Arnstein (1969) - A ladder of citizen participation

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Arnstein, SR. 1969. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation.” Journal of the American Institute of Planners, no. December 2011: 37–41.


The paper can be seen as an essay whose theoretical approach rates the quality of political participation (“citizen participation”) by the power the participants hold over the actual outcome of a decision. Therefore acts of political participation are hierarchically categorized on an eight-step-“ladder of citizen participation”: Anecdotal evidence to describe the real-world form of the different qualities is given.

This is a classic text whose categorisation might have become somewhat dated but it is still highly referenced.


The eight different qualities are defined as follows (in hierarchical order):
(8) Citizen Control: full managerial power
(7) Delegated Power: a majority of "have nots" on decision making seats
(6) Partnership: adds a right to negotiate
(5) Placation: adding the right to advice to (4), but no right to decide
(4) Consultation: same as (3)
(3) Informing: Information, but no leverage to assure a change of the status quo
(2) Therapy: Non-participation, but enabling to “cure” participants
(1) Manipulation: Non-participation, but enabling to “educate” participants


The author concludes that up to this day and age (when the article was published) most of the “citizen participation” cannot be qualified as one that really gives power to the “have nots”. On the other hand, he points out that there are also some substantial arguments against a more powerful citizen participation, such as the danger of supporting “separatism”, the creation of “balkanization of public services” or a lesser effectiveness (p. 224).

Review needed!