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Decision Makers' Guidebook


What is participation?


Levels of participation

  • Information provision
  • Consultation
  • Deciding together
  • Acting together
  • Supporting independent stakeholder groups
Source: Willcox (1994)

The benefits of active participation

  • Clearer identification of problems
  • Improving the quality of the resulting plans
  • Developing a common basis for action programmes
  • Raising awareness and encouraging changes in behaviour
  • Overcoming conflicts and streamlining implementation
  • Initiating social empowerment of participants


Participation can contribute to

  • Determining objectives
  • Assessing problems
  • Identifying possible solutions
  • Appraising alternatives
  • Choosing a preferred strategy
  • Implementation

Groups typically included in a participation strategy

  • Regional partners
  • Local authorities
  • Transport providers
  • Business
  • Transport users
  • Statutory bodies
  • Residents

Source: IHT (1996)

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Where can I find out more?

IHT (1996)
Wilcox (1994)
DGENV (2005)

References...Section 18

Participation involves stakeholders in the development of a transport strategy. This involvement can occur on a number of different levels:

  • Information provision: a one-way process to keep those with an interest in the strategy informed
  • Consultation: where the views of stakeholders and the general public are sought at particular stages of the study and the results are input back into the strategy formulation
  • Deciding together: where the stakeholders become decision-makers and work with the decision-makers and professionals in formulating the strategy. Citizens’ forums and Planning for Real® are examples
  • Acting together: where stakeholders also become involved in the implementation of the strategy. Public-private partnerships are one example of this approach
  • Supporting independent stakeholder groups: where the city enables community interest groups to develop their own strategies

No one level is intrinsically better and different levels are appropriate for different stages in the development of a strategy, or for strategies tackling different scales of problem. Several LUTR projects have reviewed, or developed, methods for participation. TRANSPLUS considered a wide range of methods; ECOCITY carried out an evaluation of selected approaches; ARTISTS developed a method for the redesign of arterial streets involving visioning, focus groups and design workshops.

Why is participation important?

There is increasing emphasis on public participation in land use and transport planning. In many cases it is now specified as part of the planning process, and in some countries it is required under law. Participation is central to the consensus-led approach to decision-making (Section 4), but it can also increase the success of vision-led and plan-led approaches. Wide participation can ensure that the full range of objectives is considered. It can provide a better understanding of transport problems, help generate innovative solutions and be a key factor in gaining public support and acceptability for the final mix of policies needed to deliver a transport strategy. Participation can save time and money later in the process, particularly at the implementation stage, as potential objections should have been minimised by taking stakeholders’ concerns into account. TRANSPLUS, which studied participation in detail, identified the following benefits of active participation:

  • Clearer identification of problems
  • Improving the quality of the resulting plans
  • Developing a common basis for action programmes
  • Raising awareness and encouraging changes in behaviour
  • Overcoming conflicts and streamlining implementation
  • Initiating social empowerment of participants

When should participation take place?

A decision on whether and how to employ participation is best taken when the strategy formulation process is being designed. It is important to be clear on the objectives of participation at this early stage. For the more inclusive levels of participation, the stakeholders need to agree on the ways in which they are to be involved. As the benefits identified in TRANSPLUS suggest, there is a good case for involving participation at all of the key stages in the development and implementation of a transport strategy, as outlined in Section 6. It can contribute in all the ways shown in the box. DGEnv suggests that participation and consultation, covering all of these stages, should be a mandatory element of the preparation of Sustainable Urban Transport Plans.

Participation can also continue beyond implementation, by contributing to monitoring of progress and maintaining the success of the strategy. In some cities, consumers have a continuing involvement in decision-making.

Who should be encouraged to participate?

A clear understanding of the objectives of participation should help determine who should be involved. The appropriate stakeholders should include those organisations which are directly involved in the implementation of the strategy, and those who are likely to influence it; these broad groups are identified in Section 3. Those involved should include those who are affected by the strategy; help or hinder the public participation process; or have skills or other resources they might be able to devote to the development of the strategy or the public participation process. The box gives an example of the groups included in one guide on participation strategy. DGEnv also argues that the wider public should be regularly informed of progress.

Limits to participation

It is important to consider carefully what level of participation is appropriate and why participation is being sought. It is counter productive to involve the public in decisions which are not negotiable or which have already been made. It is sensible to state clearly at the outset of public participation the extent of the decisions which can be affected by the process. It is important to remember that consultation might not always be appropriate; it is perfectly legitimate for decisions to be taken by elected representatives.

It can be tempting to put together high quality materials and design a sophisticated participation strategy, but an approach which looks too professional can create barriers, may make issues appear too complex, and can often give the impression that the decision has already been made. Those involved need to be reassured that they have a genuine role to play. In some US cities, citizens’ groups are given financial support to this end.

It can be particularly difficult to involve those who are less articulate and less involved in community affairs and there is a danger as a result that the strategy will not meet their needs and increase their isolation. In the extreme, it may be fairer to limit participation, rather than attempt a public participation exercise which might exclude significant elements within society.