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Participatory Policy Methods

There are a variety of methods for actively involving wider audiences and affected communities in public policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This is a working resource page so email us additional links.

Why participatory policy?

UNESCO identifies participation as one of its Inclusive Policy Markers with the ultimate aim of ensuring that policies are 'inclusive in design and produce inclusive outcomes'. These are critical principles for policy action in the South African context, and so we have identified a range of participatory methods that you may want to try out in your city or town. As noted below, many of them have been used locally so you can probably contact the implementing partners to find out how it went.

List of methods and tools

Know your Block toolkit describes a 10 step process for promoting community involvement in creating and maintaining ‘great places’. It was developed through a collaboration between the South African Planning Institute (SAPI) and South African Cities Network (SACN) in preparation for the Planning Africa 2014 Conference held in Durban.

Participatory Technology Assessment (pTA) and similar approaches have been developed by university research groups as a way to integrate new voices into science policy discussions. These methods tend to focus on relatively scientific topics - such as genome editing, mobility and climate resilience - so often involve experts who help to frame problems and introduce topics to facilitate discussions. Also see Community Engagement for Anti-microbial Resistance (CE4AMR).

HSRC's CeSTII has explored how universities and science institutes may engage with communities to mutual benefit using the local innovation and production systems (LIPS) approach and photovoice methods.

Participatory budgeting normally involves a national or municipal government inviting citizens to submit proposals for projects as part of a budget planning cycle. In 2018, South Korea ran its first "My Budget" process which was supported by a Citizen's Committee and panel of experts. The Vulekamali project in South Africa aims to support engagement with national and provincial budgeting processes.

Open space or unconference formats ensure that everyone in a meeting has a chance to contribute. Participants co-create the agenda by proposing topics for discussion, then share ideas in small discussion groups. As an example, this approach has been used to identify water innovation priorities in South Africa.

Data-enabled engagement has seen adoption in South Africa through programmes such as Codebridge Youth, an initiative which PAN has been collaborating with as part of our OGP work. In these initiatives, participants are encouraged to explore data and to use data-related tools, such as Youth Explorer and Municipal Money, to better understand their local context, and to use this information to develop policy proposals for planning processes. The City of Los Angeles has launched a data literacy programme to provide members of Neighborhood Councils with training on mapping and data-related tools.

World Cafe uses a similar format to open space and unconference events. A cafe table host presents a question or proposal and facilitates a conversation with a small group of participant for 20 minutes. Participants then move on to another table and host. Results from the conversations are harvested and shared with the wider group. In South Africa, this format has been used for innovators to share ideas with potential partners.

Industrial symbiosis process and workshops provide a way for private and public organisations to find symbiotic relationships with each other. This approach has been implemented in South Africa by the National Cleaner Production Centre. In workshops participants are normally asked to complete a short form in which they describe what they can offer and what they need, and then share that information with other participants who indicate a potential match which can be explored further.

PechaKucha is a visual way for sharing stories using a standard format of 20 chosen images, each for 20 seconds. This approach gained interest in South Africa 5-10 years ago as a more compelling way for people to exchange ideas, and has been active in over 140 countries.

SDG Lab Resources has identified tools that can support a multi-stakeholder initiative to address complex developmental challenges identified in the SDGs. These tools are grouped around four stages: Connect (e.g. Randomised Lunch Trials), Amplify (e.g. Story Sharing), Ask Questions (e.g. So What? Session) and Innovate (e.g. Open Space).

Citizen assemblies are gaining popularity as a way for public leaders and officials in cities and countries to gather input from residents on the direction and content of a policy. Often, residents are sampled randomly to be invited to join a citizen panel. For example, the Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate has established a 30 person Digital Ethics People’s Panel to explore how Scotland can develop as an ethical digital nation and what this means to the people of Scotland.

Citizens Planning Institute (CPI) is an initiative of of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The CPI is anchored by an eight-week training course which introduces residents to the activities of city planning, zoning and development so they can help shape and preserve their neighborhoods.

Citizen or community-based monitoring (CBM) of service delivery has been implemented in South Africa for a number of years by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation with various social partners, such as through the joint Black Sash CBM initiative.

Digital engagement and e-participation are also growing as a way to gather insights from residents on policy issues at a range of levels. However, as this blog post from Tanzania emphasises, this cannot be a passive or exclusionary process otherwise residents will lose trust in these types of mechanisms. The UN monitors levels of e-participation globally as a component of its e-Gov Development Index. Lumec and SACN are piloting an art-data neighbourhood initiative in eThekwini. The Civic Technology Innovation Network (CTIN) African civic tech database lists several digital engagement platforms.

Artificial intelligence and crowd/ collective intelligence is an emerging area of convergence and a number of scholars and practitioners are exploring how decision-making can be supported by data-intensive and AI-based methods.


Photo by Clodagh Da Paixao on Unsplash