Participation A to Z: benefits and barriers

July 5, 2024 by No Comments | Category A-Z, Our work, Planning for participation

This instalment in the A-Z of participation series looks at the benefits and barriers of participation. There are so many positive impacts of participation done well, but there are challenges to reflect on and address first. 

What we mean by participation in Scottish Government 

Participation is a broad term used to describe how people get involved in decisions which affect or are important to them. This can be in their local communities, as part of interest group campaigns, or in government policies and decisions.  

Our vision for public participation is that people can be involved in the decisions that affect them, making Scotland a more inclusive, sustainable and successful place.  

We support public participation by:  

  • creating opportunities for meaningful participation when the outcomes of policy and service design can be influenced  
  • considering and using the results of participation activities as part of our policy and decision-making processes  
  • feeding back to participants and the wider public the results of participation activity and the difference it has made  

Read more about public participation in the Participation Handbook. 

Benefits of participation 

There are many benefits of delivering public participation and engagement:  

  • It’s good for democracy and building trust: public participation has been demonstrated to be good for democracy as it leads to better and more democratic policy making, ensuring this process becomes more transparent, inclusive, legitimate, and accountable in turn. This enhances public trust in government and democratic institutions by giving people a role in public decision making. It also leads to a better, and shared understanding of opportunities and challenges. 
  • It can facilitate better policy results: participation is beneficial for policies, services, and projects as it leads to better policy results that take into account and use peoples’ experience and knowledge to address their most urgent needs. It supports in making policies more successful and substantive, and the quality of policies, laws, and services are improved as they are developed, implemented, and evaluated based upon up-to-date evidence and experience. They also benefit from the innovative ideas of the public and can be more cost-effective as a result. 
  • It can ensure government decision making is more inclusive and accountable: participation is important for inclusion and diversity as it can make governance and decision making more inclusive by inviting in more representative groups of people. Increasing diversity in the room can also enhance problem-solving capacity, collective creativity and innovation. Through participatory processes, government can strengthen the representation of minorities and often excluded groups. This in turn can create better policies and services, build a sense of belonging, and help nurture social cohesion. 
  • It can strengthen the legitimacy for challenging decisions: public participation can facilitate more efficient implementation and improve legitimacy, as involving people in the decision-making process supports the public’s understanding of the outcome and enhances its uptake. Participation can allow the public to follow, influence, and understand the process leading to a decision. This enhances the legitimacy of hard choices and social support for change. 
  • It can support in finding solutions to difficult problems: participation can help governments solve problems or address specific situations. It can help public authorities in their daily activities to take better decisions and provide services and policies that respond to peoples’ needs, and promote a relationship between the public and government based on mutual trust. 

In order to get the benefits of good participation, it’s important to consider and address the barriers. 

Barriers to participation 

There are many barriers which can prevent people from being involved in public engagement opportunities.  

It’s important to consider if there are structural and practical factors that may limit a person’s ability to engage with participatory engagement.  

It is important to consider these factors early on in the planning process so that efforts can be made to break down these barriers. 

Some potential barriers that we bring to the attention of colleagues include: 

  • awareness: if people aren’t aware of the opportunity to participate then they will not be able to participate 
  • consultation fatigue: if people and communities are consulted on a topic and do not see change, this can cause frustration and a reluctance to participate again in the future 
  • financial barriers: attending an event costs money, whether that is travel, accommodation, childcare or taking time off work  
  • complexity: it helps everyone to present information in clear and simple terms using Plain English and translations where needed 
  • access to technology: not everyone has access to technology, or the digital skills required to allow them to easily participate in online activities whether that is a consultation or an online event 
  • time/location: we know that people lead busy lives, the time and location of events and meetings can be a barrier if the time and location don’t suit attendees 

Tools to break down barriers 

If you share any of the above concerns, the resources below can help with breaking down these potential barriers: 

You can read more about our varied participatory work in our other Participation blog posts. 


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