Which form of participation suits your project?

unsplash/Geert Pieters

Opening a project and involving a larger group of people - be it in-house or the public - offers a number of advantages; for example, you get a more comprehensive picture of opinions and the group of people involved can participate in shaping the process and thus the final results. Experience shows that this leads to a higher acceptance of the results.

Participation formats can enrich a variety of project types. Whether it is a digitalisation strategy, redevelopment or new construction processes or cultural development planning; the last example is sometimes the most far-reaching, because an entire country may have to be involved. This requires not only the involvement of the relevant actors and the "broad" public, but also continuous information about the process. In order to support you in the choice of format, different forms of participation are considered below.

1) Transparency and information about a project
If you want to inform a group of people about the status of a project at important points, then an information event is suitable. This can take place, for example, at the beginning of the project, at important milestones in the process and finally at the end of the project. A selected group of people (e.g., stakeholders, political decision-makers) or the public is informed about the process and can ask questions. Information events can take place both analogue and digitally.

2) Participation

2.1) Gathering input
In order to get the input of a larger group on a specific topic or issue (e.g. What uses would you like to see in the local library in the future?), formats that can involve as large a number of people as possible and at the same time ensure exchange are suitable. Here, for example, presence formats such as the "World Café" or "Fishbowl" are recommended. In the "World Café", various topics are discussed at different stations in the room. The discussion is not so much controlled by a moderator, but rather by the individual participants. They can switch between the stations again and again. In the "fishbowl", a focused discussion is possible, which is accompanied by a moderator. A small circle of participants discusses the question. The composition of the circle of participants changes again and again, so that many different people are involved here as well. Ideally, the above-mentioned formats should be carried out at the beginning of a process so that the results can be condensed and incorporated into the further development of the outcome.

2.2) Feedback on results produced
If you have already produced results in the process and would like to obtain feedback from a broad public, an online platform with a feedback function is suitable. On this platform, for example, texts can be uploaded, commented on and discussed virtually. The feedback can then be evaluated and incorporated afterwards. However, it is also important to supervise the comments editorially.

3) Participation of defined groups
If you have already defined a fixed group of people (e.g., employees of an institution), there are two possibilities: One is to conduct interviews. These have the advantage that the people can express opinions in an atmosphere of trust and these can then be incorporated into the process, if necessary anonymously. Alternatively, there is also the possibility of conducting workshops for smaller groups. The advantage of workshops is that people can work together on issues and that a common result and a common opinion can be reached. Both formats can be conducted in analogue or digital form.

4) Opinion of a specific target group or the public

4.1) Opinion survey (non-representative)
A picture of the opinion of a certain group of people or the public can provide an important basis for decision-making in a process. For example, the needs and wishes of different target groups (e.g., visitors to one's own institution, museums in a country) can be recorded or challenges faced by actors can be identified. Opinions can be gathered through interviews (in person, via video call or by telephone), which are guided by an interview guideline. Likewise, a selected group of addressees (such as museums) or the public can be interviewed by means of a survey. The most cost-efficient way is to conduct an online survey, although telephone or personal interviews are also possible. It should be noted that this type of survey only shows the mood of the respondents and is not necessarily representative. Alternatively, focus group discussions can also serve to record the opinions of individual groups. In a focus group interview, people of a certain target group are interviewed (e.g. senior citizens or subscribers of a certain theatre).

4.2) Representative survey
In addition to taking a picture of the mood of certain people, it is also possible to set up a representative survey (online or by telephone). Representative means that the respondents represent the corresponding proportion of the population (cf. census). This type of participation enables you to make a realistic assessment of the topics surveyed in the population (e.g., Which group is satisfied with which services?) and thus provides a valuable opportunity to identify potential for optimization (e.g., For which group do we need to expand services?).

An important aspect of a participation process is to integrate the opinions you receive from the people involved in the process into the project accordingly. If you are currently preparing for a participation process and still have questions, please feel free to contact us.


An Impulse contribution Jessica Kirchner-Wagner, Consutling und Frank Schellenberg, Managing Director.

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