Deliberative Engagement Framework

More effectively engage and put the power of decision-making in stakeholders' hands

Decorative only

"Deliberative engagement" is a process of allowing community and stakeholders to consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, talk with others to think critically about options, and enlarge their perspectives before making decisions.

Although many schools of thought exist around what best practice deliberative engagement should be, most are built on a common goal of ensuring that community has greater say and power in decision-making. This basic principle is reflected in the often referenced IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation (which itself is built on Arnstein’s seminal Ladder of Participation):

IAP2's Spectrum of Public Participation

As the IAP2 model underpins both standard community engagement and deliberative engagement, the question arises of how deliberative engagement is methodologically different from standard engagement. spur: proffers the primary difference is ultimately a matter of degree or extent.

Domains of engagement

Below outlines the four, key domains of engagement: representation, understanding, input, and decision-making.

Domains of engagement

These four domains are already embedded in all existing types of engagement. The goal of deliberative engagement is to consider and action these domains more effectively, as the diagram below outlines:

Extent of engagement

The inner, darker colours depict the extent of regular community engagement and the outer, paler colours represent the aspirations of effective deliberative engagement. In short, the purpose of eeliberative engagement is to do representation, understanding, input, and decision-making better.

It is important to note that there is no definitive threshold for when deliberative engagement has been “reached” or achieved. Rather, it is aspirational—striving to be more effective in representation, understanding, input, and decision-making.

The following outlines how to iteratively, and more effectively, approach each of these four domains of engagement.

Influencing factors

In effectively approaching the domains of engagement, there are four key influencing factors that need to be considered in each domain. These factors frame and determine the nature of how to approach each domain within each project:

Desired outcomes

It is critical to understand the outcomes (not just outputs) you are seeking to achieve. This is not only important for the overall project, but in each decision or action as part of the project.

Prompting questions include:
Why are you doing what you're doing? Who does this project impact? What is the demonstrable change to be achieved? Which voices in community will have what impact on the project? Whose voices are likely to be marginalised in this situation?

Situational context

Myriad macro and micro factors will influence the project and potential engagement.

Factors might include:
Proximity of project to other Council projects, time of year (e.g. near holidays), major events (e.g. COVID), prevailing attitudes towards Council, geography of project, etc.

Human needs

Humans are complex and participation in Council projects cannot be built on a “build it and they will come” mentality. Rather, it is imperative to understand individuals’ models of the world.

Factors might include:
Trust towards Council, where people seek information, who people trust in community, individual physical and mental accessibility needs and barriers, education, experience, demographics, etc.

Available resources

Council will have varying resources at its disposal between projects. These will greatly impact (both positively and negatively) how Council approaches engagement.

Key prompting questions include:
What people does Council have? What skills does Council? How much time does the project have? How much money or in-kind support does the project have?

Flow Chart

As mentioned above, the influencing factors are relevant across each of the domains of engagement. Therefore, albeit slightly reductive in nature, below is a simple flow chart of questions to work through to ensure each project embeds the principles of deliberative engagement more effectively. Although laid out in linear, discrete steps, the domains may overlap or be iterative:

1 · Representation:

  • Who affects this topic?
  • Who is affected by this topic?
  • What current or historical factors might influence these groups to engage, or not?
  • What would each of these groups need to engage with the project?
  • What resources do we have to effectively engage these groups?
  • How will we know we have adequate representation?

2 · Understanding

  • What information and perspectives need to be understood by participants? Why?
  • Who holds this needed information and perspectives?
  • How do participants best learn and appreciate information and perspectives?
  • How do we ensure information and perspectives are presented in the way participants need?
  • What resources do we have to effectively inform participants?
  • How will we know participants have adequate information and  understanding of perspective?

3 · Input

  • How should input serve the project?
  • What input does the project require from participants?
  • How do participants want to contribute? In what format?
  • What are the barriers to participants contributing? How might these be mitigated?
  • What resources do we have to effectively elicit input from participants?
  • How will both we and participants know there has been effective input?

4 · Decision-making

  • What decisions need to be made? Why?
  • How might participants be empowered to make decisions?
  • How do participants want to make decisions? In what format?
  • What are the barriers to participants making decisions? How might these be mitigated?
  • What resources do we have to effectively ensure decision-making by participants?
  • How will both we and participants know decisions have been deliberatively made?

The flow chart is also available to download as an A3 PDF canvas.

For more information about this tool, please contact the spur: team at