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Presenting the “Matrix of Civic Implication”

14. November 2011 – 23:06 by Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin

The Asociación Ciudades Kyosei is a small civic organization whose aim is to foster Civic Engagement by means of ICT. It was founded in 2006 and is the oldest Spanish NGO devoted to the promotion of (e)Participation. In the last years we were researching on the field of Civic Engagement and ICT, with a special focus on Latin-America and Europe. Our work combines a critical attitude with an applied, hands-on focus, and has (1) theorized about Civic Engagement, (2) analysed the best design practices for (e)Participation systems, as well as (3) analysed the difficulties that exist to promote innovation in the ICT for Governance field. Our research has been widely recognized as refreshing and insightful.

In this PeP-NET post we would like to share a tool we have developed, “The matrix of civic implication”, whose main aim is to support the development of conceptual clarity when analyzing participatory venues and participatory initiatives. If used wisely, we think the matrix is a powerful “tool”, that goes beyond alternative models (like OECD, IAP2 or Fung’s), and should allow researchers, practitioners and the ‘man in the street’ to better understand the core dimensions of participatory activities.

 The Matrix of Civic Implication

Since Sherry Arnstein presented her “Ladder of Citizen Participation” in 1969, tens of models have been proposed with the aim to describe “participation”.

The problem with these models is that they tend to be either too basic -and thus they add less value- or they are too complex and specialized, and in this case they are too cumbersome to be applied.

For this reason… a lot of confusion exist in this field.

Our matrix tries to find a pragmatic balance between usefulness and complexity, and provide a tool that is at the same time powerful, practical and easy to use. It allows practitioners and theorists to compare in a matter of minutes different Participatory experiences. The model was developed to be applied to “municipal participation” initiatives, but it can be applied to other kind of participatory experiences.

The Matrix identifies four fundamental dimensions of participatory initiatives, which be informally “visualized”, and thus make this model especially suitable for comparing initiatives:


This level is based on the original ladder, and describes the level of collaboration exercised. It goes from Manipulation, Information and Consultation levels up to the levels of Collaboration, Delegated Power and Delegated control. We have slightly renamed some of Arnstein’s rungs and added some fundamental extra rungs, like the ones corresponding to “Conflict” and the “transparency” rung, which is considered as a pre-requisite for any real “Collaborative Participation”. More details on the meaning of the different levels are provided below.

2. ACTORS involved in the participatory exercise:

This dimension allows differentiating the actors, grouping them under the categories of “affected”, “participants”, “promoters” and “decision makers”. It also classifies them as political actors, corporate actors, civil society actors, or others. More categories and actors can be considered. The ones shown in the picture are just an example. The actors’ names displayed in the attached matrix have just and illustrative character: more categories and actors could be considered, in case they were needed to analyze the participatory exercises. Thanks to the inclusion of this dimension, the model can be applied to analyze both “administrative, top-down participation” (sponsored and organized by governments) and “autonomous participation”, which could be really bottom-up (initiated by citizens) or initiated by some other Civil or Corporate actors. More details below.


This essential dimension has often been neglected in most participation models. The institutionalization levels range from the lowest “Sporadic” and “Episodic”, through “Periodic” and “Continuous” levels of institutionalization, to the highest “Functional Institutionalization” and “Organic Institutionalization”.

Functional Institutionalization refers to cases where laws have been approved that enact legal procedures and channels, which allow citizens to initiate some kind of participatory interaction. For example: citizens’ initiatives, right of petition, mandatory hearings in urban planning, participation in city council, etc.

Organic Institutionalization, finally, refers to the cases where participatory organs have been constituted with a permanent or semi-permanent character, with representation of different actors involved. These organs generally have a decision-making or a controlling mandate, and allow interested citizens and/or citizen groups to become involved in the policy areas covered by the participatory institution.


This dimension allows to, informally, specify the kind and intensity of deliberation that the participatory experience motivates. Deliberation is a particular form of reasoning and dialogue, in which the costs and consequences of various policy options are carefully weighed, taking into account the views of all concerned.

The Matrix of Civic Implication is a tool that helps project managers, practitioners and researchers to describe what they are doing or what they are planning to do, taking into account the most fundamental participatory dimensions, and making it possible to compare between different options or approaches.

This conceptual model is intended to remain open and flexible: additions or changes are welcomed in the case the analyzed participatory experiences require them.

For example, it could be interesting to consider the moment within the “policy making cycle” (from Agenda Setting to Evaluation) where the participation happens. Another possible addition could consider the technological tools or the participatory methodologies used. But these extra dimensions are normally not essential to understand the core of the participatory experience, and are thus not part of the base model.

In many cases a participatory initiative is composed of different participatory activities, each of them with different aims and different stakeholders involved in them. The matrix could also be used to depict individually each of these activities, to get a deeper understanding of the whole experience.

The aim of the model is NOT prescriptive, but descriptive. It does NOT claim that higher intensity of collaboration, or a dense deliberativeness, or an extreme institutionalization level is always better. This actually depends of the environment and the objectives that are pursued with the initiative. The model thus explicitly recognizes that different situations require different approaches. It is the quality of participation that matters more, not the amount, nor necessarily the level at which it, suppossedly, happens.

The model is explained in these videos, which are part of the teaching materials we prepared for a course on “Citizen Participation and Digital Technologies”, that we imparted in collaboration with the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education. The course materials are in Spanish, but these videos include English subtitles:

YOUTUBE: 10.a. The Advent of Civic Implication. Part 1

YOUTUBE: 10.b. The Advent of Civic Implication. Part 2


More detailed descriptions of the “Intensity of collaboration” levels

Let’s have a more detailed look at the meaning of the “Intensity of collaboration” levels, starting with the lowest.

The rung “Manipulation”, that is part of the “Non-Participation” category is characterized by the attempts to manipulate: to keep people quiet, satisfied, with the impression that they are being heard… but actually there is no real intention to listen to them.

With different levels of sofistication, participatory venues are designed by decision-makers so they can exert control of it, and use it just to ratify decission that have already been taken, or to comply with legal requirements, etc.

All this was linked by Arnstein with the idea of “therapy”. And sadly enough… much of the political participation that is carried out nowadays is of this type.

Under the “Non-participation” level we have included the “Conflict” category.

This happens when citizens realise that the existing participatory venues are not satisfactory, and decide to show their dissatisfaction.

The firs rung, “Legitimate coercion”, is when the means used are “pacific”, civic protest, civil disobedience. We are speaking here of things like the Spanish “Indignados”, the #occupywallstreet movement, or the #realdemocracynow.

People’s capacity to connect one with another is increasing, and the current global crisis is evidencing that our current representative democracies are very “low-quality”. It is clear that this ‘Legitimate coercion’ will continue growing. Without losing its “pacific” character, this kind of action could win more and more disrupting capacity: coordinated demonstrations and strikes, boycotts, delays in paying taxes, etc. This coordinated actions can increasingly get directed at punishing political actors by means of voting, and thus “biting where it hurts” to them.

The rung of “Illegal Duress” refers to even stronger conflicts, and includes harder responses: sabotage, property destruction and robbery, terrorism… all this kind of actions can be understood, in many cases, as a way of expression when the “existing” mechanisms are considered as “non-working”.

With regards to the upper rungs: “Information, Consultation, Advisement”, they reflect the traditional levels in which a decision-maker can engage with people to improve the decisions.

The most basic rung -“Information”- means the case where some (or even much) information about what is being done, or planned to be done, is provided. That’s already a difference, with respect to “Manipulation”.

“Consultation” means that some channels (like polling, or focus groups, or… whatever you can imagine) are created that allow some kind of feedback from the citizens to be heard by the decision maker.

“Advisement” rung goes a little bit further, and allows that the citizens, their associations… are providing elaborate advice to the decision maker, as part of a conversation.

The most important aspect with regards to this category, called “Consultative Participation”, is that the decision maker is finally taking the decision that he prefers. She is just asking for opinions, argumentations, views… but retains the capacity to judge them and act in any way that suits her understanding and convenience. How much consideration receive the views expressed through the engagement mechanisms… depends entirely on the will of the decision maker. This is why Arnstein termed it “Tokenism”.

Let’s now go to the top.

Above the “Consultative Participation” category that we have just reviewd, the category for “Collaborative Participation” comes. This is the category where the “Intensity of Collaboration” is stronger. This is a type of participation where “real collaboration” is expected, in its various levels.

At the very top is the “Delegated Control” rung. It means that the control of some decision-making area is delegated to the participatory institution or organism. Usually the decision maker could reclaim the control in case of emergency… but by default he would be willing to accept the results of the participatory collaboration (normally, the decision maker will also be member of the participatory mechanism, and thus able to defend his interests).

The next rung, “Delegated Power” is a more conservative approach, that just delegates some partial, limited “power”, to the participatory institution. This way, more safeguards could be in place (veto, etc.).

The next level is “Collaboration”. In it, even if no power is explicitly delegated, the decision making capacity is implicitly or explicitly shared through the principles of “honest collaboration”, understanding that participants are partnering together to find good solutions. Thus what is recognized and agreed by means of this cooperation should necessarily influence, in a sensible way, the final decision, as well as the actions of all participants.

Thus, we come to the “Transparency” rung, which is the most radical change with respect to Arnstein model.
First of all: it is important to recognise that the nature of this rung is a little different than the others. It is more a “pre-requisite” for the collaborative participation than a way of collaboration on its own.

Why a pre-requisite? Well, because if you want to really collaborate, in a trustful way… all participants should have access to all relevant information available.

Transparency means open data and open government: a compromise to proactively share all relevant data, so all partners can inspect and work on it, both pro-actively (to ellaborate proposals, for example), or after some issue has happened (to discover ineficiencies or corruption, for example).

Transparency has a tremendous effect on the incentives of any administrative body. If you know that all your actions are visible, that they can be inspected… the ‘margin for corruption’ is strongly reduced.

Hidden agendas are also more difficult to keep: decision making can thus become more fact-based and deliberative, and all participants will be more motivated to find real “best solutions” and win-win arrangements.

For this reason, the “transparency” rung, and its “Pre-participation” category, are placed above the “Consultative Participation”. Consultative participation can actually happen under a dictatorial structure. Transparency is necessarily linked to collaborative and democratic settings.

One final remark: All this levels are, in first place, considered with relation to public authorities and government. But in general they can be applied to any institution with capacity to make decisions, and share this capacity with other stakeholders. In particular: corporations will increasingly be subject to demands to increase their “transparency”, as a requisite to collaborative participation of the people (which, should not be forgotten: are also customers, and able to harm companies in weeks, just by slightly coordinating their buying behavior).

Increasingly, if there is not enough transparency, or if the ethical behaviours of the companies are not satisfactory, people will go for “CONFLICT”, meaning boycotts or even stronger measures (imagine a coordinated action to retire funds from “un-ethical” banks: no public money will be able to save a bank whera a big share of their customers coordinately decide to claim their money back).

So… everybody should pay more attention to the developments in this field.

There is a strong demand for powerful collaboration tools. Internet is about to impact democracy, when the use of these tools gets critical mass. We should all try to make sure this happens in a constructive way.

How to handle top-down and bottom-up participation in the matrix

The Matrix intend to cover not only “top-down” public participation, but also the “bottom-up”. And even a new form of civic engagement we invented (partly, as a joke), called “from-the-middle-and-around”. Both the “top-down” and the “bottom-up” perspectives are too simple conceptualizations… that are not able to comprehend the nuances of such a complex phenomenom as civic engagement.

In fact, we consider more interesting the bottom-up or mixed engagement models, as the pure “top-down”/ administrative participation has proven to be quite limited in its transformative effect during the whole 20th century. All this is related to the “administrative” and “autonomous” forms of participation that we previously referred to (see image).

Actually, it is because of this willingness to embrace autonomous “engagement” that we chose not to name the model the “Matrix of Citizen Participation” (following Arnstein) but the “Matrix of Civic Implication”.

Citizen Participation somehow suggest that “citizens” (no immigrants? no kids?) slightly “participate”, collaborate… with an initiative whose ownership lies somewhere else. “Civic implication”, on the other hand, aims to suggest an “engagement”, a “personal implication” with something that is recognized as “own” by person, by the neighbor.

How would the “top-down / bottom-up” character of the participation be reflected in the model?

Well, especially through the recognition and configuration of the “Actors” involved, at the top of the matrix, which by default is used to displays different possible administrative, corporate and civil society actors, as a way to facilitate the comparison of initiatives (see, for example, this comparation of “Mayor talks with neighbors” and the “Participatory Budgeting of Fortaleza (BR)”.

Let’s imagine a case of bottom-up participation. For example, the case where the “participants”, “promoters” and “affected” are just the citizens of a neighborhood, which autonomously organize themselves (maybe with the support of a NGO) to propose the mayor (decision-maker) some kind of action… we would have this kind of autonomous participation in action.

If there is no request to be presented to the Mayor, but just a process of community self-organization… this would be reflected by not including any “decision-maker” or considering the “decision-maker” to be the own community.
And for sure, depending of the kind activities carried out (running a poll in the neighborhood, or deliberatively elaborate the proposal, or even voting at the end on the open points…) you would have different levels of involvement, or “intensities of collaboration”.
It is, anyway, just a tool -like, for example, scissors- whose real value is shown when it is put to work. In the same way that you would use slightly different scissors to clean a fish, to cut your fiancee’s hair, or to allow your daughter to handicraft… the matrix might need to be modified, extended, complemented with other analysis or… whatever, to suit the need of the user. It all depends on what is desired to illuminate with its help. The Matrix “humble aim” is to provide a clear base-line for analysis and communication. On top of that, all additions are welcomed, if they make sense.

Another example: in case there was interest in analyzing, or making more visible, the “power” relations in a concrete participatory initiative, you could decide to display only the actors that are participating, and perform some kind of “stakeholders analysis” to asses each actors’  power, urgency and legitimacy toward the issue, and thus determine the kind of role they can play (Dominant, Dormant, Dependent,  Demanding, Definitive, etc.). [see ]. Thus, you could use different intensities of colors to reflect the power, etc.


That’s all, sorry for such a long entry. We thought it was worth sharing. We are waiting for your comments!

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