[Fourth in a series of posts presenting our “Participation Schemas”. The first post was: “Open Government beyond open data and transparency”, the second “Characterizing Collaborative Participation” and the third “Dimension WHAT – Intensity of Collaboration”]
Dimension WHO – Affected and involved actors
Participation Schemas’ second dimension refers to the relevant ‘Actors’, the stakeholders: the people, groups, organizations and institutions that are affected and/or are involved in the participatory process. This is an extremely important dimension but also an elusive one: depending on the characteristics of the participatory process, its context and the type of analysis intended, different sets of actors would need to be considered, which would then be evaluated according to different sets of characteristics and grouped into specific actor categories.
For the general case it is convenient to differentiate firstly between ‘political’ actors -as public administrations, government or a legislative body-, the ‘corporative’ actors -as business groups, unions, mass media, international organizations, etc.-, ‘civil society’ actors -including associations, NGOs and other civic groups- and finally the ‘citizenry’, citizens participating as individuals, not as representives of an organization. Additional categories, or a category ‘others’, could be used to accomodate exceptional actors which do not fit well in the previous categories.
To characterize participatory mechanisms and evaluate their potential and capabilities it is essential to identify all actors involved in the process -both participants and absentees- as well as understand the roles played in the process by the different participants and their relationships. It is thus convenient to use sociograms  and/or “stakeholder analysis” techniques  to assess aspects such as power, relevance, positioning, urgency and legitimacy of the actors in relation to the topics of the participatory process.
For each actors’ category a detailed analysis needs to be performed to identify all actors affected by the participatory process or by the issues it addresses and determine whether or not they are interested and/or involved in the participatory process, as well as their relevance and levels of influence over it. The process’ participatory quality, inclusiveness and empowering capacity depend strongly on its capacity to attract and involve all relevant stakeholders. It is therefore important to consider the mechanisms and criteria used to select participants. For example, participant could be self-selected volunteers, experts, organization representatives, be selected randomly, chosen by ballot, etc. [3, 4: p. 43]. Finally, actors that have special roles in the participatory process need to be identified, including: 1. “Decision makers”, 2. “Sponsors”, 3. “Facilitators” and, where applicable, any other special roles that are relevant to the process.
By including this dimension Participation Schemas can be used to analyze both the administrative and the autonomous forms of participation. For example, it would be easy to represent an autonomous participation initiative in which the “affected”, the “promoters” and the “participants” were the residents of a neighborhood which decide to organize themselves spontaneously (or with the support of an NGO) to propose some kind of action to the mayor, which would occupy the role of the “decision maker”. However, if the process would not be to request anything from the mayor, but just to promote self-organized community actions, the Participation Schema would not include any ‘decision maker’ or would consider that the decision makers are the very members of the community. Of course, the rest of dimensions of Participation Schemas would complement the analysis: depending on the type of activities included in the process -from running an opinion survey among neighbors to the organization of recurring community assemblies- we would refer to different levels of institutionalization, intensity of collaboration, transparency and deliberation.
Dimension WHEN – Stages of participation
In most cases, a participatory initiative consists of a series of differentiated activities, phases and “participatory moments”, which serve different purposes and typically involve different sets of participants. In order to get a deeper and comprehensive understanding of participatory experiences, Participation Schemas allow identifying the most relevant phases and analysing them separately. This way, it is possible to compare the essential characteristics of participation in each stage of the participatory initiave.
When the Participation Schema is used to evaluate participation in a certain public policy area, or to analyse the collaborative opportunities offered by a particular government or public institution, it is espectially interesting to consider the five phases of the traditional “public policy cycle”, namely: 1. Agenda setting, 2. Policy formulation, 3. Decision making, 4. Policy implementation, and 5. Monitoring and evaluation.
Participatory Schemas’ fourth dimension considers the level of institutionalization of the participatory processes, ie: the type of institutional and procedural framework that characterizes the initiative. The lowest stages of this dimension refer to participation experiences with a minimal institutionalization level: those one-off participatory processes that are carried out with an exceptional or ‘Sporadic’ character. It continues through the levels of ‘Episodic’, ‘Periodic’ and ‘Continuous’ participation processes. Finally, the highest levels are those were explicit ‘Functional’ or ‘Organic’ institutions are in place .
In general, the higher the institutionalization level, the lower the arbitrariness and discretion margin available to the promoters of the initiatives and the decision-makers, both in relation to their control of the moments when the processes are carried out and in relation to their capacity to influence its operation and, eventually, disregard the results of the participatory process. Actually, at the highest levels there are laws aimed to regulate and safeguard the functioning of the participatory mechanisms.
‘Functional Institutionalization’ refers to cases where channels and legal procedures have been established which allow citizens to initiate some form of participatory interaction with authorities and trigger a series of regulated administrative responses. Examples of this participation form are citizen legislative initiatives, the right to petition, the public consultation procedures required as part of urban planning action, neighbors attendance to town meetings, etc.
‘Organic Institutionalization’, meanwhile, involves the creation of participatory bodies or institutions that have a permanent or semi-permanent character. These participatory bodies frequently have advisory, oversight and/or decision-making powers for the development and/or implemention of public policies in a certain geographic or thematic area. They include representatives from different stakeholders (individuals, associations, public entities, etc.) and allow citizens and citizen groups to get involved in the issues and projects the institution handles.
This dimension is essential to understand participatory mechanisms, but has been neglected in most participatory models and typologies proposed so far. As a result, most publicly funded participatory projects are conceived as ephemeral experiments, which fail to consider their own temporal, institutional and financial sustainability and thus enormously reduce their impact.
[Read the final post of the series on Participation Schemas: “Dimension HOW and final considerations”]
 CIMAS (2009) Metodologías participativas – Manual. Madrid: CIMAS
 Mitchell RK, Agle BR, Wood DJ (1997) Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 853–886
 Karlsson M (2012) Democratic legitimacy and recruitment strategies in eParticipation projects. In Charalabidis Y, Koussouris S (eds) Empowering Open and Collaborative Governance: Technologies and Methods for Online Citizen Engagement in Public Policy Making. Springer
 Barrutia A, Bartolomé E, et al (2009) Buenas prácticas de participación ciudadana. Univ. Deusto
 Ibáñez Macías A (2007) El derecho constitucional a participar y la participación ciudadana local. Madrid: Difusión Jurídica y Temas de Actualidad.