Public Participation Tips & Strategies

open house

Reaching out to the public

We’ve put together a set of public participation tips and strategies with the emphasis on practical ways to help you get the best results from your public consultation and public involvement programs. These strategies cover environment, transportation, agriculture, community consultation and more.

Lots more public participation resources at Public Involvement BlogsPublic Involvement Handbooks. and The PR Coach blog This Just In….

Many items require a pdf reader such as Adobe Reader (available free) and may require patience while downloading. Sites with a  W are PR Coach “winners.”

20 Tips to Host an Effective Townhall (Online or In-Person)
Heather Whaling shares 20 valuable tips for townhall meetings, on and offline.  W

21 techniques of community participation for the 21st century
Reviews 21 innovative models for community engagement including citizen juries, guided visualizations, participatory theater and round table workshops.  Guide provides tactics, resources and case studies.  W

A Learning Guide to Public Involvement in Canada
This online publication covers basic techniques and practical examples of good public involvement.

A review of public participation and consultation methods
Chart reviews popular consultation methods and compares strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations for most effective use.

A Toolbox of Processes for Community Work
Grassroots tools from The Co-Intelligence Institute are reviewed including public education, citizen deliberation, community self-organization, issue exploration, group decision-making, conflict, sharing, meeting techniques, and community resilience. A few innovative tactics worth exploring.

An Introduction to Charettes
Charrettes are a planning and consultation process that brings together decision-makers and community members to generate a vision, plan and shared agreement.

Backcasting is similar to Visioning, but backcasts are not intended to reveal what the future will be, rather to weigh possible futures, decide implications and preferable options, then map out steps along the way.

Basics of Conducting Focus Groups
How to prepare for a session, develop questions, plan, facilitate and follow up on a focus group from the Free Management Library.

Broward MPO: Public Involvement Plan
This Florida county transportation PIP is worth a look for its policies, strategies, techniques and assessment tools.

Citizens Jury Handbook – The Jefferson Center
A Citizens Jury can be an effective consultation and decision-making tool. Learn how to plan one, its key elements and review a set uf useful sample support documents.

Civic Journalism
Civic journalism sets out to provide news and information through newspapers, radio, TV and the internet combine to provide forums for citizens to question their politicians, polling the electorate to identify major issues and enable questioning legislators.

Communication and Citizen Participation Techniques
Really useful resources, tactics and tips for public participation.

Communication Strategies – EPA Superfund Toolkit
Valuable EPA strategy document includes many resources, recommended tools and samples. Essential reading!  W

Community Consultation Checklist
This paper provides an excellent community consultation blueprint.   W

Community Involvement Plans – EPA Superfund Toolkit
A superb template from the EPA, easily adapted for and community engagement program.  W

Community Involvement Techniques
Here’s an excellent list of community involvement techniques along with tips on application, resources and much more.   W

Community Planning Method Listing provides an impressive list of 120+ planning methods and resources. Ideal for brainstorming new or innovative consultation and public involvement techniques. 

Consensus Forum
Consensus Forums provide a way for lay people to deliberate on technologically complex issues, with the support ‘experts’. It’s a way of exploring issues using best available knowledge, widest possible views, and a focus on understanding different viewpoints.

Consultation Manager Stakeholder Management Software
This stakeholder management software program is used around the world and, from personal experience, is a valuable tool for large public consultation projects.

Conversation Cafe Method
A brief, 90-minute hosted conversation in a cafe, coffee shop, bookstore or other public settings. The small, informal approach helps people feel at ease and encourages all to share their opinions.

Asks small groups or panels of experts for their views and advice, gathers and tabulates results and shares the results among participants. These views can then become part of future public consultation efforts.

Democracy On-Line: An Evaluation of the National Dialogue on Public Involvement in EPA Decisions
A high-level report reviewing online public involvement. The “Dialogue” study brought together 1166 participants for a two-week review of the role of public participation at the EPA. The result is a useful assessment and guidelines for those interested in the future of online consultation.

Design Charrette
Usually an intensive, multi-disciplinary design workshop used to gather ideas and views from community groups, neighbors and developers of development projects.

Designing a Public Involvement Program
Five fundamental guidelines and five basic steps to planning a PIP from the Federal Highway Administration.

Developing a Public Involvement Plan: 32 transportation Case Studies
32 useful case studies are provided by ContextSensitiveSolutions.

Developing Effective Community Involvement Strategies
UK’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation offers in-depth planning strategies for effective community involvement for redevelopment.  Lots of ideas and worth studying for application to communications.

Developing Public Involvement Plans
Brief Minnesota DOT document summarizes steps to follow in developing a public involvement plan.

A favorite of facilitators, colored dots are used to help participants show their preferences or opinions. Results in a visual representation of the group’s collective preferences.

E-Consultation: Enabling Democracy Between Elections
2009 Institute for Research and Public Policy report looks at public involvement and e-consultation, tools and technologies, and several excellent case studies.

Effective Communication and Public Participation
Useful collection of tools for public participation and communication.

EPA Model Plan for Public Participation
EPA publication has guidelines on preparation, participants, logistics and a particularly useful public participation checklist.

Engaging Citizens Online for Better Policy-making
This OECD brief looks at lessons learned, challenges and ways to enhance online engagement.

Evaluating Community Involvement Activities – EPA Superfund Toolkit
Useful guidelines for effective evaluation of CI programs. Includes templates for questionnaires.

EPA Public Involvement Brochures
Ten helpful US Environmental Protection Agency resources including how to plan and budget for public involvement; how to identify people to involve; how to do outreach; how to improve public meetings; how to overcome barriers; and how to evaluate public participation.  W

Essential Activities for Community Participation
Essentials?  Community needs, participation, choice of location, allocation of resources, mobilization of community resources, implementing projects, monitoring and evaluation.  From Urban Environmental Management.

Fishbowl Technique for Adversarial Meetings
Here’s how to use the fishbowl technique to generate more light and clarity and less heat and rhetoric during adversarial meetings.

Florida Dept of Transportation – Public Involvement Training
The FDOT has an excellent set of training resources including documents such as a PI Handbook and PI Toolbox.

Getting the Most Out of Public Hearings: Ideas to Improve Public Involvement
Concise guide with ideas on how to get better public hearings. Published by the Institute for Local Government.

Getting the Team to the Summit Demands Effective Meetings
This 47-page University of California booklet is an excellent guide to more effective meetings. Worth studying to learn better meeting management, more effective leadership, teamwork and planning, improved facilitation and better results.

Graphic Window
This method uses small group creative, artistic exercises to unlock ideas. A good way to engage groups.

Griffin University: Urban Research Program Toolbox
63 community involvement tools are described in detail with case studies and suggestions on the best use of such innovative tools as Samoan Circles, Speakouts, Snowball Sampling, Stakeholder Analysis, Backcasting, Photovoice, and Fishbowls. Verrrrry interesting!   W

Guide to Public Involvement: Harrisburg Area Transportation Study (HATS)
Brief summary of successful consultation techniques in PA transportation study. Helpful review of methods used.

Guidelines for Online Public Consultation
OECD guidelines highlight the dos and don’ts of seeking public opinion via the web.

Guidelines for Running a Focus Group/Group Interview
Simple, how-to guide to planning and running a focus group or group interview.

Guidelines on Effective Community Involvement and Consultation
RTPI’s 22 guidelines on effective community consultation and involvement serve as an excellent set of best practices worth studying.   W

How to Create Effective Communication Materials
An excellent Florida DOT guide to producing effective public information materials. Includes basic tips on design, layout, production, distribution and shows sample materials as well.

How to Develop a Public Involvement Plan
Florida DOT provides a simple PIP planning guide suggesting roles, planning tips, and measures of success.

How to Plan & Implement Effective Public Meetings
Lots more learning from the Florida DOT. These public meeting tips could prevent mistakes and make for much more effective public meetings. Includes choosing the right type of meetings, checklists, and materials. Simple, practical.  W

IAP2 Public Participation Toolbox
Quick reference chart highlights the advantages and disadvantages of 47 public participation techniques at-a-glance. A great starting point when planning your program and choosing approaches.  W

IAF Group Facilitation Methods
This list of facilitation methods is a great place to look for ideas and brainstorm new approaches.

Innovative Techniques & Tools for public participation in DOE programs
Helpful reference guide to public involvement tools and methods produced for Handford nuclear facility in WA state.

Institute for Local Goverment
If you’re looking for useful public engagement resources, jump in. ILG has useful tips, articles, publications and more.  W

International Association for Public Participation – State of the Practice Report
IAP2’s Core Values Awards and report offer up award-winning case studies. An invaluable resource for those designing and managing public involvement programs.  W

Is Public Engagement the Future of Public Relations?
Presentation by Richard Edelman looks at PR’s role in the shift to public involvement programs.

Learning Circles
Emphasizing personal experience over professional know-how, learning circles depend on open dialogue and careful listening in two or three day workshops that can be challenging.

Learning Guide to Public Involvement in Canada
This document provides the reader with a self-managed learning guide to public involvement  in Canada.

Media – EPA Superfund Toolkit
These media tips are simple, practical and easily utilized for effective media relations.

Media Strategies – Public Involvement for Transportation Decision-making
Working effectively with the media can enhance public participation. Here’s how.

Meeting Management: Where Does Risk Communication Fit in Public Participation?
Peter Sandman looks at the role of risk communications in public participation with a focus on public meeting management. Excellent analysis.   W

National Park Service – Community Toolbox
NPS provides a toolbox full of simple, well-produced public involvement tools including decision making, facilitation, events, gatherings, visual and written communication materials, outreach and information collection tools.  W

Pinal County Corridors Definition Study – Public Involvement Plan
A good example of a brief, simple PIP for an Arizona Dept of Transportation road project. Created by Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.

Planning Community-wide Study Circle Programs
Study circles can be a valuable public participation technique. Learn 14 basic steps, get budget tips, review sample documents, three proven models, selecting participants, publicizing the program, problem-solving and measuring outcomes. Excellent resource form the Civic Practices Network.  W

Planning Public Involvement: A Step-by-step Guide
A really useful blueprint for public involvement from Griffin University Urban Research group.

Promising Practices for Participation and Public Engagement Online
Digital engagement is here. Just ask President Obama. Learn how the internet is being used to draw people together.

Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Engagement
Highlights ways that public managers can develop active approaches to increasing citizen involvement in government at all levels. Useful for managers seeking new, innovative ways to engage citizens.  W

Public Engagement: A Primer from Public Agenda
There are four themes in this booklet from the Public Agenda organization: creating capacity for public problem-solving; 10 principles of public engagement; best practices and strategies; and the power of “citizen choicework.”

Public Hearings: When and How to Hold Them
Learn the differences between public meetings and public hearings, when and how to hold them and tips for success.

Public Involvement: A Manual of Tools & Techiques
Though somewhat dated, this University of Idaho (Dept of Forest Resources) public involvement manual covers the territory well with many practical tips and resources.

Public Involvement Procedures: Portland Parks and Recreation
Brief guide to Portland’s public involvement procedures.

Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision-Making
A superb US Department of Transportation publication includes: informing people through outreach and organization; face-to-face involvement; getting feedback; and special techniques to enhance participation. Essential reading!  W

Public Participation Activities: How to Do Them
One of the most thorough “how-to” resources we’ve seen. EPA
instructional guidelines for a broad range of activities that permitting agencies, public interest groups, and facility owners/operators can use to promote public participation. W

Public Participation Guide: Tools for Consensus Building and Agreement Seeking
EPA offers useful public participation tips.

Red Lodge Clearinghouse – Collaboration Handbook
A high level view of collaboration as a way to overcome challenges. Includes common sense and practical advice on putting together a collaborative effort and making things work.  W

Reframing Public Participation Strategies for the 21st Century
Academic paper looks at the shortcomings of traditional public participation and lessons from emerging practices.

Resource Guide on Public Engagement
NCDD provides this useful guide to public engagement.  W

Risk Communication – EPA Superfund Toolkit
Informing the public about hazardous sites is challenging. Learn from this EPA resource.

Robert’s Rules of Order – Parliamentary procedure for meetings
This brief version of the parliamentary guide will help you have better organized meetings and you will impress all at the same time.

Search Conference
A search conference is a large group forum designed to create face-to-face interaction among stakeholders to create a new community.

Special Events – EPA Superfund Toolkit
Brief special events guide also has a helpful planning checklist.

Stakeholder Analysis and Conflict Management
This high level resource from the IRDC looks at the ties between stakeholder analysis, negotiating and conflict management.

Stakeholder Outreach Approach Report – Rocky Mountain Rail Authority
If you ever wanted to see an excellent example of public consultation, this report is worth reading!  W

State of the Art: White Paper on Public Involvement
Useful review of public involvement practices, benefits of public participation in transportation projects and guiding principles.

Superfund Community Involvement Toolkit
EPA Superfund CI toolkit is loaded with 48 terrific practical public involvement tips, tactic and techniques.  W

Tennessee Dept of Transportation Public Involvement Plan
An excellent, detailed plan worth studying as a guide to doing public consultation properly. Strategies can be applied to any project or sector.  

The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems
Comprehensive resource on best practices for change management and a 36-page excerpt worth reading.  W

The Community Toolbox
University of Kansas has a valuable toolbox with 46 Chapters through which you can reach nearly 300 different sections providing practical, step-by-step guidance in community-building skills.  W W

The Neighborhood Charrette Handbook
This University of Louisville handbook covers all angles of charrettes including: pre-charrette planning; stakeholder ID and participation; logistics; communication materials and tools; facilitator’s guide; 7-day implementation plan; post-charrette activities. Excellent resource!  W

Tree Bressen’s Group Facilitation Site
Facilitator Tree Bressen has a handy group of links and resources on group consensus and decision-making.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Public Conflict Resolution
Training guide has material, overheads and slides on conflict, finding solutions and more. Useful for trainers.

Walpole-Charlestown #14747 Public Involvement Plan
This is a concise model of a highway transportation public involvement plan in New Hampshire.

What Works: Study Circles in the Real World
A practical look at study circle best practices from Everyday Democracy. Contains tools, case studies and tips on recruiting, facilitating and action programs. Very useful.  W

When the Sparks Fly: Building Consensus When the Science is Contested
Complex science and competing interests make consensus building a challenge. Especially useful are the five problems that tie up science disputes in this thoughtful report from Resolve.

Working with the Media – SRDC Community Toolbox
A practical set of tips on effectively using media in community involvement programs.

Photo credit: The Truth About