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The Ethics of Public Participation

This post was originally published on the Intellitics blog on Thursday, August 5, 2010: The Ethics of Public Participation. Subscribe to our blog via RSS or follow us on Twitter.

It seems the topic of ethics and integrity in public participation is coming up more often these days (see my comments here, here).

Just for the record, these are the rules by which we at Intellitics abide.

First, we have IAP2’s Core Values for the Practice of Public Participation:

  • Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
  • Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
  • Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
  • Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
  • Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
  • Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  • Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.
Second, IAP2’s Code of Ethics for Public Participation Practitioners:

The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Code of Ethics for Public Participation Practitioners supports and reflects IAP2’s Core Values for the Practice of Public Participation. The Core Values define the expectations and aspirations of the public participation process. The Code of Ethics speaks to the actions of practitioners.


As members of IAP2, we recognize the importance of a Code of Ethics, which guides the actions of those who advocate including all affected parties in public decision-making process. In order to fully discharge our duties as public participation practitioners, we define terms used explicitly throughout our Code of Ethics. We define stakeholders as any individual, group of individuals, organizations, or political entity with a stake in the outcome of a decision. We define the public as those stakeholders who are not part of the decision-making entity or entities. We define public participation as any process that involves the public in problem-solving or decision-making and that uses public input to make better decisions.

This Code of Ethics is a set of principles, which guides us in our practice of enhancing the integrity of the public participation process. As practitioners, we hold ourselves accountable for these principles and strive to hold all participants to the same standards.

We support public participation as a process to make better decisions that incorporate the interests and concerns of all affected stakeholders and meet the needs of the decision-making body.

We will enhance the public’s participation in the decision-making process and assist decision-makers in being responsive to the public’s concerns and suggestions.

We will undertake and encourage actions that build trust and credibility for the process among all the participants.

We will carefully consider and accurately portray the public’s role in the decision-making process.

We will encourage the disclosure of all information relevant to the public’s understanding and evaluation of a decision.

We will ensure that stakeholders have fair and equal access to the public participation process and the opportunity to influence decisions.

We will avoid strategies that risk polarizing community interests or that appear to “divide and conquer.”

We will advocate for the public participation process and will not advocate for interest, party, or project outcome.

We ensure that all commitments made to the public, including those by the decision-maker, are made in good faith.

We will mentor new practitioners in the field and educate decision-makers and the public about the value and use of public participation.

Needless to say, we believe these rules apply both online and off.

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Adriel Hampton

Good stuff, Tim. Re: your comment on Andrea’s blog, widely perceived (predetermined?) failures like the UK example are very, very damaging for the gov20/opengov movement.

Tim Bonnemann


There’s nothing wrong with making honest mistakes (stuff happens), but I see their shortcomings as much more fundamental. Consultations that lack integrity give public participation a bad name.

Public participation isn’t exactly new — it’s been around for decades. There’s a solid framework for how to do it, and IAP2 in particular has contributed a lot in this area. So while some say the UK government is “experimenting” (generally a good idea), I’d say they are careless in ignoring these guiding principles.

Ironically, there’s a ton of folks in the UK who know this stuff in and out.