How do you develop a ladder of participation?

4 min readAug 14, 2021


I’m developing a strategic approach to participation, building on our existing strategy work and specifically on citizens assemblies and community assemblies — which I’ve blogged about here and there.

Part of that approach is helping services improve how they do participation. There’s obviously making it more consistent, but also moving from consultation to co-design and ideally devolving power to citizens. I asked on Twitter:

This diagram is much more visual and clear:

And the one I love is this ladder that starts with citizens themselves:

Ultimately, it’s about thinking about these different types of relationships:

The original Armstein is still a benchmark by which others reference the ladder of participation. Some have evolved it to show how it connects to specific disciplines.

It’s important to be clear about the context that a council will work in where in certain cases, the council doesn’t have any power because of national legislation, so they need to decide/impose. However, it should also aim to create spaces for citizens to be involved, and I think the diagram below provides that context — be it developing a project or working in a place. Most importantly, it also acknowledges that citizens should lead projects themselves…who would have thought!

The table below expands on that and shows how the design and delivery of services intersect in terms of the relationship that policymakers and citizens have.

And this table reminds us that we need to be clear about what the promise is to the public:

As an organisation, it’s really important to define what role we have, to be open and honest to people we involve as to what support we will provide, and to be clear about what role they will have too:

However, for some people even just creating a ladder “imbues hierarchy and doesn’t convey that there may be different ways of working together in a range of encounters”. That’s why I really like the quote below:

The table below shows when you might use different types of participation and how you could use the inputs:

Jon Alexander instead focuses on seven modes of everyday participation:

  1. Tell Stories — where people actively share and make sense of stories from their own experience in order to inform what you do. The anthropological approach that sits at the heart of the Wigan Deal sits right in this space.
  2. Gather Data — citizen science projects, where people do everything from keep diaries (as in this great Young Foundation project) to count birds in their garden, can really help understand what’s going on in a place
  3. Share Connections — designing mechanics that encourage people to pass on ideas and resources, rather than just seeing the individual, is a real opportunity. One of the best examples is Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s “3 Things for Calgary” campaign, which asks people to share the three things they intend to do for the sake of the city, and nominate three friends to do the same.
  4. Contribute Ideas — where people make suggestions in response to a shared question, one of the best examples of which is Better Reykavik, a digital project which has seen over 70% of local citizens contribute ideas for how their city could be better.
  5. Give Time — from more classic volunteering to hosting “community visits” of officers to their neighbourhood.
  6. Learn Skills — creating a platform for lifetime learning by connecting citizens together to share skills, drawing inspiration from Restart Project, tool libraries and Men’s Sheds
  7. Crowdfund Innovation — from the council matching funds for crowdfunded local projects (and perhaps inviting local business to do the same), to participatory budgeting. With innovations like Community Municipal Bonds, this could become a very meaningful funding source for local authorities.

This tree of participation provides a holistic way of considering the different factors:

Beyond participation, there are other ladders being developed:

And this on certainty and purpose




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese