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What do we mean by engagement?

Levels of engagement
The terminology surrounding public involvement is far from settled, and the word ‘engagement’ is used here to summarise a range of possible contacts between people, especially environmental managers and those that have an interest (or 'stake') in their decisions. A person’s level of engagement in a particular woodland planning process or project is likely to be determined by:

  • What they may gain from the decision.
  • What they may loose from the decision.
  • The relative importance of the decision or project compared to other concerns in their life.
  • The responsibility they have for the decision or for people affected by the decision.

The International Association of Public Participation has developed a 'Spectrum of Public Participation'. This illustrates the different levels of engagement, and explains the type of obligations those managing the participation process have towards the public (Figure 1).

Figure 1 - Spectrum of Public Participation

This toolbox offers principles and methods which support these different kinds of participation. The toolbox uses the following terms to differentiate between the different levels of public engagement in the planning and management of forest or woodland activities:

  • Information: give people basic information so that they can decide if they wish to be a consultee on, or a participant in, the forest or woodland planning or delivery process. Letting people know what is happening is a very legitimate role, particularly in situations where stakeholders will not be invited to take part in decision making.
  • Consultation: invite people to express their interests, concerns and ideas for the forest or woodland plan, service and facilities, or other forestry related decision.
  • Involvement: encourage people to participate in generating options and potential solutions for forest plans, projects or activities (Box 1).

Box 1 - Types of public involvement

  • Partnership (Collaboration): people directly participate in selecting the best-fit solution that will become the forest or woodland plan, or in choosing and designing the activities and services provided. Influence and responsibilities are negotiated and shared.
  • Empowerment (Control): building the capacity of an individual or group of people such as community groups, local authorities or private owners to manage woodland independently.

Figure 2 illustrates the range of opportunities for people to engage with forestry and the likely level of participation in each case.

Figure 2 - Opportunities for public engagement in forestry


The pyramid engagement
The pyramid shown in Figure 3 is a useful model to show the different levels of engagement, with the width of each tier representing the proportion of people who are likely to want to be involved at each stage. Each level of the pyramid also places different demands on the resources available to foresters (e.g. time, staff, budget allocations).

Initially, most people will want to have information about a forest planning process or opportunity to engage. They can then decide if and how they wish to be more actively involved in the process. Most people will also want feedback on the progress made. Fewer people will decide to get involved at the consultation or involvement levels, and fewer still will be prepared to commit their time and energy to working in partnership with the forest or woodland management team.

In other words, engagement is not about trying to involve all of the people all of the time, but thinking about who should or might be involved and when.

It is particularly important to think through and then develop ways that will ensure that anyone, from any group in society can take part. As the process moves up the pyramid, the numbers of people involved tends to decline, while their influence tends to increase. Unless those people are representative of all, the full range of social needs, expectations and opinions are likely to be missed. This is could be a fundamental issue in areas where communities are particularly diverse and where large numbers of people are likely to have an interest in the woodland or forest which is the focus of attention.

Figure 3 - The pyramid of engagement


A pyramid cannot be built from the top down!

When a new community-focussed project or initiative is launched the best way to develop a dialogue and build a relationship with people is to start at ground level. Developing mutual trust, understanding and commitment to the project or decision making process will encourage some to stay actively engaged as the process stages move up the pyramid. This approach takes time.


Empowerment and responsibility

The higher people choose to ‘climb’ the pyramid the more power they have over the forest or woodland decision-making process. They have a responsibility to all those people on the lower tiers of the pyramid to:

  • Commit sufficient time to the planning process;
  • Prepare and manage an equitable participatory process;
  • Represent the interests of other people including those who might be less vocal or harder to reach;
  • Choose the best-fit solution that meets the needs of all people with an interest or likely to be affected including those from minority groups;
  • Keep people informed on the progress of the process.