What are the conditions necessary for successful public participation?

Meaningful public participation should bring interested and affected stakeholders together to work on constructive solutions to common problems. The process requires certain prerequisites to be successful:

  • Structure and Process – There must be clearly defined rules on how public participation will be conducted and how the decision will be made.
  • Purpose and Objective – There must be a clearly defined purpose for public and stakeholder involvement on the matter under consideration, and the roles must be real, practical and shared among stakeholders. Organisations must determine the appropriate level or degree of public participation for each decision and set public expectations accordingly. No one benefits when organisations over promise and underdeliver. By making promises that cannot be kept, an organisation undermines public confidence in the public participation process.
  • Opportunity to influence – The decision-making process must provide real opportunities for public input to be considered.
  • Commitment to the Process – Organisations and their employees must be committed to all activities necessary to make public participation to work and be willing to ask for and consider public input in the decision-making process.
  • Inclusive and Effective Representation – Reaching out to a non-discriminatory and full representative spectrum of interested and affected stakeholders.

What should the public expect from the organisations engaging in the public participation?

The public should not feel overwhelmed by the participatory processes, they should be seen as opportunities for persuasive discussions where issues can be resolved with the greatest possible satisfaction and benefit to those affected. When done well, the time and effort invested in public participation pays off and leads a more widely acceptable, actionable, and sustainable decisions.

Successful public participation requires some of the following: –

  • Sufficient Resources – Organisations must provide the funding to support all aspects of the process, which may include engaging and gathering input from the public, offering dedicated resources to engage vulnerable communities, situation assessments, and outreach activities.
  • Participative Skills of Staff and Participants – Organisations must provide and human resources and qualified staff and should provide participants with communication and collaborative problem-solving skills training, wherever possible.
  • A Climate of Integrity – Trust and credibility is essential to public participation. Public participation will not thrive if organisations or decision-makers are corrupt or disingenuous when it comes to considering public participation or contributions.
  • Belief in the Value of Public Contributions – The organisation must embrace the community model and accept that public contributions lead to better decision-making outcomes and better governance.
  • Willingness to Engage – Organisations need to ensure they have the expertise to plan and implement public participation processes, and that the organisation and the public alike have the knowledge and communication skills to engage effectively in the process.
  • Transparency – Organisations must share information that is easily understood and accessible in order to educate the public about the issues and options in a timely manner.