In a decision-making process directly involving citizens, a crucial point is the relationship between representativeness and participation. In modern states an aware and informed mass participation is unrealistic. Instruments such as referenda or polls can often lead to a partial or distorted conclusion representing the opinion of an uninformed majority. This is why participatory methodologies have been developed to ensure that the citizens involved in a public decision making process can take an informed decision.
A crucial issue is how to ensure that citizens are granted access to a number of different sources and points of view, avoiding non-transparent mechanisms that may influence the use of information. To achieve this goal, citizens must not be subjected to asymmetric modes of information management: SciCafe 2.0 offers a platform in which citizen themselves can share and compare information, data, values, opinions.
The term PE was born in 1975 in Canada during the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry which gave voice to indigenous North Americans on the Mackenzie valley oil pipeline. PE and other participatory, deliberative methods are now fully acknowledged practice extending from the public health issues, through to controversial or emerging technology development, to natural resource management and sustainability.
Engagement processes could be measured on a ladder of participation. Engagement that is fully participatory often results in community and other stakeholders having full ownership of a direction, course of action or decision, and empowered for their implementation. The purpose of engagement is crucial to determine the level of participation.
Finding the appropriate metrics of effectiveness and success in Participatory Engagement has a long prehistory. The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) offers a Public Participation Spectrum as a normative model, a principled approach for effective adaptation in selecting the most suitable types of engagement. Petts and Leach have also developed a list of engagement principles which includes a need for clarity of objectives, and of legal, linked and seamless processes; consensus on agenda, procedures and effectiveness; representativeness and inclusiveness; deliberation; capability and social learning; decision responsiveness; transparency and enhancement of trust. The creators of the World Café method, Brown and Isaacs have also developed the Six Cs model (Capability - Commitment - Contribution - Continuity - Collaboration - Conscience) as success criteria for Participatory Engagement. In successful Participatory Engagements the members are capable of dialogue based on shared benefit and respect in an encouraging, sharing and trustful setting.
Members also rotate roles in a transition process that shapes a collective intelligence.
Petts, J - Leach, B (2000) Evaluating Methods for Public Participation: Literature Review, R & D Technical Report, E135, Environment Agency, Bristol
Brown J. - Isaacs D. Merging the best of Both Worlds: The Core Process of Organizations as Communities. In: Senge, P. M. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday.
IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum - http://www.iap2.org