What is the Spectrum of Public Participation?

Spectrum of Public Participation

Using the Spectrum of Public Participation

Many practitioners and organisations find the Spectrum very helpful. The IAP2 claims that the Spectrum is “quickly becoming an international standard” and, while this claim is partly marketing, it certainly has some validity in some sectors. In Australia, the Spectrum forms a basis for many state and federal government guides to community engagement (e.g., Department Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Department of Primary Industries) local government community engagement plans (e.g., City of Newcastle, Latrobe City and the Local Government Association of South Australia ) and a range of other organisations (e.g., Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence and Trinity Grammar School).

While not as widely used in other parts of the world, it is still relevant and has been used in a range of contexts (e.g., The United States Environmental Protection Agency, the British Forestry Commission and Vancouver’s Engage City Task Force).


Selecting a level

The Spectrum is not a flow chart. They are not steps in a process – starting on the left and working to the right – so selecting a level needs to be based on the specific context.

Higher levels are not necessarily “better”. If an issue is not controversial and does not provoke passionate feelings, a lower level maybe more appropriate, but for issues which are complex and controversial, it can save time in the long run to choose a higher level ….

Selecting a level of participation does not mean that the level cannot change, (e.g., it might be discovered that an issue was more controversial than thought, and so a higher level might be adopted) nor is the selected level the only one that can be used. It can be quite appropriate to provide ways of engaging the community at lower levels than the level selected. For example, some people may not have the time and energy to participate in day long workshop held at the Collaborate level, but might still want to have the opportunity to contribute their ideas.

The level is only part of the picture

Community engagement needs to have strong ethical base. Selecting appropriate levels is important but the way we engage the community and who we engage are also vitally important.

The Spectrum of Public Participation is underpinned by seven values.….

The Spectrum is a useful tool in thinking about, and planning, community engagement that has helped many practitioners in a wide range of contexts. Although there are examples where it has been used poorly, it provides a valuable starting place and can, in fact, be used to challenge poor community engagement practice….(More)”