Participation is the act of taking part (becoming involved) in an activity or event. In politics, the term refers to mechanisms for the public to express opinions and influence decisions. In business and finance, it means ownership of part of assets (equity participation) or profit-sharing. In media, participation refers to the model when an audience can play an active role in the process of collecting, processing, and disseminating content. In the heritage domain, participation is attributed to the active involvement of stakeholders within a range of heritage processes and projects. It also can be an instrument by which individual behavior is shaped and directed by governmental policy and professional organizations (Neal 2015, 346). Terms like “involvement,” “engagement”, “collaboration”, and “empowerment” are often used in the literature to indicate different forms of participation.
Participation by the public may span many different organizational forms. It can be initiated by formal institutions such as local governments or professional heritage organizations. Alternatively, it can be a bottom-up initiative when citizens decide to take independent actions outside the formal channels established by the formal agents (Head 2007, 444). It also varies in terms of impact on power and decision making. Sherry Arnstein developed a model of “a ladder of citizen participation,” illustrating the levels of public empowerment (Arnstein 1969, 217). Three levels and eight rungs constitute the ladder (see Figure 1). The first “disempowerment” level is non-participation. The second level includes three kinds of tokenism. The only power the public gets here is the right to be heard. The upper level presents three degrees of citizens’ power. On this level, heritage professionals and local governments expand their roles from regulators to facilitators. The highest rung of the ladder is the “citizen control” wherein the public gains full decision-making.
The International Association for Public Participation developed another popular typology of public participation. Their “Spectrum of Public Participation” defines five forms of public participation ranking from weakest to the strongest in terms of impact on the decision: 1) Informing provides the public with the information; 2) Consulting is used to obtain the public’s feedback; 3) Involvement assume working directly with the public through the dialog; 4) Collaborating is type of participation which mean that public is a partner in each aspect of the decision; 5) Empowerment is handing over the final decision making in the hands of the public (IAP2, 2).
Nina Simon adapted the idea of different levels of citizen participation for heritage organizations and suggested to distinguish between the following types of participatory projects: contributory, collaborative, co-creative, and hosted (Simon 2010). The intensity of participation and sharing power with the public increases from the first type towards the last.
All the above-mentioned models help to illustrate the gradation of citizen participation. In reality, the dichotomy “decision-makers” versus “decision-takers” is more complicated; these groups are seldom homogeneous and include conflicting groups of interests.
By embracing participation, both parties learn from each other, build trust, produce better decisions, and gain their legitimacy. However, participation also has its drawbacks. The representation problem refers to the situation when citizen participation comprises a small proportion of the population (community), so the decision is skewed to the perspective of a certain group of interest. Moreover, under certain conditions, participation can be costly, time-consuming, and ineffective. Besides, participatory governance can also be critiqued, especially on its (often unconscious) process of in- and exclusion: participatory governance is predominantly governmental-led (involving citizens in policy making) and choices made on themes, working methods and level of participation automatically delineate the freedom and possibility for involvement. It might be pointless if the decision is ignored and even cause conflicts between “professionals” and “the public” (Irvin and Stansbury 2004, 58).
It is possible to eliminate the side effects of participation by targeting low-cost and high-benefit indicators, for example, by making sure that citizens readily volunteer for projects that benefit the entire community or by determining that community representatives with particularly strong influence are willing to serve as representatives (Irvin and Stansbury 2004, 62).
The participatory approach is one of the basic principles of the OpenHeritage project. The project aims at creating sustainable models of heritage asset management through different levels of community participation in adaptive reuse. Both on-the-site and online public engagement is the priority of the project and considered as a potentially transformative tool for social change. The project also shares the “participatory ideology,” which is based on the principles of inclusion and egalitarianism and is opposite to that of hierarchical, expert-driven decision-making systems.
Arnstein, Sherry R. "A ladder of citizen participation." Journal of the American Institute of planners 35, no. 4 (1969): 216-224.
Head, Brian W. "Community engagement: participation on whose terms?." Australian Journal of Political Science 42, no. 3 (2007): 441-454.
IAP2. Public Participation Pillars: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iap2.org/resource/resmgr/Communications/A3_P2_Pillars_brochure.pdf
Irvin, Renee A., and John Stansbury. "Citizen participation in decision making: is it worth the effort?" Public Administration Review 64, no. 1 (2004): 55-65.
Neal, Cath. "Heritage and participation." In The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, pp. 346-365. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015.
Roued-Cunliffe, Henriette, and Andrea Copeland, eds. Participatory Heritage. Facet Publishing, 2017.
Simon, Nina. The Participatory Museum. Museum 2.0, 2010.
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