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Five Public Participation Takeaways For Communicators

This week we hosted a public participation workshop led by subject matter expert Kit Cole. If you’re not familiar with public participation or IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation), public participation is a communications planning method centered around two-way collaboration between an organization and its stakeholders.

The workshop’s exercises and processes were practical and left us feeling like we could apply them as soon as we got back to our desks. We covered a lot of ground during the workshop, but here are 5 key takeaways from the event:


1. Target the “squishy middle.” Some people will be opposed to your project. Some people will be for your project. It will be a challenge to change the opinions of these people who already have strong beliefs. The lower hanging fruit is the “squishy middle” – the people who don’t have a high level of interest or the people who are not yet informed about the project and are therefore more malleable/squishy and open to being persuaded.

2. Move people from high to low perception of risk. Some attributes that elevate the perception of risk include a situation that is exotic, out of your control, or unfamiliar. Lower risk perception is associated with things that are voluntary, familiar, equitable and able to be controlled. If you can find a part of your project that your audience can have control over, you’re making that project feel less scary and risky.

3. Apply Open, Narrow, Close problem solving. Open, narrow, close is a problem solving process that can be applied to communications planning. In the context of communicating with a target audience, this was our version of the open, narrow, close process:

1. List 3 of your organization’s objectives for their initiative (open)
2. List 3 points you would make to a target audience to persuade them to favor your initiative (narrow)
3. List 3 things your target audience cares about (close)

Once you’ve identified what your organization wants and what your audience wants, you can more easily find ways to compromise and give both parties some of what they want.

4. Use IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation. This is a visual guide to help you to pinpoint the level of audience participation and feedback for your initiative. Learn more about the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation here.

5. Try the Appreciative Inquiry approach. We just touched on appreciative inquiry in the workshop, but there’s a lot of information both in the blogosphere and in academic journals. At a very high level, it’s about positive and negative energy, and there’s a practical “5-Ds” approach. Here’s a good place to start learning about Appreciative Inquiry.

Thanks Kit for visiting thinkPARALLAX and leading the workshop and thanks to all for attending!


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