Citizen Participation Plan

February 2000


Ashland, like other American cities, is aware of a changing environment that requires new ways of doing business. A new, more collaborative style of decision-making is not only required, but results in better decisions. Problems are increasingly complex, expensive to address, and require multifaceted solutions. Getting people of different perspectives together to talk about problems and potential solutions is essential. Collaboration has the highest potential for building long-term and well-supported solutions. While it can be frustrating and messy, drawing upon new skills and patience, it is indispensable, and the City needs a process that will maximize its benefits.

Better government decisions depend on effective government, and a collaborative government can serve as the leader and partner to developing long-term solutions to problems. This requires a serious commitment from everyone involved to embrace the change toward collaborative decision making and learn together how to make it work.


The goal of this Citizen Participation Plan is to provide a menu of choices for including citizens’ voices in decision making. Residents of the City of Ashland are typically educated about issues, outspoken in their opinions, and involved in shaping decisions. The City of Ashland encourages its public officials and employees to engage with its citizens. Therefore, citizens often enjoy good working relationships with staff and decision-makers. This Plan offers participation processes that will continue to build on the solid interaction between citizens and City management.

Democracy relies on engagement by citizens as a means of forming better solutions to civic matters. Citizen participation processes must be inclusive of those who identify themselves as interested and/or affected by decisions that will be made on issues of relevance to them. Citizen participation practices must result in decisions that reflect the community’s voices.

Citizen participation is not a substitute for decision-making by the City, but a very important influence on it. Shared decision-making is not a cure for conflict because it does not mean the final decision will make everyone happy. It lets everyone know the reasons for a decision in the hope that all or most participants will accept that decision, even if they do not agree with it.

Major Principles
Citizen participation should result in:

  • Trust between government and citizens
  • Informed judgements about City activities
  • Face-to-face deliberation
  • Decisions that reflect a thorough consideration of community issues and perspectives
  • Transparent and trackable decisions with stated accountabilities
  • Common understanding of issues and appreciation for complexity

  • Public participation is a process which allows City government to engage with the public to jointly:
  • Increase understanding of issues
  • Determine possible options
  • Generate new ideas
  • Discover and explore possible compromises
  • Gauge the greater public’s support for various solutions

  • Successful citizen participation requires:
  • Genuine intent and attitude by the City and its citizens to engage in a public process to help make better decisions
  • A clearly defined process that identifies participant roles
  • A variety of ways to participate and influence decisions
  • That it occur early enough in the process to influence the outcome
  • Effective communication throughout the process, including identification of assumptions about the issue, disclosing rationale for one’s opinions, and being willing to consider the merit in others’ opinions
  • Identifying and inviting people who are affected or interested in the issue to be part of the process
  • That dialog and deliberation be a part of the process
  • That all participants work hard, listen to all sides, and attempt to understand opposing viewpoints
  • Considering the “public good” perspective on all issues, especially when personal interests differ

  • A fair, respectful, and open process which allows all who are affected or interested to have an equal opportunity to participate
  • Clear, complete and straightforward information from the City and other presenters
  • To be involved early enough in the process to influence the outcome
  • To work hard at learning about the issue, listening to all perspectives, attempting to understand opposing viewpoints, trying to reach compromise on difficult issues, and to consider the “public good” perspective on all issues
  • Follow-up to their involvement by receiving information about the final decisions and why it was made
  • To be able to be part of the solution and to define a role in implementation as is appropriate

  • Recognize the benefits of citizen involvement and serve as an advocate for its use
  • Provide resources and support City staff initiative in utilizing public participation processes
  • Decide the citizen involvement process that will be used before the process is initiated
  • Define the decision-making process and the roles that respective parties will play
  • Identify elements of the issue that may not be conducive to open process
  • Assist in issue scoping
  • Provide clear delegations of responsibilities between elected officials and City staff, where appropriate
  • Ensure that citizens are aware of the opportunities to participate throughout the prescribed process
  • Assist citizens to work hard to understand the issues, respect opposing viewpoints, work for good solutions and help to define the “public good”
  • Honor the spirit of the process as it is proceeding and respect the ambiguous nature of the process
  • Be informed about the process and engage where appropriate to ensure the goals of the process
  • Fulfill their role as decision-maker according to the selected type of citizen involvement process being used
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of each public involvement process

  • Recognize the benefits of citizen involvement and serve as advocate for its use
  • Inform themselves of the efficacy and appropriateness of public involvement processes that may be useful in specific applications of their department’s work program
  • Ensure that resources are adequate for staff’s role in conducting the process
  • Provide citizen involvement training to staff
  • Utilize performance incentives that build and foster capacity for success in public involvement
  • Engage with the public as partners in the design and execution of the public involvement strategy
  • Help design and carry out the public involvement process in a way that most effectively ensures success
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of each public involvement process
  • Ensure that informational needs of the project are fulfilled
  • To try and identify and involve as many affected or interested citizens as possible by designing a process that goes out to the people and is easy to become involved in


    Step 1 – Issue Generation Phase

    Issues derive from a multiplicity of sources: the City Council, City staff, or citizen commissions may identify problems or opportunities. Federal or state agencies or other governmental bodies can introduce new laws, regulations, or even funding opportunities that initiate municipal action. Community members often raise issues or suggestions for activity meant to improve quality of life.

    Step 2 – Issue Identification Phase

    This is the phase at which formal action begins through the scoping, or defining the aspects of an issue or opportunity by the appropriate body. The outcomes from this phase are a clear definition of the problem, the information and date that is compiled, a preliminary list of those who we could predict would have a perceived interest in the outcome (stakeholders), and the history of the issue or opportunity.

    Step 3 – Identification of Process Parameters Phase

    If an issue is totally non-negotiable (that is, there is no way to alter what must be done), it is not suitable for public participation. With City issues, this is rarely the case, and usually the flexibility of decisions is suitable for public decision-making.

    There are instances where some elements of a public decision making process are non-negotiable. These elements usually are moral, ethical, legal, safety or financial issues. The non-negotiable aspects of a decision process should be clearly stated at the outset of designing the public involvement process. It is important to note that these parameters must not be merely preferences. Citizens may challenge these items, and the City must have defensible reasons excluding them from the process.

    Step 4 – Clarifying Decision-Makers Phase

    There needs to be a statement of whom has final authority to make the decision. This is a policy call by the City, and it is vitally important that everyone know at the outset who has final decision-making authority.

    Step 5 – Goals and Timeline Determination Phase

    In this phase, the real or anticipated constraints on the process are identified, such as time limitations, costs, staff availability, technical complexity, public interest and political climate, and the size and nature of stakeholder groups. The deliberating body considers the types of processes that would be appropriate to the situation, given the constraints and needs. The outcomes of this phase are the project goals, the benchmarks and timeline under which it is expected to be implemented, and the assignment of responsibilities.

    Step 6 – Citizen Participation Process Determination Phase

    Depending on the type of issue that is being considered there are many different ways to engage citizens. If this issue requires individual judgement or opinions, focus group interviews, random sample surveys, response forms, newspaper inserts, or direct mail can be used. If the issue requires community problem solving, workshops, charrettes, open houses and discussion forums can be used. Complicated and technical issues might best use advisory or ad hoc committees, a series of workshops or open houses, or working with existing organizations. The outcome of this phase is the public participation process plan.

    Step 7 – Laying the Foundation and Informational Gathering Phase

    It is important for the people who will be involved in this phase to begin by clarifying the problem or charge they have been asked to address and the tasks that will be required to meet their goals. If a group is involved, it will also need to define and/or adopt the behavioral guidelines under which they will operate. This phase will likely involve compiling information, perhaps even educating other members of the community on the issue. Depending on the issue, people may learn and gain insight into other or new perspectives. If it is anticipated that the task phase will continue for very long, those involved may develop a plan for communicating its progress to decision-makers and interested parties.

    Step 8 – Launch the Process Phase

    If the steps up to this point are done well and the process is started with a positive attitude, chances for success are enhanced. Clarifying the issues early in situations of potential conflict can help to lower the sensitive nature of this issue. By including people who may feel threatened by the outcome of the issue and allowing them to help build the process, chances for a successful outcome can be greatly improved. It is important to cast the net as widely as possible so that as many people as possible are aware of the opportunities to become involved. Initial outreach should always communicate the problem as we know it, the decision parameters, the process, the preliminary timelines of the project, and the various ways to become involved. These themes must be stressed in all subsequent communications and information materials.

    Between Steps 1 & 8 – Check and Feedback Phase

    Before moving from each of the first eight phases, it is important to double check results with decision-makers and stakeholders. This serves the purpose of checking in to see whether new information has become available, laws have changed, a new set of stakeholders or perspectives have emerged. If not, the process moves forward. If there has been a shift, the process is reviewed for its adequacy.

    Step 9 – Project Completion Phase

    Throughout the remainder of the project, it is important to communicate often and clearly with citizen participants, elected officials, other City staff members, general citizens, the news media and other affected agencies. Always err on the side of too much communication rather than err on the side of too little. The project will usually end up with a recommendation, decision, report or some other end product. Make sure this is widely distributed to all of the above mentioned parties also.

    Step 10 – Decision-Making Phase

    In this phase, those charged with making final decisions review the outcome of the Project Completion phase and act upon it. This could involve acceptance and/or revisions of the product. The decision and the rationale behind it are communicated to the public.

    Step 11 – Implementation Phase

    The outcome of the decision-making phase is implemented.

    Step 12 – Evaluation Phase

    In order to promote and refine our collective learning from these processes, it is essential that we evaluate the efficacy of both the public participation process utilized and the eventual outcome of the decision-making process. The experiences of those directly involved in the process need to be collected through a process or people who can be objective in the task. It is also important, depending on the scale of the process, to collect the opinions or experience of those who were not directly involved. The evaluations need to be documented, shared with decision-makers and maintained in a manner that makes them accessible for public review.

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