Involve has nine principles of effective deliberative engagement:

  1. The process makes a difference
  2. The process is transparent
  3. The process has integrity
  4. The process is tailored to circumstances
  5. The process involves the right number and types of people
  6. The process treats participants with respect
  7. The process gives priority to participants’ discussions
  8. The process is reviewed and evaluated to improve practice
  9. Participants are kept informed

The process makes a difference

A good deliberative public engagement process makes a difference – to participants, to decisions, to policy, and to projects and work programmes. Engagement can be seen to have made a difference when:

  • policy-makers listen to and take account of participants’ views;
  • there is clear evidence of how decisions or policy developments have been influenced by it;
  • participants learn about wider political and decision-making processes, as well as about the subject being discussed; and
  • participants are engaged in a meaningful way, and are therefore more are enthusiastic about getting involved in the future.

Engagement can only be effective if it takes place at the right point in the decision-making process. This may mean that organisational processes need to change, to incorporate results from public deliberations into decision-making.

The process is transparent

In an effective deliberative process the information provided to participants, the reporting of participants’ views, and the channels by which their views feed into decision and policy-making, are transparent.

Transparent information:

  • comes from clearly identified organisations, publications or other sources;
  • is carefully drafted for the purpose, with input from experts, stakeholders, or citizens (including possibly via advisory panels) as appropriate;
  • reflects a range of different (and potentially opposing) perspectives; and
  • is accessible to all participants (taking into account different literacy levels and languages, and disabilities such as restricted hearing or sight).

Transparent reporting of participants’ views means:

  • participants are clearly informed about what is being recorded and reported in their name; and
  • every participant can expect to receive a report summarising participants’ views.

Transparent policy and decision-making processes means:

  • it is clear to everybody involved how the results from public engagement are intended to be used;
  • it is clear to participants how policy and decision-makers will use their contributions, along with evidence from other sources, in making their decision; and
  • it is made clear, after the engagement process, how the public input has had an impact.

Transparent processes also take account of the potential benefits and dangers of working with the media.

The process has, and is seen to have integrity

The integrity and openness of everybody involved – those running it and those taking part in it – are among the most important elements of successful deliberative public engagement.

This means:

  • the scope for making a difference to the policy or decision is explicitly declared at the start. In particular it is important to be clear about things that cannot be changed as a result of the process, in order to manage expectations.
  • decision-makers are sincere in their willingness to be open-minded. They listen and take account of the views expressed by participants, both on points of detail and more generally on how policy issues are framed and considered.
  • the organisers clearly communicate the results of the process.

The process is tailored to the circumstances

There is no single design for deliberative public engagement. Each process is designed to meet its specific aims and objectives. It is also important that the process meets the needs of participants as well as those of the decision- or policy-makers.

It is crucial that the following elements are clear from the outset:

  • the purpose and objectives of the exercise (why and how);
  • the intended outcomes (what will be achieved);
  • the people who should be involved (specialists, decision-makers and public participants), and their potentially different needs and aspirations; and
  • the context (social, political, historical, policy) into which the process will fit.

A helpful formula for ensuring that a deliberative engagement exercise is tailored to the specific circumstances:

The process involves the right number and types of people

The scale of a deliberative engagement process needs to be appropriate to the purpose, context and objectives. Getting the right number and types of people across the right number and types of events means that:

  • efforts are made to involve people of different ages, genders, social class, ethnic groups, geographical location, as appropriate. Diversity may be as important as strict demographic representation.
  • efforts are made to include people from marginalised or seldom-heard groups. These can include people living in poverty or disadvantaged neighbourhoods, people with disabilities, older people, people in remote rural areas, commuters, and also those who lack the local or other affiliations that link others to their communities. It may be useful to make links through community and other activists who work with excluded groups. Separate initiatives can be useful (and may be necessary) for some groups, although it is important not to increase exclusion by separating these groups from the overall process.
  • if appropriate, participants can be offered incentives or other support (for example, travel expenses, income remuneration, childcare), to ensure that they are not excluded from taking part on financial grounds.
  • efforts are made to include the right number of people. For example, if the event includes polling exercises, the number of people involved may need to be high enough to ensure a sufficiently diverse range of views. Similarly, large numbers of people can be valuable when it is important to demonstrate the importance of an issue or the high status of the engagement exercise.

The process treats participants with respect

Participants are the most important resource in deliberative engagement processes. In practice, this means that:

  • relevant policy- and decision-makers may need to take part directly in the process.
  • organisers should fulfil their ‘duty of care’ to support participants so that they know what is happening and will not be harmed or distressed by the process.
  • organisers and decision-makers share a clearly stated commitment to taking the process seriously and respecting the contribution of the participants.
  • participants feel valued, comfortable and welcome. They can rely on:
    • a safe, non-confrontational atmosphere in which they can express their views freely;
    • a well-managed process which gives them confidence in the exercise; and
    • a friendly and informal environment where they feel they can speak openly.

The process gives priority to participants’ discussions

The main focus of deliberative engagement is always the discussions among participants. An effective deliberative process is one where:

  • in every event held, the majority of time is allocated to discussion between participants. The views expressed in these discussions are carefully recorded.
  • the exercise follows a logical path through learning and discussion, so that participants build on and use the information and knowledge they acquire as the process develops.
  • participants are given a variety of ways to express their views – both collectively, through the discussions, and individually through other methods, such as voting, post-it notes, postcards or flip charts.
  • the process allows time for plenary feedback and summing up, so that participants can validate points that are being interpreted as the main points.
  • specialists, decision-makers and policy-makers are briefed so that they clearly understand that their role is to stimulate and support discussions among the participants, not to lead or direct them.

The process is reviewed and evaluated to improve practice

There are two important reasons to build review and evaluation into deliberative public engagement: first, to assess what has been achieved; and second, to improve future practice.

Effective evaluation starts as early as possible in the process and continues until after the final policy decision has been taken. This helps to ensure that the process is guided by measurable objectives, which can then be used to test achievement, and that any impact can be assessed and shared with the participants.

Review and evaluation can be done in-house or independently. In-house evaluation, such as self-assessment and peer review, can help promote internal learning, whereas external evaluation can ensure independent scrutiny, legitimacy and accountability.

Participants are kept informed 

People who are participating in a deliberative engagement process should be given clear information on the process before, during, between and after meetings, events or online initiatives. Organisers should circulate a summary of participants’ views as they have been presented to policy- and decision-makers; and they should provide clear information on the final decision, and how participants’ input has made a difference.

Ideally, all reports and feedback to participants are published. Comments from individual participants should be kept anonymous; this enables everyone to contribute freely without fear of reprisals.

Effective deliberative processes can stimulate interest in the policy issue, or in civic participation generally, among participants. Organisers can support and harness this civic energy by:

  • encouraging participants to stay in touch with each other after the event;
  • giving participants information to help them stay involved in the issue or service through volunteering, campaigning or interest groups; and
  • providing information about other public participation initiatives.