Filling in the grid for the Genevan context shows how differently the programme managers and the residents perceive the participation formats. The programme managers see participatory formats mostly in the classical sense, ranging from information over consultation to co-production. The residents are more focused on self-organized bottom-up formats. However, as for the programme managers, information provision is seen as a crucial aspect of participation.
How to use this grid
There are several ways of using this grid, all different in terms of who is using it for what purpose and how much time one wants to spend on it.
1. Assessing existing or planned participatory formats
For project managers that have planned (or conducted) participatory formats: Place the formats you are using or planning to use in the grid to gain an overview about who is in charge of the implementation , who has access to it and who does not, and whether it is institutional-led or self-organized. You may be perform this exercise within the project management team or at a workshop together with involved stakeholders.
Time frame: Approximately half a day, depending on whether you conduct it in a workshop or within the management team.
Expected results: Awareness of potential shortcomings of the formats chosen, sensitivity to dynamics of exclusion and the potential influence of one actor over another.
2. Planning participatory formats
For project managers or others planning participatory formats: The grid is based on an open conception of participation, going beyond traditional formats often cited in literature and thus offers a larger variety of potential ways to engage with the public. Depending on the time and resources available, you may go as far as making interviews with residents to learn more about their wishes and expectations concerning participation and filling the responses into the grid. Without seeking direct input from potential participants, you may use the grid to choose different participation formats covering different cells of the grid. The quickest option would be to first chose a format on the horizontal axis and then to think about where to place the respective format on the vertical axis.
Time frame: Several days to months, depending on the approach you choose.
Expected results: Openness to different participatory formats, also the under-theorized ones. Sensitivity to accessibility and governance. Possibility to develop a participation strategy covering a wide range of formats.
3. Identifying different perspectives and potentially adapt and expand them
For researchers, project managers or others interested in participatory processes and their conceptualization: As demonstrated for the Geneva project, you may undertake a similar proceeding in any other context where participation is used or planned. The methods of focus groups and participant observations have proven to be very valuable to get this kind of depth pertaining to participative formats. However, you may also use semi-structured interviews, written documents and informal notes. It is very possible that further studies of this kind will adapt and expand our grid.
Time frame: It makes sense to gather data over a longer period in order to get a comprehensive picture of the participation landscape in question.
Expected results: Rich impression of the different perspectives of participation, their overlaps and differences. This in turn is useful for you to see whether they are more or less in line with these perspectives.
The grid could be applied to many other purposes, such as tracking the evolution of participatory processes over time or comparing the formats for different technologies, just to name a few.
Energy projects profit substantially from holistic participatory formats
Whatever approach is chosen to use the grid, the take-home message remains the same:
A participatory format is more than a flat definition of its modalities. It needs to be understood holistically: Who is behind it? Who is invited? Who is excluded? Who makes the decisions? And is it understood in the same way by everyone involved and if not, what are the differences?
Being sensitive to these questions and asking them again and again allows for a more efficient planning and conducting of participatory formats. Coming back to energy projects more specifically, such an enhanced understanding of participation can help moving these projects forward with less risk of delay or even suspension.
1. Arnstein, S. R. A Ladder Of Citizen Participation. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 35, 216–224 (1969).