TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES OF PARTICIPATION

The following paragraphs will discuss some of the prevalent tools and techniques used in the participatory planning process being undertaken by various authorities across the world. Public participation has a vast theoretical and practical tools and techniques. Let’s look at some of the tools and techniques for public participation discussed in the document of (European Union Water Directors’ Meeting, 2002).

Citizens Jury/ Citizen Advisory Committee

Group of 12-20 randomly selected citizens, gathered in such a way as to represent a microcosm of their community, who meet over several days to deliberate on a policy questions. They are informed about the issue, hear evidence from witnesses and cross-examine them. They then discuss the matter amongst themselves and reach a decision through consensus.

Strengths of this technique are many It creates informed, active, engaged citizenry and promotes common good as a societal objective. It promotes self-transformation and development and provides opportunities to introduce new perspectives and challenge existing ones. It helps in consensus building and promotes communication between governments and governed. It also brings legitimacy and democratic control to non-elected public bodies

Weaknesses of the technique are fewer than benefits. There is no formal powers; lack of binding decision accountability to act upon decision /recommendation. It is exclusive – only a few individuals participate.Potential problems lie in initial stages of preparation (i.e., jury selection, agenda setting, witness selection) – these have to do with representation (who participates?) responsiveness (what jury is asked to do); and information transfer (how jury is informed?)

The technique can be recommended for use when sponsoring organization are clear about what issues it wants to address, how much it can spend on process, and whether it can follow through on the advice. It is better for focused questions about concrete issues, than on large scale issues and should be part of a wider public involvement strategy.The development of the agenda should be overseen by an advisory board made up of key stakeholders

Planning Cells/Committees

This technique is similar to a citizens’ jury in form and function. It is sponsored by local or national governing authorities to help with the decision making process. Discussions/deliberation takes place in Cells of about 25 participants in size. Results are articulated in a report that is presented to the sponsor, the media, and any other interested group. Local/national sponsor has to agree to take decisions into consideration.

This technique is good for small size of individual cells and its non-intimidating nature allows for innovative ideas and active participation. Participants represent all citizens and not special interest groups. Anyone in the population has a chance of being selected to be a part of this process. It makes decision makers more accountable because they have to defend their position resulting decisions are frequently implemented.Weaknesses of the technique are that problems are defined by local authority and only useful for problems in need of unique decisions. Decisions not always feasible and it becomes hard to keep bias out of information dissemination process.It can be used when other methods fail to resolve a conflict. It is best in situations that require a quick response to an urgent issue where there are a number of possible decisions that can be made.

Workshops and Seminars

The authority or the consultants invites the stakeholders. Usually 2-6 hour workshop is held. The authority or the consultants talk about their plans and proposals and seek the opinion of the participants in writing or oral.Strengths of the technique are that it can be used effectively for communicating information about the plans and proposals. It is useful method for obtaining informed opinions from stakeholders.Weakness of the technique is that it is exclusionary process as selected participants are invited for the workshop or seminar. There is ambiguity in the process of selection of stakeholders and participant for the workshop. It is recommended as a tool for encouraging discussionand deliberation, but needs to be used with much caution because of the problems associated with it.

Deliberative Polling

It builds on the opinion poll by incorporating element of deliberation. It involves larger numbers than citizen’s juries and may involve less time. It measures what public would think if it was informed and engaged around an issue.Strength of the Technique is that it provides insights into public opinions and how people come to decisions. It helps in seeking informed opinions, does not force people to reach consensus.Weakness of the Technique is that it requires a lot of preparation time.Although sample size is large and random, ensuring representativeness is difficult. It is recommended for drawing insight into public opinion and helps useful input into public decision processes.Best suited to issues with options and about which the public is not knowledgeable.

Citizens Panels

It consists of statistically representative sample of residents in a given area. Most comprise several thousand citizens who represent the general population of an area. Panel views are regularly sought using a survey instrument (e.g. postal, telephone surveys).It is anexpensive and effective way to learn about citizens’ needs and preferences. Panel data can be analyzed for multiple purposes and disaggregated for sub-level analysis (i.e. ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic, geographic area).Weakness of the Technique is that there is exclusivity of participant selection process. Consultation agenda determined by decision-making body (i.e. top down) and under-representation of hard-to-reach groups who refuse to participate.Due to the expense as well as the design, the panel is best suited for the development of major community wide policy documents. Limit to new policy areas, where community opinion and policy direction have yet to be determined and mobilization has not yet occurred.

Focus Groups

It is a onetime discussion of a particular topic. It involves 6-12 individuals selected to meet specific criteria in order to broadly represent a particular segment of society. One-time face-to-face meeting structured to be informal to encourage open discussion among participants.Successful focus group may lead to consensus and feelings of enrichment among participants. It provides good venue for learning about needs of a particular group. It remains largely informal, so participants can discuss issues in relaxed atmosphere. It is a good way to gauge the opinions of the public.Lack of informed participants produces superficial discussion. Selection criteria can create bias in eliciting opinions. Limited number of participants limits representativeness of opinions. There is always potential for ideas expressed to be influenced/shaped by interaction/exchange with others.It can be a tool for encouraging discussion and deliberation, but needs to be used with much caution because of the problems associated with it.

Surveys

This is a process of soliciting information from a given representative sample of citizens through questionnaires. Same questions are asked of ever individual surveyed. There are a variety of survey types: postal, interviewer, telephone.It helps in soliciting information from representative sample of citizens. Same questions are asked of ever individual surveyed and thus results represent the ground realities. There are a variety of survey types: postal, interviewer, telephone.The lists may not be representative or comprehensive. Questions need to be somewhat simple and straightforward. Survey results are often not comparable. The effectiveness of surveys is affected by the rates of response. Fundamental decisions have to be made before the survey begins which limits the scope.As it is a time consuming process, it is not a good method if quick results are required. It can be used during the beginning phases of a study (useful in detecting issues that need to be addressed).

Public Hearings

It is a form of public meeting limited in size. It tends to involve only interested citizens and usually experts.It has great potential to inform citizens and potential for improved decision making. It helps in minimizing the conflicts.It may be dominated by special interest groups and feed-back obtained from this format needs to be treated carefully because it may not be representative of the community. It leads to exclude the inarticulate and perhaps disadvantaged groups. It is recommended when there is a pre-submission phase which allows the public time to become familiar with the issues. This process has been used more frequently as the number of the complaints are increasing day by in the public offices for various planning projects. The expert members are better equipped to handle such hearings.

Open Houses

The public is invited to drop by at any time at a set location on a set day(s) and times. They can speak with staff, view the displays set up in the room and break into small discussion groups.The technique provides a relaxed atmosphere for discussion and debate. It enables staff to tailor responses according to the needs/questions of the publicThere is potential for lack of clarity in purpose and it is staff-resource intensive exercise which needs trained facilitators to co-ordination the various conflicting interest groups and helping them reach for consensus after the deliberations and discussions.

Citizen Advisory Committee

It can be made up of a variety of different organizations (e.g. from governmental to public). It is intended to represent the broader public.If committee is balanced, deliberations can be fruitful. Their advice should influence decision making process. Informed citizens can boost trust in institutions and reduce conflict.It may not be a representative group of people but comprises of the expert members of the community and the government agencies undertaking planning process.

Referenda

It is a process wherein an issue is put to popular vote. It can be initiated by governmental or other organizations, or sometimes the citizenry. Results may or may not be considered binding.It incites discussion and interest in public. It is a way to learn public views and way to get citizens directly involved with the legislative process. All voters have equal influence. It can potentially involve all members of a local or national populationResults may not be representative if there is low voter turnout Limited number of times you can use it. It has potential for undue influence if one organization has greater resources than another when campaigning for or against a proposed referendum.

Here is the recapitulation of the important points regarding the various tools and techniques of public participation in the table given below.

Table 2‑1 Comparative Tables for Various Techniques for Participation

Source: Compiled from European Union Water Directors’ Meeting, 2002

The above table no. 2.1 gives us some details on the level of participation, their major nature and character of participation process and finally authors has suggested their uses at various stages of public participation processes like informing, consulting and resolution of the differences i.e. consensus building. The choice of the various tools and techniques of the public participation depends on various factors like nature of the participation, scale of the planning, understanding of the needs, expertise and capacity of the authority and agency undertaking such initiative, provisions of the guidelines and the willingness of the authority to engage public in what manner.

In context of urban development, we will use the tools and techniques adopted in Master Plans and City Development Plans. This will form the basis for our study and further adaptation for Local Area plans. Hence, we will discuss the following tools and techniques will be dealt in greater details in the succeeding chapter.

  1. a) Objections and Suggestions
  2. b) Stakeholders Participation
  3. c) Workshop Based Methods

It has been a great experience exploring the various terms and definitions related to public participation and the minor distinction among them. From the definitions discussed above we have reached to a consensus that participatory planning a process of engaging various stakeholders and empowering them so as to make them an integral part of the process of information sharing and decision making through the process of consensus building and other forms of consultations.

While discussing the various methods of the public participation which evolved over time and which had been popular during some period of time under the prevailing socio-economic and political conditions. For the purpose of plan preparation, we have come to conclusion that the prevalent techniques and tools that can be effective used and which is being used in various planning exercises like open house discussion, workshops and seminars, invitation for objection and suggestion and stakeholders’ consultation with experts are more relevant.

Shashikant Nishant Sharma

Urban Planner

{Courtesy: Sharma, S.N. (2012), Participatory Planning in Plan Preparation: A Case of Delhi, Graduate Thesis, Department of Physical Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi}

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