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Eight Rungs on a Ladder of Citizen Participation

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EIGHT RUNGS ON A LADDER OF CITIZEN PARTICIPATION

Sherry Arnstein, writing in 1969 about citizen involvement in planning processes, described a “ladder of citizen participation” that showed participation ranging from high to low.
The ladder is a guide to seeing who has power when important decisions are being made. ht rungs on the ladder of citizen participation
The bottom rungs of the ladder are (1) Manipulation and (2) Therapy. These two rungs describe levels of "non-participation" that have been contrived by some to substitute for genuine participation. Their real objective is not to enable people to participate in planning or conducting programs, but to enable powerholders to "educate" or "cure" the participants. Rungs 3 and 4 progress to levels of "tokenism" that allow the have-nots to hear and to have a voice: (3) Informing and (4) Consultation. When they are proffered by powerholders as the total extent of participation, citizens may indeed hear and be heard. But under these conditions they lack the power to insure that their views will be heeded by the powerful. When participation is restricted to these levels, there is no follow-through, no "muscle," hence no assurance of changing the status quo. Rung (5) Placation is simply a higher level tokenism because the ground rules allow have-nots to advise, but retain for the powerholders the continued right to decide.

Further up the ladder are levels of citizen power with increasing degrees of decision-making clout. Citizens can enter into a (6) Partnership that enables them to negotiate and engage in trade-offs with traditional power holders. At the topmost rungs, (7) Delegated Power and (8) Citizen Control, have-not citizens obtain the majority of decision-making seats, or full managerial power

1 Manipulation: "people are placed on rubberstamp advisory committes... for the express purpose of 'educating' them or engineering their support" -- basically a "public relations vehicle by powerholders." Example: Citizen Advisory Committees.

2 Therapy: cases where government programs, social workers, or citizen groups engage with the powerless in a way that supports them but also pathologizes their attitude about government.

3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.It involves putting information in the hands of citizens. While this is a starting point to participation, Arnstein argues that situations with "no channel...for feedback and no power for negotiation...people have little opportunity to influence the program." Example: pamphlets, broadcasts, and meetings that focus on announcements rather than collective decisionmaking.

4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual. It entails consulting citizens for their opinions. Arnstein argues that "surveys, neighborhood meetings, and public hearings" can be a "sham" when they offer "no assurance that citizen concerns and ideas will be taken into account." She points out that the metrics used to report meeting outcomes, like attendance numbers, survey counts, and brochure distribution counts often eliminate any voice that occurs in these meetings. Examples: attitude surveys in "ghetto neighborhoods" and votes that don't allow space for alternative proposals.

5 Placation. tokenistically place community members on boards and committees that have executive powers. "It is at this level that citizens begin to have some degree of influence," notes Arnstein. In these settings, "powerholders [retain] the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice" from community representatives.

6 Partnership. At this rung of the ladder, power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and powerholders. They agree to share planning and decision-making responsibilities through such structures as joint policy boards, planning committees and mechanisms for resolving impasses. After the groundrules have been established through some form of give-and-take, they are not subject to unilateral change.

7 Delegation. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.

8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme i.e "participants or residents can govern a program... in full charge of policy and managerial aspects, and be able to negotiate the conditions under which 'outsiders' may change them." Here, Arnstein imagines several models, especially ones where neighborhood corporations have direct control over funds.

Theoretical and practical relevance:
Arnstein's article offers a vivid and concise introduction to the importance of considering the form of citizen participation when making claims about the power that citizens have in a public process. By putting a wide range of processes on the axis of citizen power, she cuts straight through the complexities of organizing practices to the critical values at hand.

References
Jackson, Mandy Isaacs. Model City Blues. Temple University Press, 2008.
Goldstein, Dana. The Tough Lessons of the 1968 Teacher Strikes. The Nation, October 13, 2014.

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