: Using digital tools does not imply that the costs or the needed resources will be reduced, so public authorities should not think about digital as a saving option. On the contrary, a qualitative use of digital tools, one that ensures inclusion and impactful participation requires technical, human, and financial resources. In some cases, public authorities might want to outsource (meaning contract external resources for a limited period) the set-up and management of digital tools. In other cases, they can use internal resources. It is important to avoid overlaps, so it is recommended that public authorities reach out to colleagues or dedicated offices in their institutions to ensure that a digital platform is not already in place or if a digital tool has been pre-selected by the institution for these types of uses.

  • The technological choice: As it has become evident in the latest electoral campaigns, technology such as algorithms and social media can have a direct impact on the democratic process and the outcomes of a citizen participation process. Public authorities should think twice before selecting a digital tool, i.e. ensuring that the technology selected is transparent and accountable. These guidelines do not endorse any digital tool in particular, but evidence shows that open-source software is best suited for democratic processes because it allows for scrutiny, accountability, and collaboration.

Digital tools can allow citizens and stakeholders to interact and submit their inputs in different ways:

  • Being informed through data and visualisations;

  • Proposing new projects, ideas, or suggestions;

  • Deliberating to agree on shared decisions;

  • Voting on suggested ideas or projects;

  • Prioritising potential options;

  • Drafting strategies, policies, or legislation collaboratively;

  • Mind-mapping, interactive polling;

  • Recognising patterns and trends in submitted responses, views, and opinions;

  • Sharing information or data to fill an existing gap.

Selecting the right tool will depend on the citizen participation method used, the public to be involved, the expected output, the available resources, etc. People Powered has developed an interactive Guide to Digital Participation Platforms to support public authorities in selecting the right tool. It includes a matrix of the best digital tools for participation which offers a quick overview of each platform’s characteristics.

The list of existing digital solutions is very extensive, and the objective is not to map all the possibilities in these guidelines. The table below presents a list of digital tools that can be used in the context of the methods presented in this document. All the tools listed are open source, which means that the public can see, replicate, and collaborate on the code. Nevertheless, public authorities can also decide to develop and design their own platform, adapted to their specific needs.

The Inter-American Development Bank has put in place a repository of open-source tools that can be used in the context of participatory processes. These tools can be replicated by any interested authority and range from collaborative drafting, monitoring of commitments, public consultations, to citizen alerts.

Quality communication is a prerequisite to organising a successful participatory process. It can help at every step of the way – from recruiting citizens, to ensuring transparency of the process, and extending the benefits of learning about specific policy issues to the broader public. As mentioned in the joint OECD-Open Government Partnership (OGP) Guide on Communicating Open Government (OECD and OGP, 2019[23]), such tools can highlight existing opportunities for individuals to contribute to laws, for example, or to widen the government’s interactions with the public and target specific groups, including traditionally underrepresented ones (OECD, 2021[24]).

When communicating about any participatory process, it is helpful to:

  • Distinguish between communication with the participants of the process and communication with the broader public about the participation process (see Table 2.7).

  • Prepare a communications strategy and plan that follows every step of the process and is based on audience insights.

  • Consider which channels are appropriate to reach your audience. Younger citizens might prefer online and social media, whereas older citizens might be more easily reached by post, print newspapers, or posters in local supermarkets.

  • Ensure constant, clear, and understandable communication that does not use technical language. Unclear information in technical language can easily discourage any form of participation.

  • Consider translating the communications into all the languages that are spoken by the communities addressed, this is important to ensure inclusion and to reach out to a broad public.

The implementation of a participatory process largely depends on the method chosen. Key elements of each model are outlined in the previous section with more detail and guidance on each method available in Chapter 4. There are some general considerations that concern any participatory process – such as preparing an adequate timeline, identifying the needed resources, ensuring inclusion and accessibility, and considering a citizens’ journey through a participatory process. This section provides tips to support practitioners, public servants, and policy makers throughout the implementation of their participatory process.

  • Planning sufficient time to implement the participation process. Simpler processes such as public consultations might take a couple of months to implement – from preparing necessary materials, to communicating and inviting citizens to participate, and giving them enough time to provide their contributions. More complex processes, such as participatory budgets, citizen science projects or deliberative processes can take much longer, depending on their scale. For example, for a deliberative process, several months are required to get stakeholders and decision makers on board, around two months to conduct a process of random selection of participants, and several months of learning and deliberation of participants (as they meet every or every other weekend).

  • Aligning the participatory process with the decision-making process. Participation should be timely in order to inform decision making.

  • Preparing a detailed timeline. It should include preparatory steps, such as booking the venue and preparing information material, as well as steps to implement the process (how long in-person sessions will be, how much time in between etc.).

Every participatory process requires dedicated resources to be successfully implemented and result in useful outputs for decision makers. The necessary resources vary depending on the design and implementation of the process. Some elements that will influence the amount and type of resources needed can include: the scope of the process (timeframe, number of participants), the method used, the type of recruitment, the tools, and some logistical considerations such as venues and facilitation. Resources can be human, financial, and/or technical; and can be complemented by partnerships with civil society.

Participatory processes (even when completely virtual) require sufficient staff to organise the process, recruit participants, develop information resources, facilitate interactions, answer requests, communicate, analyse and synthesise the inputs, etc. These human resources can be available within your team, such as partners and colleagues, or through external contractors. The quantity and profiles of staff required will depend on the method used, the scope of the process, and the desired input from citizens. Some of the key competences required for any method are project management and communications.

As with every democratic process, participatory processes need dedicated financial resources to cover the cost of human resources, meeting venues and catering, digital platform licenses, public communication, honorarium payments to participants (recommended for some methods of participation), costs of participants’ childcare or transport, etc. The costs will depend on internal resources available, the scope of the process, the method, etc. A process that is truly inclusive and breaks down the common barriers to participation will require a larger investment.

More and more processes are using digital tools for communication, receiving participants’ inputs, and/or processing/analysing the inputs received (please see Step 5 on p1 of these Guidelines for recommended digital tools). Technical resources can encompass staff with digital skills, software licenses, computers, tablets, cloud services, etc.

Participation competence centres, advisors, institutional coordinators, or communities of practice as well as context or policy area specific guidance, methodologies, and established platforms might be at your disposal. It is helpful to tap into these resources, especially when implementing a participation process for the first time.

In addition to the resources needed to implement a participatory process, public authorities can build alliances and partnerships with non-governmental stakeholders such as civil society organisations (CSOs), the media, or private sector entities. These partnerships can help implement the process, broaden the targeted public, increase the impact of communication efforts, etc. For example, CSOs can help public authorities to reach groups beyond the usual suspects (e.g., migrants), disseminate the opportunities to participate through their networks or regular newsletters, and can be a source of potential resources to implement the process (e.g., facilitators).

Everyone should have equal opportunities to take part in any participatory process. Section How to motivate citizens to participate? of these guidelines outlines some of the preconditions that enable people to participate and ensure everyone can afford to do so. In addition to that, organisers should ensure that usually underrepresented groups and minorities are represented to effectively address the needs of all citizens. Public authorities should take into consideration any special needs and verify that individuals with disabilities are able to exercise their right to participate in comfort. This includes people using assistive mobility devices (such as wheelchairs, canes, and walkers), individuals with visual and hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, or other disabilities that reduce their physical and/or sensory fitness.

  • Take time when mapping your potential participants to think about the groups of people that usually do not participate, or that are not represented in decision making bodies.

  • Reach out beyond the “usual suspects” – for example younger audiences, women, rural populations, minorities, etc.

  • Provide information in simple and accessible language for everyone to be able to participate.

  • Think about those that do not have access to the internet or to digital devices. If possible, always provide an offline alternative to participate. Non-digital alternatives can be, for example: physical voting, consultations via phone, or any other in-person mechanisms (workshops, kiosks, paper mail, etc.).

  • Ensuring physical access to participation activities: a person with a disability should be able to reach the meeting place independently. Having an assistant should be a choice, not an obligation. Consider the following aspects: easy access to adequate parking, access from parking to the entrance and through the entrance with assisted mobility devices, ramps/lift available, information in the building adapted for the use of individuals with various disabilities, availability of appropriate equipment during any meetings – such as an induction loop for the hearing impaired, among others.

  • Make sure information is accessible to everyone:

    • placing materials sufficiently low, at a height adapted to the capabilities of people in wheelchairs;

    • website design should be in accordance with accessibility standards;

    • providing a sign language interpreter at meetings and hearing aids or additional information on the screen, accompanying the voice message;

    • conducting information meetings in easily accessible places or using places without access barriers.

One way to ensure that the process will be successful in recruiting participants and maintaining their interest throughout is by putting yourself in the shoes of the target public.

When thinking about the citizens’ journey through a participatory process, organisers can anticipate blind spots that could potentially confuse or demotivate participants and reduce dropouts by making necessary adjustments. Figure 2.5 below maps the simplified version of a citizens’ experience throughout such a process.

Involve published research and evidence on how and why people participate, which can be a useful start for thinking about the citizen journey.

Getting back to participants and the broader public about the results of the participatory process is an important step. It is also one that is often neglected. Without proper acknowledgement of the work and commitment from citizens and stakeholders, participants might get the wrong message that their input was not important or will not be considered, creating distrust and discouraging them from participating in similar activities in the future. Participants should also know which of their recommendations will be taken into account and why some of them might not be used. This increases the transparency and accountability of the process and contributes to building an open government culture.

The inputs received as part of the participatory process should be given careful and respectful consideration and used as set out in the beginning – with clear justifications and arguments if certain results are not used or implemented. Public authorities are not obliged to implement all of the recommendations, ideas, or proposals, nor to use all of the data gathered – as long as such choice is justified and corresponds to the initial commitment. It is possible for public authorities to establish that the process is purely consultative, or to commit to integrate certain recommendations, or to integrate all the inputs received.

The important aspect is to be clear and transparent from the beginning, and to communicate with participants and the wider public about the decisions taken.

Closing the feedback loop refers to the efforts taken by the conveners of a participatory process to get back to participants about the status of their inputs and the ultimate outcome of their participation. By not properly closing the feedback loop, public authorities risk discouraging people from participating another time and potentially diminishing the benefits of participation, such as increased sense of trust, efficacy, and agency.

  • After the participatory process, public authorities should get back to participants as well as the broader public with the acknowledgement of the received inputs, recommendations, or help.

  • Organisers could explain exactly how the contributions will feed into the bigger picture of the decision making, and when participants can expect any concrete results.

  • If some of the proposals cannot be taken into account, then public authorities should be transparent about the reasons. This demonstrates respect for participants and reduces ambiguity and potential misunderstandings.

  • Finally, thanking participants for their time and effort, as well as keeping them updated on the progress of the process (and the inputs) can increase a sense of value and appreciation.

Evaluation allows to measure and demonstrate the quality and neutrality of a participatory process to the broader public. This can increase trust and legitimacy in the use of citizen participation for public decision making. Evaluation creates an opportunity for learning by providing evidence and lessons for public authorities and practitioners about what went well, and what did not. It gives a basis for the iteration and improvement of the design and implementation of a participation process (OECD, 2021[25]).

Tina Nabatachi (2012[26]) suggests that evaluation is mostly about evaluating the process or the impact of a participatory process:

  • Process evaluations can help public authorities better understand and improve the implementation and management of a citizen participation process.

  • Impact evaluations can help public authorities determine whether the citizen participation process reached its intended audience and produced its intended effects.

Evaluation should be planned for from the very start of designing a participatory process. Depending on the method of participation and scale of the participation process, different types of evaluations can be chosen. For a short, small-scale process, such as a public consultation, a participant questionnaire administered by the organisers would be an appropriate evaluation. Whereas for participatory budgeting or representative deliberative processes it is recommended to commission an independent evaluation. In principle, the evaluation should be carried out by people who are not involved in the participatory process, and are thus able to objectively indicate what went according to plan and what did not work. The initiators or commissioners of the participatory process should also reflect on the activities carried out.

Well conducted evaluations can shed light on questions such as:

  • What are the main lessons from implementing a participation process?

  • Did the participation process go as planned and intended?

  • Did it meet its goals?

  • Did the decision maker uphold their commitment?

  • What worked what did not?

  • How did the participants experience the process?

The results of evaluation should have a real impact on the design of other processes in the future.

To design a participant questionnaire, guide self-reflections of the organisers or commission an independent evaluation, it is central to keep in mind the principles for quality participation, which can serve as a benchmark. Chapter 3 of this document outlines these principles. Further resources on evaluation can be found in Chapter 4 of the Guidelines.

As part of an open government, citizen participation requires a change of behaviour and mindset to put citizens at the heart of any public action and decision. This involves changes in individual and institutional values, skills, beliefs, norms of conduct, and expectations, which are materialised in new policies, services, and methodologies, among others. At the institutional level, it requires a new set of processes to transform the internal ways of working, and new norms and values that integrate open government and participatory practices as the new normal. At the individual level, it means new ways of thinking about public service and adapting skills to deliver public action in a transparent, accountable, and participatory manner. At all levels, the cultural change requires an adapted mindset that understands the benefit of citizens’ inputs (OECD, forthcoming[27]).

Moving from ad hoc process to a participatory culture requires that involving citizens becomes a habit for public authorities. To build this habit, participatory processes should be embedded in the institutional architecture, through legislation or regulation. Besides a change in the public decision making and the mindset of public authorities, a culture of participation requires democratically-fit citizens that are interested and have the agency and needed skills to participate.

To support the use of participatory practices and make sure it goes beyond one-off initiatives that are often dependent on political will, efforts should be made to institutionalise them in a structural way. Structural changes to make participation an integral part of the democratic architecture is a way to promote true transformation, as institutionalisation anchors follow-up and response mechanisms in regulations. Creating regular opportunities for more people to have a say on public decision making not only improves policies and services, it also scales the positive impact that participation has on people’s perception of themselves and others, strengthening societal trust and cohesion (OECD, 2021[20]).

Institutionalising citizen participation practices can also contribute to the creation of participatory infrastructure available for public authorities. For example, consolidated networks of public servants and practitioners with expertise on citizen participation could be easier mobilised when needed. Participatory methods, especially the more innovative ones, can also become easier and less expensive to implement, as costs and resources are saved by not starting from scratch every time (economies of scale). Building institutional know-how about how to commission or conduct a range of citizen participation methods would enable to implement more such processes, opening up decision making to citizens in a genuine and sustained way (OECD, 2022[28]).

Fostering the culture of participation requires not only the opportunities for citizens to participate, but also citizens who are ready to take on this active role in collaborating, co-creating, and making informed decisions together with public institutions. A citizenry that is democratically fit has the mandate, but also skills and competences needed to play an active part in a democratic system. Multiplying the opportunities for citizens to exercise those democratic muscles through practice can help enhance their democratic fitness and strengthen their skills to express disagreement, find compromise with others, self-mobilise, engage in activism, feel and express empathy, practice active listening, effectively express their opinion, and strengthen verbal self-confidence (We Do Democracy, 2022[29]) (MASS LBP, 2022[30]).

It is not enough for governments to decide they want to engage more with citizens. They need to create an environment in which this is possible and in which citizens are able and willing to come forward and engage with public officials. This means that individual rights (particularly freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association) need to be respected (de jure and de facto), complaint mechanisms need to function, information and data needs to be made available, rule of law needs to be respected, journalists need to be able to analyse and critique government decisions, protesters need to be able to air their views in safety, and CSOs/activists/human rights defenders need to be able to operate without fear of violence, retribution or interference, etc. (OECD, forthcoming[31]).

A non-protected civic space can contribute to a polarized atmosphere, which hinders the quality of the interactions between non-public stakeholders (including citizens, NGOs, media, etc.) and public authorities. The closing of the civic space can have a direct impact on the level of inclusion of participation. As part of the Recommendation on Open Government, the OECD invites countries to protect their vibrant civic spaces (both offline and online) in order to allow for equal, informed, secure, and inclusive participation.


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