A Model for Engagement

IAP2 Spectrum

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) has developed a Public Participation Spectrum to demonstrate the possible types of engagement with stakeholders and communities. The spectrum also shows the increasing level of public impact as you progress from ‘inform’ through to ‘empower’.

Note: IAP2 use the term ‘public’ to refer to what we have called ‘community’ or ‘stakeholders’. In this workbook, we ask you to consider all stakeholders in your project, not just those in the ‘broader’ community (or public), but also those within your own organisation, including yourself and/or your project team.

IAP2 Spectrum showing five types of engagement

For more information regarding the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, refer to http://www.iap2.org.

Each type of engagement is explored in more detail in the Types of Engagement section of this website.

Previous editions of Effective Engagement used a model entitled The Wheel of Engagement1 as the foundation for determining the purpose of engagement and the level of participation of a defined stakeholder/community.
The IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum has been used here to highlight an additional possible level of engagement, ‘collaboration’. Missing from this model however, but explicit in The Wheel of Engagement, is the ‘social capacity’ component of engagement - the ability of stakeholders/community to act. This concept is further explored under Human, Social and Community Capacity.

page top

Level of Public Impact

IAP2 Spectrum Excerpt - Level of Public Participation

As you move through the spectrum from the left to right – inform through to empower - there is a corresponding increase in expectation for public participation and impact. In simply ‘informing’ stakeholders there is no expectation of receiving feedback, and consequently there is a low level of public impact. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘empowering’ stakeholders to make decisions implies an increase in expectations and therefore an increased level of public impact.

It is also worth noting that the level of tasks can be high at the ‘inform’ end of the spectrum, while the strength of the relationship between yourself and the stakeholder/community may be low. As you move through the spectrum, tasks begin to differ and the strength of relationships increases through consult, involve, collaborate and finally to empower, where the main focus is not the task but the importance of the relationship.

It is sometimes assumed that the level of difficulty involved in the engagement process increases with the level of participation, with ‘inform’ being perceived as being easy by comparison to ‘empower’. In reality, where engagement is effective to its purpose, no part of the spectrum is harder or more preferable than another. Indeed, the need for different skills and depth and trust in relationships can make all parts of the spectrum both challenging and rewarding.

page top

Human, Social and Community Capacity

There is an accepted government imperative to look at participatory processes that build the capacity of community, other stakeholders as well as ourselves, to respond to social, environmental and economic challenges. Consequently, an understanding of human, social and community capacity is required for effective engagement planning and implementation.

Community capacity is the sum of two important concepts – human and social capacity. Human capacity is the skills, knowledge and abilities of individuals. Social capacity is the nature and strength of relationships and level of trust that exists between individuals.

These two elements can be mutually reinforcing. For example, individual skills can be applied much more effectively in an environment where there is trust and cooperation. Similarly, a close-knit community can respond more quickly to change if there is a range of individual skills and leadership abilities available to sustain development.

The increasing level of public impact of the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum has implications not just for the effect of the engagement on the community, but also the ability of the community to participate or respond positively to this impact.
As part of your engagement planning you may need to consider:
  • What is the community’s capacity (human and social) to participate or meet your expectations?
  • What is your role in building community capacity?
  • What is your capacity (human and social) and others in the project to build community capacity?
In addition, social relations constitute an additional resource for individuals and communities. By understanding the dynamics of these relationships, it is possible to derive substantial benefits towards achievement of mutual outcomes.

The process of disseminating information (inform) is fundamental to many government and non-government activities. While this serves to build individual knowledge (human capacity), it contributes only minimally to social capacity. This is particularly true of one-way processes such as newsletters or media releases.

However, engagement activities from further along the spectrum, such as a participatory extension or education program, can not only build individual knowledge (e.g. through the subject or nature of the program), but also build relationships between those who are learning together. Skills learnt are often reinforced through peer support, exchange of ideas and experiences. While there is an increasing level of expectation in participation and a greater reliance upon the abilities of those involved to meet this expectation, the positive impact on learning and relationships extends the potential success of the activity for the government/organisation and the stakeholder/community.

Community engagement is an investment in both the present and the future of a community's human and social capacity. For example:
  • If communities are not adequately informed, an imbalance in knowledge is created that privileges some and alienates others.
  • If involvement is promised, or action from a consultation expected, but not delivered, trust between the community and government is eroded. Future approaches may then be compromised by current actions.
  • If representatives of some segments of the community are empowered and not others, this can further divide a community.
  • If leadership programs are not sensitive to community structure or diversity, they can erode any trust the leader has built within that community.
page top

1 The Wheel of Engagement was developed by K Pryosusilo, C Pilioussis, P Howden, E Phillips & M Gooey of the Community Strategies Section of Catchment and Water Division in the previous Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment.