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View The Community Involvement Framework 2012

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How Can I Be Involved

The Community Involvement Continuum

How should the community be involved?

There are five levels of community involvement. The following is an overview of the community involvement continuum. Note that each of the levels that can be used independently or in combination depending on the scope of the project:


Level Icons showing Level 1 Inform, Level 2 Listen & Learn, Level 3 Consult, Level 4 Collaborate, Level 5 Empower Levels of Involvement Icons from Low Level of public involvement including Inform and Listen & Learn to Mid level of public involvement including Consult to High level of public involvement including Collaborate and Empower

This continuum demonstrates the various levels of community involvement. Each of these levels should not be seen as being isolated. Rather, each is a complementary approach that can be used independently, or in combination within a single community involvement plan. There are three main levels of involvement (Inform, Consult and Empower) with Listen & Learn and Collaborate necessary components of the overall strategy.

Level 1 - Inform

This is the most basic stage of involvement.  It means that citizens have the information they need to assess policies and initiatives to fully understand their impact.  Or it is used to prepare the Community for more intensive forms of community involvement.  Information is shared through agendas, minutes, reports, budgets, newsletters, advertising, web site, open houses and other forums.

Through informing, the community has the opportunity to consume and perhaps comment on specific details within a proposal but have little opportunity to influence the substance and general direction.

Relying on “informing” as to the sole form of community involvement should only be done where there is no opportunity for the community to influence policy outcomes because of technical or legislative constraints.


Level 2 - Listen & Learn

City staff receives information from segments of the community, but formulates a decision independently which may or may not reflect stakeholder opinions. Gathering information about the community’s priorities is a good strategy when there is little or no information available to help Council understand the opinion of the community.


Level 3 - Consult

This allows citizens the opportunity to provide feedback on policy options before they are finalized. Consultation is characterized by the following attributes:
  • It tends to focus on a group of stakeholders
  • It seeks to test, validate or prioritize options that have already been developed, at least in preliminary form
  • Most often, it takes place in the early and middle stages of the policy process to test policy assumptions and directions
  • It is establishes clear parameters within which stakeholders’ views may be accepted
  • It may involve tight timelines
City staff host separate discussions with stakeholder groups or segments of the community, collect ideas and suggestions and independently render a decision. This is effective when the general direction of an issue is constrained by time, technical and/or statutory constraints, but there is an opportunity for the community to influence details of the project


Level 4 - Collaborate

This is when an issue or initiative is shared with the community as a single assembled group, gathering ideas and actively negotiating solutions, and then rendering a recommendation that reflects the group’s influence. This method is best used when the issue is value based, and when there is some opportunity for a shared agenda setting and open time frames for the deliberation of issues.


Level 5 - Empower

At this level of involvement, the city shares the policy issue with the community and engages in a collaborative exercise of discussion and compromise to reach an agreement on a solution. More active participation through empowering allows citizens to more directly share in the decision making process. This means they are involved in defining objectives, formulating and choosing among options and developing implementation strategies. This level of involvement is less frequent. In general, this level of involvement:
  • Involves individual citizens, not just the community as represented by associations and groups, in policy formation, prior setting and program delivery
  • Builds on, complements and generally moves beyond information distribution and consultation practices. It doesn’t replace information provision or consultation. Its purpose is to provide new opportunities to being interested parties together as creative, civic-minded individuals.


City staff host separate discussions with stakeholder groups or segments of the community, collect ideas and suggestions and independently render a decision. This is effective when the general direction of an issue is constrained by time, technical and/or statutory constraints, but there is an opportunity for the community to influence details of the project

Each level of involvement along the continuum can be implemented using a range of tools and techniques. In the past, the City of Brantford used both traditional techniques such as advisory committees and community meetings, as well as more innovative processes such as community visioning. The complexity of issue(s) at hand, the desired outcome(s) of the process and the timeline, all help to determine which methods are most appropriate. A separate Community Involvement Handbook has been developed to assist staff with the various tools & techniques that can be utilized for each level of community involvement along the continuum.

What level will be used?

Community involvement will not be the same for every initiative. In fact, it’s important that decisions about how best to involve the community are based on the project or initiative. Much of the business of municipal council is enhanced by community input. Nevertheless, there are decisions made by municipalities that normally do not include community input. Decisions are made by a person authorized to do so, and are issued to others simply to inform them that the decision has been made. These decisions include such situations as:

  1. Emergency measures requiring immediate response (flood, police services)
  2. Routine decision and required as part of municipal operations (snow removal)
  3. Directed by law (improvements to water treatment plant)
  4. Substantially affect only those that have already agreed to be affected through some form of contract (employment, volunteerism, accepted elected official)

In these cases, the municipality is acting within its authority and is expected to implement the decision efficiently. Community involvement plans become more important when the municipality is making Consultative or Collaborative decisions. These have one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Community notification and input are required by law (municipal environmental assessments)
  2. The issue is a known concern of other parties, or is likely to have a significant impact on other parties (changes to parking, traffic or truck route bylaws)
  3. The issue affects society’s moral or emotional expectations (expanding recreation centre).
  4. The issue affects the lifestyle or habits of citizens (road closures for events/construction)
  5. People perceive there are risks associated with the decision (operating/capital budget)
  6. Council or administration requests community input prior to making the decision (change in service levels)

Consultative and Collaborative decisions are common in municipalities (and are the type of decision primarily addressed through community involvement). However, the final decision rests with Council.

Factors Influencing the Choice and Timing of Community Involvement Levels

  • Policy or statutory requirements
  • Tailoring of approaches to goal and phase of decision-making
  • Nature, complexity & risk associated with the issue
  • Timelines
  • Financial limitations
  • In-house expertise
  • Level of desired or required support from stakeholders and partners
  • Level of influence participants expect to have
  • Level of support from organizational and political decision-makers