Define Your Goals
Step 2: Identify Participation Goals
Identification of participation goals is a complex issue. Civic engagement is often criticised for its superficial nature, where decision-makers refer to the civic engagement events as an evidence of what they have done, rather than of what they found out. For the civic engagement to be meaningful, you have to decide early on, why it is necessary to engage stakeholders into making planning decisions? What kind of contribution do you expect from the stakeholders? How are these contributions be collected and analysed? And, essentially, how these contributions would inform planning decisions?
We strongly advise you to discuss participation goals and preferred participation formats with the prospective stakeholders, e.g. a focus group, as there may be dramatic differences between planners’ and stakeholders’ goals.
Most common goals of civic engagement include:
The goals of participation usually define the number and profile of stakeholders involved and the type of knowledge generated by these stakeholders. The goal “collection of contributions”, usually aims at involving large stakeholder groups, which generate diverse (and often divergent) opinions on the topic. The goal “conflict resolution”, aims at small stakeholder groups affected by the conflict, whose aim is to reach a consensus (or converge).
Note, that goals “informing the stakeholders” and “development of the social capital”, usually do not aim at collecting any contributions and, therefore, do not produce any “tangible” result in the form of data or consensual decisions. However, these goals may be, also, important, especially in those contexts, where paraticipation numbers are generally low. E.g. people may refrain from participation because they are unaware of planning / participation processes, or because they feel incompetent in the topic.
The weak link of the participation chain is often the analysis of the contributions, as well as the translation of these contributions into the actual plans. E.g. you make a call, inviting local residents to submit their opinions about the forthcoming city master plan. The opinions may be submitted by individuals or groups, and may be free format, such as digitally signed written statements. It is likely that you will end up with hundreds of statements – a massive amount of unstructured qualitative information. How are you going to analyse it? Will you have enough qualified human resources to do that? How are you going to prioritise certain opinions over the others? Thus, to avoid information overload, try to imagine possible scenarios of how civic engagement process could unfold and what would be you action strategies in each particular scenario.