7 Sins of Public Participation

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Stephen Buckley

Aug 19, 2014, 11:01:34 AM8/19/14
to OpenGov...@googlegroups.com, Doug Sarno
Dear #OpenGov Evaluators,

Yes, it's been awhile since last we talked.  But I've waiting for the ripest time.

There seems to be a lack of consensus on "what works" with respect to Open Government (i.e., transparency, participation, collaboration).  So perhaps we can move things along by seeing if we can agree, at least, on what does not work.

Therefore, I offer, for your consideration, these "7 Sins" (see below) developed by Doug Sarno, former Executive Director of IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation).  I noticed that, in large part, they are the inverse of the IAP2's "Core Values of Public Participation". http://bit.ly/iap2corevalues

I'd like to know if you agree with them (or would word them differently?).  Does one strike you as more obvious than the others (because of a personal experience you've had)?

My favorite (i.e., most frequent sin) is #6: The Public Is Not Adequately Informed (i.e., "the public does not have the necessary understanding to provide meaningful input to the decision").  In other words, it's not clear what is happening, so the public is prevented from participating.


Steve Buckley, moderator
opengovmetrics email- group
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P.S.  Full disclosure:  I was working for Doug when I set up the very first web-forum used by a U.S. government agency to collect public comments on a federal project.


Seven Common Sins That Lead to Public Participation Failure

1. Lack of Commitment.

All levels of the organization must be committed to gaining and using public input at the appropriate level. Commitment by public participation staff without the commensurate commitment of managers, technical staff, and decision makers often results in a public that is over-promised as to their potential influence.

2. The Checklist Approach.

Approaches that dictate specific meetings and activities often bypass the important steps of defining the purpose and promise of public
participation and can prevent agencies from appreciating the potential value of public participation.

3. Public Participation Starts Too Late.

When the public is not provided the opportunity for input until a proposed decision is developed, it is generally understood that little opportunity for meaningful public impact exists and public events simply become gripe sessions at best.  Public input into decision criteria and alternatives are
the most effective places to ensure public influence and satisfaction with decisions.

4. Public Participation Is Not Integrated Into Decision-Making.

When public participation is conducted parallel to, rather than as part of, decision making, the public does not receive the information it needs in time to provide meaningful input.  Public input is largely reflected as complaints and hardened positions and decision makers rarely receive public input in time to truly influence decision making.

5. Not All Stakeholder Voices are Heard.

Without the full engagement of a broad cross-section of the community, the public participation process may recognize only some of the stakeholder values and interests that are important to making decisions, and often hear from only the loudest and most extreme viewpoints.

6. The Public Is Not Adequately Informed.

Without a great deal of attention and effort toward comprehensive and transparent public information, the public does not have the necessary understanding to provide meaningful input to the decision.

7. The Public Receives Inadequate Feedback.

Without timely and specific feedback about how its input was used, the public does not understand how its concerns were taken into consideration and how its input influence decision-making.

All Materials © Forum Facilitation Group 2014
Contact Doug Sarno, President, do...@forumfg.com, 301-798-2713
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