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Ladder of citizen participation

The Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation helps to assess your community engagement efforts.

The Arnstein Ladder of citizen participation defines different levels of participation. This model shows how much power participants have over the outcomes of their contributions at each rung of the ladder. The model illustrates that as participation moves from “partnership” to “consultation” and then “manipulation”, the individuals involved in the process have less and less control over the product of their contributions. These contributors are often not the ones who benefit from the end product or outcome. According to this model, the gold standard for participation is at the top three rungs of the ladder where those involved can have an impact and control the outcomes that they also benefit from. This type of involvement overcomes any barriers to building trust that may exist as it redistributes the power among all those involved.

This model can be used as an effective tool to reflect on our current relationships with our end users and participants/collaborators. It can help to develop strategies to move closer to the top of the ladder where participants/collaborators are included in our teams and can equally contribute ideas.


  • With your team discuss each rung of the ladder.
  • Try to map any of your previous public engagement efforts to where they belong on the ladder.
  • If nothing is mapped to the top of the ladder, discuss how you can improve your process to give participants more power and engage them more directly into your process.