Reason: why to engage?
• Participation should not be limited to instances and issues in which it is required by law (e.g. in development plans). Participation should be promoted in all issues that have to do with public interest. This public interest needs to be defined jointly beforehand. It is important to include people in processes such as city centre planning or the building of a new bridge. Even topics that are not very important for the local government are important for the people. These topics would be a good starting point for learning to include both parties and for gaining experience in participation. For example, the residents of a city district could be consulted when deciding where and which playground should be built. In order to define public interest, there should be close cooperation with the department of public relations or a specialist, as people are often very interested in decisions that seemingly have only to do with the internal structures of the local government. In small local governments where there is no such distinct department or specialist, officials are recommended to jointly discuss the impact of different decisions on different resident groups with each new issue.
• The general rule is that residents should be invited to participate when the decision affects many of them. Of course, “many” is a relative concept but in a town this could, for example, mean the residents of an average-sized street. In a small rural area even the opinion of 10 people could be important. People should not be forced to participate; they should instead express a desire to do so. This means that information regarding new projects and processes should be distributed beforehand.
• It is not always necessary or possible to include a wide circle of people. The circle could be small when the issue pertains to a very specific area. However, very often the initial circle of people should be as broad as possible in order to generate new ideas and new approaches. Details could be specified later and alternatives could be weighed by a small group of specialists.