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).