How to hardwire participatory policy making in public organisations

3 min readAug 3, 2022

“Embedding participation into the guts of the origination”.

How to enhance knowledge and build new skills in participatory policy-making was the theme of the last Policy Lab. Attendees were asked to consider the most common organisational problems they encounter in effectively engaging marginalised communities in policy making and the root causes as it relates to skills and knowledge gaps.

Why is important to ask and answer this question? Because it deals with organisational cultures where the workforce is not always empowered and supported to develop their skills and knowledge to better understand and enact their duties to engage residents in policy making.

Participatory policy-making requires a range of skills and resources to effectively engage and listen to marginalised community members, so that limited public spending and resources can be directed to where they are most needed, helping to build more resilient families and communities.

Developing and enhancing skills to engage, influence and create impact came out on top followed by governance and organisation skills. For example, upskilling to facilitate better knowledge transfer between residents co-opted into policy making and elected members charged with decision-making.

On the one side, we have elected members who come from a variety of different backgrounds and will approach information sources in very different ways so consideration should be paid to how evidence formed through deliberative public engagement is packaged and shared.

On the other side, we have marginalised communities, which are formed by individuals with different lived experiences of having their voices heard.

Therefore, a range of innovative and creative approaches and techniques — as part of a multifaceted toolkit — is needed to better engage and empower not only residents but also elected members to become involved in participatory policy making.

However, how might we build skills and enhance our knowledge to bridge organisational gaps in public engagement?

Fundamental to the attendees at the Policy Lab were skills to open the policy making process. For instance:

Developing & delivering a strategic approach

  • Skills to co-design bespoke participatory tools and approaches
  • Skills to map and identify enabling factors and interdependencies (e.g., structure, assets, digital and insight data) to underpinning participatory policy making.
  • Skills to establish a dynamic and multifaceted participatory toolkit

Embedding participation across our organisation

  • Knowledge on how to hardwire participatory policy making in organisations
  • Skills to persuade organisational leaders to invest in participatory approaches
  • Skills to make a business case for participatory policy making to better translate ‘thinking’ to those in power.
  • Knowledge on how to better negotiate and navigate established hierarchies and structures that form a barrier to participatory policy making
  • Knowledge on how to balance the activities of co-production and governance duties

Working with our community sector

  • Skills to better work with VCS groups to help engage marginalised communities in policy making and resource understanding
  • Skills to better communicate information with the public and VCS

Key skills & knowledge needed

  • Skills to turn transactional relationships into trusting and relational relationships
  • Skills on how to hold relationships
  • Knowledge to establish consistency in our participatory approaches
  • Knowledge on building a repository for all things participatory policy making to build on previous experience
  • Knowledge on where and how to apply a strength-based approach to participatory policy making

This is not an exhaustive list but goes somewhere to outline the range of matters that was discussed in the Policy Lab. Each of these skills and knowledge areas plays an essential role in the art of participatory policy making, which goals and missions are framed within and by the organisational culture.

Next steps

The next Policy Lab aims to identify solutions to address these common concerns in participatory policy making.

We invite you to share any ideas for where we can apply the Policy Labs lessons t to an autumn/winter 2022 demonstrator project. Contact Dr Darren Sharpe with your ideas at




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