The Citizen Handbook

Citizen Participation

Understanding Citizen Participation

Forms of Citizen Participation

One of the most common and best-understood forms of citizen participation is voting in elections or referenda. When citizens lined up outside polling stations on August 4, 2010, they were exercising their citizen power by voting in a referendum to either accept or reject the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. Voting, however, is not the only form of public participation. Other ways for citizens to participate include:

  • searching for information in newspapers, magazines, and reference materials to judge its accuracy;
  • participating in a public or private political discussion or debate on issues;
  • convincing a member of Parliament to vote a certain way for an issue important to you;
  • signing a petition on a desired government action or policy;
  • writing letters or emails to elected officials to express your opinion on an issue of concern;
  • contributing money to a political party or candidate you would like to see elected into government;
  • attending public meetings or rallies to learn, discuss or support an issue of concern to you;
  • campaigning for a political candidate or issue that will be voted on by the public;
  • demonstrating a position on an issue, cause or government policy through marches, boycotts, sit-ins, or other forms of peaceful protest;
  • vying as a candidate for elected office;
  • volunteering in the community or holding State office;
  • serving the country through military or other service to the country; or
  • conducting peaceful civil disobedience of laws or policies seen as unjust and taking the consequences for such actions.

Stages of Citizen Participation

If you separate citizen participation into specific stages, it is possible to visualize where you stand in terms of your level of participation in relation to the governance process.There are eight different stages of citizen participation in government, which fall into three specific categories. Citizens may use these stages as a way of visualising their own level of participation in governance. Doing so can help them set goals to reach a more effective stage of participation. Below is a description of each stage of citizen participation in governance and their corresponding categories.

Stages of Citizen Participation





8. Citizen Control


Citizen Power

7. Delegated Power

6. Partnership

5. Placation



4. Consultation

3. Informing

2. Therapy



1. Manipulation




Arnstein, Sherry R. "A Ladder of Citizen Participation," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224.


Non-Participation (Stages 1 and 2)

The lowest stages of citizen participation are (1) Manipulation and (2)Therapy. The primary objective of these two stages is to simply educate or cure citizens of their concerns or anxieties through such things as arranged public events. Such participation seeks to manipulate or give therapy to citizens so they think they are participating in governance when in fact they have no role in the process of decision-making or planning - their involvement occurs only after decisions or plans are already completed. This is why the Manipulation and Therapy stages fit into the “Non-Participation” category.

Tokenism (Stages 3, 4 and 5)

The lower-middle stages of citizen participation are (3) Informing and (4) Consultation.The primary objective of the power holder in these two stages is to explain to, and hear from,citizens on policies and decisions.While the goal is for these power holders to inform citizens and get their input on policies and issues, these actions will ultimately not affect the outcome of the government’s decision-making or planning process.This is why the Informing and Consultation stages of citizen participation fit into the category of “Tokenism.”

The upper-middle stage of citizen participation, (5)Placation, is a higher level of tokenism because citizens have the ability to not just hear and be heard by power holders, but also to provide advice during the deliberation process. Still with placation, the power holders keep the authority to make the final decisions, and as such, citizen participation in this stage is more symbolic than meaningful.

Citizen Power (Stages 6, 7 and 8)

The highest stages of citizen participation reveal increasing degrees of "citizen power," particularly in the decision-making process of government. The lowest of these stages is (6) Partnership, which means that citizens can negotiate with power holders and thus decision-making responsibilities are shared. The two highest stages of citizen participation are (7) Delegated Power and (8) Citizen Control. These two stages reflect increasing levels of citizen power, particularly as it relates to citizens having greater power over the decision-making process through such things as more seats on a committee or even full managerial power of a project.

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