[Second in a series of posts presenting our “Participation Schemas”. The first post was: “Open Government beyond open data and transparency”]
Since Sherry Arnstein presented her famous “Ladder of Citizen Participation” in 1969 , dozens of alternative models have been proposed to describe and categorize the participation in its various dimensions [2 & 3]. The problem with these models is that they are either too simple, and therefore do not provide meaningful analytical insights, or they are too complex and specialized, making it difficult their widespread application.
As a result, most projects and studies end up relying on the scales proposed by the OECD  and by the International Association for Public Participation , which basically simplify Arnstein’s eight rungs in three and five levels, respectively. In the case of the OECD these are: 1. Information, 2. Consultation and 3. Active Participation, while IAPP’s “Spectrum of participation” includes: 1. Inform, 2. Consult, 3. Involve, 4. Collaborate and 5. Empower. Both models ignore Arnstein’s criticism around the issue of ‘power’ and fail to reflect, especially in the higher levels, the wealth of nuances that participation entails .
In this context, our Participation Schemas aim to provide a consistent framework for the analysis, design and comparison of participatory cases and methods. Within the wide variety of models proposed so far to analyse participation, the Participation Schemas represent a pragmatic compromise between complexity, utility and versatility. They provide a tool which is at the same time easy to use, penetrating and practical.
Participation Schemas make possible to identify the most important dimensions of a participatory initiative, policy or situation, standardizing their graphic representation to facilitate the analysis. Participation Schemas thus allow theorists and researchers, as well as practitioners and activists to quickly apprehend, describe and compare participatory experiences and situations, paying attention to their fundamental characteristics. Participation Schemas support the critical and comparative evaluation of participatory projects and initiatives by raising awareness about their strengths and weakneses; something which is much needed to establish repositories of good and bad practices, or to create benchmarking metrics and models.
We refer to them as “schemas”, in plural, because this model inteds to stay in a flexible “continuous beta”. As we shall see, different contexts or analytical intentions may demand that the categories of analysis are refined, simplified or supplemented. The different adaptations of the participation schemas will nonetheless keep a reasonable consistency with each other, as long as they respect the general framework that inspires the model.
The model has been especially developed for public participation initiatives happening at the local level but it can also be applied to higher levels. The basic model that will be presented in this blog focuses on analyzing the participation that happens in the context of public decision- and policy-making processes. However, it could be applied to processes initiated by all kinds of institutions –be them private, semi-public or civil actors– which have a certain capacity to make decisions and are willing to share this capacity with other affected or interested stakeholders. For example, a commercial company could want to cooperate with its customers to improve its services. Participation Schemes allow analizing and communicating cases of “administrative participation” –the ones sponsored and generally organized by a public institution–, as well as autonomous forms of participation, which emerge from the independent action of civil society actors.
Next posts will present the five key dimensions that characterize Participation Schemas, which basically respond to the what, who, when, where and how of participation.
[Continue reading next post: “Participation Schemas: Dimension 1 – Intensity of collaboration” ]
 Arnstein SR (1969) A Ladder of Citizen Participation. American Institute of Planners Journal, 35(4), 216–224
 Brodie E, Cowling E, Nissen N (2009) Understanding participation: a literature review. NCVO & Involve
 Prieto-Martín P (2012) “E pur si muove!” La participación electrónica más allá de los galimatías académicos. GIGAPP Estudios/Working Papers – IUIOG, Madrid
 OECD (2001) Citizens as Partners: OECD handbook on Information, Consultation and Public Participation in Policy-Making. OECD, Paris
 IAPP (2000) AIP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. International Association for Public Participation
 Prieto-Martín P (2010) Las alas de Leo: La participación ciudadana del siglo XX. Bubok