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Public involvement exercises are now built into all levels of local democracy. There are no simple formulae or 'off the shelf' solutions to improving participation, but there is a wealth of experience to draw upon for guidance on which methods work best for different situations. Many of these resoources can be applied in the Higher Education sector.  Here we offer a selection of practical guides that can be used as handbooks in the planning and design of projects to involve the public in decision making and policy development.

Dialogue designer

A free online tool published in 2008 by public engagement consultants Dialogue by Design to help you choose and design the best engagement process to suit your needs.  The Dialogue by Design Handbook complements the online system but can also stand alone as a detailed, clearly-written guidebook for people in the public, private and voluntary sectors undertaking any size of engagement exercise.  Written in an engaging style, the Who, Why and How factors of the design process are explored, followed by a review of the main engagement methods, including advantages and disadvantages of each, their resource requirements, and how to initiate and use them.  Also contains useful guidance on working with stakeholders.

People and participation

Well researched report by the participation organisation Involve (2005), with a particular focus on involving citizens in decision-making.  Using case studies to illustrate, the report examines the issues and pitfalls of participation, and guides the reader through the purposes, planning process, a range of methods, and evaluation process to help promote wider understanding of participatory processes.  See also Involve's People and Participation.net site, which provides information, advice, case studies and opportunities to share experiences with others, including interactive tools for designing and planning a participatory process to suit your own situation and links to a huge array of useful practical resources.

The Guide to Effective Participation

Partnership expert David Wilcox builds on his 1994 guide for community activists and public service providers to offer a comprehensive toolkit of techniques and principles for participation.  The guide gives a lot of theoretical detail about the different types and levels of participation, with practical advice on choosing the most appropriate method for your situation. The pitfalls of some of the common participation "quick fixes" are discussed.  The A-Z of Effective Participation is a useful dictionary of participation terminology to help build up your understanding of the field.

Citizens as Partners: OECD Handbook on Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making

Published in 2001, this handbook offers government officials at all levels practical assistance in strengthening relations between government and citizens.  It combines a brief review of basic concepts, principles, concrete examples of good practice, tools (including new information and communication technologies) as well as tips from practice. The approach and activities shown in this handbook support and complement formal institutions of democracy, and strengthen the democratic process.

Beyond the Ballot. 57 Democratic Innovations from Around the World

Graham Smith's report for The POWER Inquiry (2005) examines formal methods for involving citizens in the political decision-making process.  Selected from democratic practices in use around the world, the innovations are usefully categorised into six areas: electoral, consultative, deliberative, co-governance, direct democracy and e-democracy innovations.  Case studies illustrate the best of the innovations evaluated on the basis of them increasing and deepening citizen participation in the political decision-making process. 

An introduction to consultation methods

Fife Council has produced this clear document outlining 19 different methods for consulting and engaging people in decision-making activities. Each method is categorised and described in terms of its purpose and appropriateness for different levels of engagement.  The document is written for a public services context.

Deliberative Public Engagement: Nine Principles

Participation experts Involve and the National Consumer Council (2008) present a set of specific, evidence-based principles for achieving effective deliberative public engagement (DPE).  This discussion and dialogue-based approach values participant input and shows how this can be harnessed to deliver changes in public policy.  The benefits of this method are summarised in Appendix 1.

Say&Play: A report and toolkit for improving Local Government consultation

The Say&Play approach (2008) is a creative solution to the problem of how to get people, and young people in particular, involved in consultation exercises.  It is a useful way of engaging with large groups of people who have not traditionally participated by taking consultation out to the public to spaces in which they feel comfortable.  This Toolkit gives practical guidance to those in local authorities or the public sector wising to set up their own Say&Play consultation event.  It is packed full of creative ideas and information, and draws on the lessons learned from the trial of Say&Play@Schools in the London Borough of Lambeth.  

Participation Works!: Twenty-one techniques of community participation for the twenty-first century

Published by the New Economics Foundation (1998), Participation Works! contains 21 proven techniques from around the world.  For each technique, expert practitioners have provided detailed descriptions of the method, its uses and the resources needed, with case studies to illustrate.  Before you dive in, you are encouraged to define your criteria - what it is you want to get from the participation exercise - so that you can then evaluate each of the 21 techniques presented.  It shows how to choose between them, how to use them properly and where to go for more information. A user-friendly PDF version of these techniques is available at http://www.preval.org/documentos/00482.pdf.