7. Engaging the public

Historically, public consultation in decision-making has consisted of informing and consulting people. Good practice, however, is to involve them much more actively.  Decision-making and active engagement by the community is termed public participation.  You may be familiar with Arnstein's (1969) "ladder of engagement", which describes basic forms of public consultation at the bottom, rising to full public participation at the top:

WWF (1999) summarises the ladder (from the bottom) as:

  • "informing - telling participants about some decision which has already been taken (for example explaining the reasons for, or benefits of, something contentious or criticised);
  • consulting - seeking participants' ideas or views as an input to some decision which the council will take;
  • deciding together - sharing the decision with the community; giving the community some real power; and
  • supporting community decisions - allowing the community to make the decision with the council at most providing advice or comment."

CAG (2000) summarise how public consultation and participation manifest themselves in SEA:

Approaches to Consultation and Participation

Public Consultation Public Participation
Based on CAG (2000)
Common techniques
Public meetings; printed materials; newspaper articles/ads; web-sites; draft documents; questionnaires; planning inquiries; and cost-benefit analysis
Small meetings, focus groups; workshops; citizens' juries; future search; planning for 'real'; quality of life capital; and visioning
Applied through Individuals/separately Groups/collaboratively
Kinds of value most encouraged Private interest Public interest
Style of input most rewarded Adversarial Consensus seeking
Prevailing tone Argumentative Deliberative
Underlying political philosophy 'Society' is basically the sum of the individuals in it Society is more than just the sum of the individuals in it, and society's preference is not just the sum of individual preferences

Appropriate stages for Public Involvement

Appropriate stages for the involvement of (representatives of) the public could be:

  • the scoping stage, when the choice of objectives, impacts/indicators, alternatives, and appraisal methodologies is made: this ensures that the public's key concerns are taken into account, and that an appropriate range of alternatives are considered;
  • possibly during the collection of baseline information, to ensure that the often relatively broad-brush environmental description in the SEA does not miss out on any key data;
  • the evaluation of impact significance and comparison of alternatives;
  • preparation of the SEA report and decision-making, when the public's key concerns and values should be documented and taken into account; and
  • post-decision to inform people of how and why the decision was taken, and how their concerns were taken into account.

June 12, 2006 Uncategorized — brendan @ 4:37 pm


  1. Certainly, public consultation/involvement is very critical in any decision making process. Involving the public early enough ensures that their concerns and fears are understood and taken into account. Sometimes, the fears may be due to lack of information and once that is provided, it makes implementation much easier. Furthermore, public participation brings in a sense of ownership in that communities will feel that they are part of decision making as they were consulted.

    Comment by Waiswa-Ayazika — August 18, 2007 @ 2:29 am

  2. So often in the preparation of the SEA, the consulting firm use communication tools and techniques for gather information from the people, but the objectives of social research are not the same of the public participation. With the inputs of the research you can make a media campaign or you can plan information activities, but these could mere information. Public participations seek for the empowerment of the people concerned, allowed them to be the owners of their decisions and their own development.

    Comment by Seidy Salas Viquez — August 29, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

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