What does something as large as America’s high-speed rail initiative have in common with a town’s decision to rename a highway?
According to International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), public participation is “any process that involves the public in problem solving or decision making and uses public input to make decisions.”
As PR practitioners, we work with the public constantly, engaging and facilitating communication. Although we work with the public, we often do so without the slightest realization that what we are doing is public participation, a multi-pronged, highly strategic tool in our PR toolbox.
Effective public participation is based on three “foundations” that dictate the level of public involvement a particular project or campaign requires. The IAP2 Public Participation foundations include values-based, decision-oriented and goal-driven.
Values-based: The public (e.g., stakeholders) forms opinions, and these opinions affect how the public participates, perceives the decision process and perceives the decision’s outcome throughout the project.
Decision-oriented: A project or campaign depends on a pending decision. Public participation can affect the development and outcome of a decision.
Goal-driven: Throughout a project, the public achieves specific outcomes. Example: A PR practitioner disseminates information; a PR practitioner seeks feedback from the public; and the PR practitioner uses the feedback in the development of collaborative alternatives.
Evaluating the foundation of effective public participation helps PR practitioners to ask the following questions (among others): Can we get all our publics’ values in line? How do we get all our publics’ values in line?
Once a PR practitioner establishes the level of public participation required, he or she can go forward in the project or campaign planning.
“Wisdom is what’s left after we’ve run out of personal opinions.” – Cullen Hightower, Humorist and Sales Trainer.
(Information from this post is from IAP2 teaching material presented during its certification course, “Planning for Effective Public Participation,” April 13-14, 2010, Troutdale, Ore. Image from Public Outreach’s website.)