IAP2 Spectrum Review: The Big Picture

Public Participation

IAP2 Spectrum, quo vadis?

If your work has anything even remotely to do with public participation (or public involvement, or community engagement, or collaborative governance, or whatever term people tend to prefer in your part of the world), you’ve probably heard of the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation (PDF). We’ve certainly mentioned it more than a few times here on this blog.

For those unfamiliar, here’s what the IAP2 website says:

IAP2 Spectrum of Participation

IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation was designed to assist with the selection of the level of participation that defines the public’s role in any public participation process. The Spectrum shows that differing levels of participation are legitimate and depend on the goals, time frames, resources, and levels of concern in the decision to be made.

The IAP2 Spectrum of Participation is a resource that is used on an international level and can be found in many public participation plans.

The Spectrum was first released in 1999. Along with a set of seven Core Values for the Practice of Public Participation and a corresponding, equally robust Code of Ethics for Public Participation Practitioners, it is one of three main components that together make up the IAP2 framework (some might consider the 5-day IAP2 training course Foundations in Public Participation as another integral part).

Much of the Spectrum’s value lies in its simplicity and accessibility: on a single page, it provides the practitioner with enough of a structure to allow her to quickly convey to her audience (e.g., a decision maker, a sponsor, or the general public) the basic concepts behind IAP2’s decision-oriented, objective-driven, and values-based approach to public participation. It can even be used to support an initial high-level project planning and design discussion.

For this reason and others, the Spectrum has enjoyed great popularity around the world right from the very beginning. One indicator that shows just how much of an influence it has had on the field is the number of times it has been quoted, borrowed, adapted, or otherwise “enhanced”, and how many times it has inspired people to express or refine their own thinking on what such a framework might look like (see our growing gallery of 50+ examples).

Earlier this month, IAP2 Canada announced that it is leading a review process regarding the Spectrum. From their website (emphasis mine):

Reviewing the IAP2 Spectrum

In response to several conversations that have been happening about the IAP2 Spectrum, IAP2 Canada is gathering input on behalf of the IAP2 Federation in a review of the Spectrum. We have heard that the Spectrum is due for a re-fresh, that there are concerns with how it is applied in practice, and ideas about how it could (and should) look different to reflect current and emerging public participation practice.

Over the coming months, IAP2 Canada will be seeking out and welcoming input from anyone around the world with something to say about the IAP2 Spectrum. We are providing a loose structure around the conversation (offering a few key questions to guide discussions), and offering to serve as a central repository for ideas and questions, which we’ll do our best to report on, and respond to on behalf of the IAP2 Federation which holds copyright for the Spectrum.

We want to know what changes/adjustments (if any) about the IAP2 Spectrum should be considered to reflect the current context of public participation. We want to work with people and organizations who are interested in advancing the practice of meaningful public engagement to figure this out. Once we work together to identify what changes need to be considered, we’ll likely keep working together to figure out the right changes to make that reflect the IAP2 Core Values, Code of Ethics and current context of public participation.

We’re also interested in exploring the role of the Spectrum and IAP2 as an organization in the context of the broader practice of public engagement. Let’s talk about emerging trends in the global ecosystem of P2 and IAP2’s role in advancing the practice.

IAP2 was founded in 1990, 25 years ago. It’s an anniversary worth celebrating, and it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future of public participation and the role of IAP2 and its framework.

Earlier this year, two long-time practitioners each took a first stab at presenting some of the potential issues with the Spectrum in its current form:

  • In January, Max Hardy shared his Reflections on the IAP2 Spectrum, in which he outlined some common misunderstandings, personal lessons learned and some of the limitations he sees.
  • Then in March, Stephani Roy McCallum, one of about 30 IAP2 licensed trainers worldwide and a former president of the organization, followed up with her thoughts: Re-imagining the IAP2 Spectrum

I look very much forward to the discussion. At the same time, I’d prefer to frame things a little more broadly. Regardless of whether or not the Spectrum is “due for a re-fresh”, I think there are a number of even bigger issues related to the continued validity and relevance of the overall framework that require a careful and in-depth exploration.

To illustrate what I mean by that, here’s the comment I left on Facebook in response to Stephani’s post:

Here are a few themes I’ve come cross over the years where the IAP2 approach seems to run into certain limitations:

1) The need for capacity building (at both the individual and organizational level)
2) The need for embedding, culture change, making P2 part of the fabric etc.
3) The need for more holistic approaches to ensure long-term success of P2 projects
4) The need to better support bottom-up efforts to influence public decision making (activism)

There are probably more. In some of these areas, the framework might have to evolve. In others, it might be necessary to simply develop a better, more mature understanding of how the IAP2 approach fits into the ecosystem and how we might interface with neighboring methods or organizations.

A lot has changed over the past 25 years. Especially in the United States, which is where IAP2 originated and where initially it was one of only a handful of organizations promoting good public participation, there are now dozens of players covering a wide variety of approaches, methods or focus areas. Many of them have already made significant contributions to the field and keep innovating with great energy and at impressive speed.

How IAP2 will address these emerging trends or themes – whether through a renovation of its current framework, through the addition of new models or tools, or by way of integrating more closely with what’s already out there – is to be seen, but finding fresh, competent answers is without alternative if the organization wants to remain relevant over the next 25 years and beyond.

A thorough review of the framework, including the Spectrum, is a good starting point, but it shouldn’t stop there. Ultimately, this conversation is about IAP2’s place and role in a new world, and the question what impact this community wants to make going forward.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve on the Board of Directors at IAP2 USA. To find more contributions and to add to the conversation yourself, use the hashtag #IAP2at25 on Twitter, or follow my curated list over on Storify. Stephani and Max will be co-leading a discussion on the topic at the IAP2 North American 2015 Conference in Portland, OR this September (see session outline).


Today Is European E-Participation Day

E-participation, Europe

Today is European E-Participation Day!

From the e-uropa website:


E-Participation is citizens’ participation in policies and policy-making through the help of ICT tools – e.g. signing an online petition for saving a forest or commenting on your mayor’s proposal to renovate a school.

Many people don’t know that these online tools exist. We want to raise awareness among European citizens that the EU is not something that happens only in Brussels, but is actually just a click away!

This is why we have designated May 7 as European e-Participation Day. In 11 countries project partners will organize national activities such as workshops and conferences to engage citizens. Get involved in your country!

The official project brochure (PDF) has more information.

The 72-page Guideline for E-Participation in European Union Policy-Making (PDF) provides an introduction to e-participation, including criteria for evaluation (page 25 ff.) and a “practical guide” to five EU-level e-participation tools.

The project is being coordinated by Belgian Telecentre Europe.

Hat tip to Ismael Peña-López via Twitter.


Experience Engagement: Unconference Focused on Journalism and Community Engagement

Community Engagement, Events, Journalism and Media

Journalism That Matters and University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication Agora Journalism Center just announced an unconference exploring the intersection of journalism and community engagement, happening October 1-4, 2015, in Portland, OR:

From the Journalism that Matters website:

Interested in taking your community engagement work to the next level? Connect with others who have a stake in journalism and community engagement and who are already working in this area.

From the email announcement:

Join us for Experience Engagement, October 1-4 in Portland, Oregon, an unconference focused on journalism, engagement, and impact. We’re partnering with the Agora Journalism Center for innovation and civic engagement in Portland, Oregon. More details will be available by June.

We’re delighted to host a gathering around what we see as our sweet spot: the crossroads of journalism and community engagement. Over the last couple years, we’ve been experimenting with taking our convening skills to news organizations that want to engage with their communities. The upcoming conference is a way to bring that focus together with the traditional unconventional mix of people we convene.

We’ve added this event to the calendar.


ParticipateDB: Article in APA Tech Division Spring Newsletter

ParticipateDB, Press

APA Tech Division Spring 2015 Newsletter cover

Here’s a short article (PDF) I wrote for the latest edition of APA Technology Division‘s quarterly newsletter about the ParticipateDB relaunch that’s currently underway:

ParticipateDB: Digital Engagement Tech Catalogue

Tim Bonnemann
Founder & CEO of Intellitics, Inc.

Digital engagement, the use of information and communications technologies to involve the public in decision making and planning processes, is a rapidly growing field. While the concept isn’t entirely new – the term “e-participation” has been around for a few decades – there has been a strong acceleration in recent years. Today, we see an ever-increasing flow of new tools and services from around the world entering the market, as adoption of these technologies becomes more widespread.

For practitioners in the planning, public participation or broader civic engagement communities, it is often a considerable challenge to make sense of all the available options and assess which tools or services might best fit their needs. As digital engagement consultants, we were facing the same problem a few years ago.

In 2009, we launched ParticipateDB (http://participatedb.com), a more collaborative approach towards cataloguing the digital engagement tool landscape. The site, open to contributions from anyone, aims to build a complete list of tools that exist and provide the necessary context on how each technology is being applied in practice.

Since its launch, ParticipateDB has grown to become the most comprehensive resource of its kind, with more than 250 tools already listed. However, we know that there is a vast amount of information that’s still missing. We’ve received a lot of user feedback over the years how to make the site even easier to use. The site is currently undergoing a refresh that aims to:

  1. Make it easier to identify, assess, and compare tools and services.
  2. Make it more convenient to become an active contributor.
  3. Re-emphasize the collaborative nature of the site.

In addition, we’ve started to talk to potential partners in the public, private, and non-profit sector to explore how their specific expertise (regarding a particular tool category, or industry, or geographic region etc.) might help us significantly widen our coverage and improve content quality and completeness.

The first few enhancements (responsive and mobile-friendly page layout, simple search, a draft taxonomy) have already rolled out. Expect to see a lot more exciting features to be added over the next couple of months.

Please get in touch if you’d like to get involved or if your organization is interested in partnering:


Tim Bonnemann is the founder and CEO of Intellitics, Inc., a digital engagement firm based in San José, CA. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association for Public Participation in the United States (IAP2 USA).

Quick correction, the site just saw the addition of its 300th tool.


Tim Merry: “From Representation to Participation”

Public Participation, Radar

Tim Merry, co-founder of the Art of Hosting and one of the leading voices in stakeholder engagement, shared a few thoughts last night on something he says has been coming up in his work a lot, the “recurring clarity that the representative model as a form of governance or decision making or getting things done is completely insufficient”.

Watch the whole video (it’s less than four minutes). Here’s the quote on the necessary changes in leadership skills that stands out (from 01:57, emphasis mine):

So the shift from representation to participation means that the role of those who are getting around those decision making councils is not to represent others. The role of those who are getting around those tables is to have had the capacity and the ability to go out and engage with as many perspectives as possible from across their networks and relationships in their communities and there then bringing back the themes from those engagements to inform the collective decision making in those forums.

So it is not a representative model, it is a participatory model. The skills that are required of you as a senior leader are the ability to go out and engage others and capture themes in such a way that you can reflect them and make sure that they are integrated into how decisions are made. It is not that you get to operate from an assumption that because of your own personal life experience you are able to represent the voices of hundreds or thousands or millions of other people.

And so for me it’s a fundamental shift in the skill base that is required of those who are sitting around leadership tables, whether that be on national industry associations, whether that be in the governance of non-profit organizations, whether that be decisions that are being made around the development of products in the corporate world.

So, just some thoughts to go out there. A fundamental shift from representative to participatory, and that requires a real change in the skill set that we require from our leaders who are at the decision making tables.

It’s hard to imagine how this kind of shift could actually happen without digital engagement playing a critical role. Therefore, I’d add digital engagement to the set of core competencies of future participatory leaders.


E-PB 2015 Community Census

Digital Engagement, Participatory Budgeting

Screenshot Google Sheets Participatory Budgeting Software Census 2015

Via the Participatory Budgeting group on Facebook, Paolo Spada is asking for contributions to a list of online tools that can be applied in a participatory budgeting context.

From the Facebook post:

Spring break project: applications for e-PB 2015 COMMUNITY CENSUS. This was a project that Lucy Chambers started a few years back. I want to update it to 2015. I have created a very simple google doc in which you can add the application that you have created for e-PB, or applications that have been used in e-PB, or that you think could be used for e-PB.

More than 60 tools have already been listed. Make sure to add yours here.

By the way, this Facebook group recently crossed the 2,500-member mark. It’s a treasure trove of resources and discussion. At Intellitics, we’re fortunate to have been following its evolution from the very beginning. Highly recommended!


Knight News Challenge: Entries Related to Voter Information and Policy Making

Journalism and Media

Update 2015/03/19: Adding more proposals as the become available.

Lots of interesting proposals flooding in as part of the latest Knight News Challenge on Elections (see our coverage here) as the deadline looms (5pm Eastern today).

Here are a few noteworthy examples related to providing better voter information, encouraging civic discourse, policy making and more (in no particular order).

Collaborative fact checking:

Civil civic discourse and bridging partisan divides:

Policy making and issue-based learning:

Community engagement capacity building and infrastructure:


Expect lots more to arrive over the next 90 minutes.


Arizona State University to Host “By the People” Conference


Arizona State University just announced they will be hosting a conference on “participatory democracy, civic engagement and citizenship education”, aptly titled “By the People”.

From the conference website:

[…] The event will be designed to share research findings, engage in provocative and meaningful discussions, learn from accomplishments and failures, and be inspired by innovative approaches, strategies, policies, tools and practices.

The conference will bring together academics, students, practitioners, researchers, appointed and elected public officials, teachers, administrators, members of community organizations, and all those interested in participatory democracy, public engagement and citizenship education. The conference will combine academic presentations with practical workshops, We are interested in attracting theoretical and empirical contributions that are related to the three conference themes.

The three conference themes cast a fairly wide net. On the digital engagement side, desired topics include:

  • Online participatory governance; E-democracy
  • Online and hybrid civic engagement

See the full call for proposals (PDF).

Via David Beasley on Twitter.


Feedback Labs Launches Toolkit


Earlier today, Feedback Labs announced the official launch of their toolkit, a curated collection of examples, guides, and tools related to new forms of technology-supported stakeholder engagement in the area of international aid, philanthropy, and government services.

According to the email, the toolkit “represents our first step toward aggregating our community’s knowledge around closing feedback loops.” What are feedback loops? The about page explains (emphasis mine):

Who We Are

Feedback Labs is a consortium of like-minded organizations committed to making governments, NGOs and donors more responsive to the needs of their constituents. Each of us, through our own work, has endeavored to put citizens front-and-center and together we aim to make inclusion, trust, and empowerment standards across our field. Together, we endeavor to bridge communication gaps between everyday people and institutions to meet the pressing needs of communities.

Why We Are Coming Together

We are at a critical point in history where prioritizing citizen feedback has the potential to unleash massive, timely, and necessary changes in the way development is pursued. This field – which we term “feedback loops” for lack of a better name – is still uncharted and unbounded. While its potential is enormous, the concept lacks consistent vocabulary, principles, accepted best practices, and reliable measurements. We aim to help provide the structure and design principles that will maximize the effects of global citizen engagement efforts.

Some of the founding members include Ushahidi, GlobalGiving and Ashoka.

Bound to stay interesting. Follow their blog here.


World Bank Group Online Course on Citizen Engagement


This free, 4-week online course is provided by the World Bank Group in collaboration with the London School of Economics (LSE), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Participedia:

Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?

Government works best when citizens are directly engaged in policymaking & public service delivery. What conditions are necessary for inclusive and effective citizen engagement? Can it positively improve people’s lives? This course provides an overview of citizen engagement, critically analyzing how it can be leveraged most effectively to achieve development outcomes.


  • Week 1: Citizen Engagement: What It Is and Why It Matters
  • Week 2: Engaging Citizens for Improved Policymaking
  • Week 3: Can Engaging Citizens Bring Better Services?
  • Week 4: Innovations in Citizen Engagement

Starts March 15. Head over to Coursera to register.