16th August 2017

Models of community engagement

These models of community engagement are all designed to help organisations to work effectively when engaging citizens in decision making. Participation Cymru has compiled the following models of engagement through our work. If you’ve come across a model that you have found useful, please contact us and we’ll add it to the list below.

Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation

Arnstein’s Ladder is a well-known model of citizen engagement. It suggests various channels, which might be used to achieve the respective outcomes. This model considers 8 types of participation, denoted by rungs on the ladder.

Models of community engagement: Sherry Arnstein's Ladder of Participation

Image source: Wikipedia

There is a clear hierarchy, running from the lowest level of ‘inform’ to the higher levels of ‘control’ or ‘partnership’, whilst also broadly grouping the levels together; the lower rungs representing non-participation, the middle rungs representing tokenism, and the higher rungs are types of citizen power.

For further information


Arnstein S.R., (1969) A ladder of Citizen Participation, Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35., pages 216-224

Roger Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation

Other examples of “ladders” of citizen engagement include Roger Hart’s ladder of children’s participation which has eight rungs and two main zones he calls ‘Non-Participation’ and ‘Degrees of Participation’.

In Roger Hart’s model, the top five rungs, in the ‘Participation’ zone all represent different but valid forms of participation while the three lowest rungs are all designated as “non-participation”.

Models of community engagement: Roger Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation

Further information

Children’s Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care

Alain Thomas’ Model of Engagement

Alain Thomas’ four stage model below differs from most other models in that it identifies factors which lead to engagement potentially having either positive or negative outcomes at all levels.

The four stages are

  1. Control
  2. Shared Power
  3. Consultation
  4. Communication

The model suggests that three sets of factors influence whether engagement is likely to result in either positive or negative outcomes: Motivation, Capacity and Assurances of power.

A positive motivation to communicate honestly and effectively is the most important factor at the communication level, sufficient resources to implement what you are consulting about is the key factor at the consultation level, and sufficient assurances that citizens will actually be able to share in decision making becomes crucial at the shared power level.

Models of community engagement: Alain Thomas Model of Engagement

Other models of engagement

Community engagement and participatory decision-making – Murdoch University

Community engagement model – City of Charles Sturt

Community engagement: The Centre for Ethnicity and Health – Centre for Ethnicity & Health & University of Central Lancashire

Models of community engagement – Scottish Community Development Centre

Reaching out: community engagement and health – Improvement and Development Agency

Three examples of community engagement techniques – Minnesota Department of Health

Learn more about models of engagement

Our comprehensive public engagement training programme has a wide range of courses which cover all of these models of community engagement in much more detail, including case studies and practical ways to apply these models to your community engagement work.

We can deliver these courses to staff in your organisation and tailor them to meet your needs. Contact us to discuss your learning needs

Co-production in practice

An introduction to the concept of co-production and how it can be used to design and deliver public services. This course will look at the current Welsh context for co-production and demystify the terminology around co-production. Factors that need to be in place for co-production to thrive, such as a cultural shift to enable shared power with citizens and an asset based approach will be considered as well as the benefits and challenges of working in a co-productive way.

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Public engagement: theory and practice

This comprehensive, two-day course is aimed at providing a greater awareness and understanding of participative engagement. Participants will gain a range of skills as well as build confidence in engaging with citizens and the community. The course will focus on preparing for engagement, the rationale, who to engage with and achieving validity in consultation.

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Shared power in public services

Participants will have an opportunity to build on their existing skills and knowledge in Public engagement by exploring the higher levels of engagement in more depth, including Shared Power and Citizen Control. The course offers knowledge, skills, tools and reflective practice to enable practitioners to put into practice these higher levels of engagement.

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See a complete list of Public Engagement training courses

Find out what’s coming up on our 2017/18 Training Programme


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