Best practice examples of inclusive action planning

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Best practice examples of inclusive action planning

Produced by Iain Willox in 2009 as part of the COPIE's work on action planning.


‘Consultation’ and ‘participation’ are fashionable words but they are also a recognition that many of our institutions are starting to appreciate that a lack of inclusion of stakeholders in the decision making process breeds a lack of legitimacy and trust. We are all starting to understand that society is now so complex that no decision will stick unless it has involved the wide range of individuals or groups with a stake in it.

New forms of engagement are springing up. People are starting to become more directly involved in their communities: in their planning, their management and their impact on the environment.

Such activity is crucial in creating social capital, the network of social relationships that ties us into our communities, creating social norms and a sense of mutual obligation. It is crucial because of the decline in many of the traditional forms of civic engagement such as trade union membership, church attendance or even readership of a daily newspaper.

Participation is a buzzword that means different things to different people. One way of looking at participation is using a version of the ladder of participation first developed by Sherry Arnstein. This is now 20 years old, but is still relevant. It shows the different ways in which the organisation responsible for an activity - for example a local authority - can involve participants - in this case their citizens.

Ladder of Participation

Citizen control )
Delegated power ) citizen power
Partnership )

Consultation )
Informing ) tokenism
Placation )

Manipulation non-participation

The ladder helps us understand what people mean when they talk about ‘participation’ or ‘involvement’. There are also a number of practical questions that will help shape the way in which you engage with your partners.

What are your values?

Each technique is based on a particular set of values. Many of these are shared by practitioners of all techniques, with differences of emphasis. The value of equality, for example, is widely shared. This means making special efforts to include people who are often excluded. Other values might include the need to engage with a diverse range of opinions and to respect that diversity, to focus on what you have in common, to welcome advice, training and support in meeting your goals and to invest energy and time in doing so. The techniques will work better if you too are able to share these values at the outset as they can form the basis of the manner in which you will work in the future. In some groups they literally form a learning contract that people can refer to if they feel the group is forgetting some of its basic principles .

What level of participation do you want?

The ladder above showed the levels of participation. What matters is, first, to be clear which rung is appropriate for your purposes and, second, to be honest about it. Don’t, for example, indicate to other stakeholders you want to involve that they are in control if in fact you wish to retain the right to disagree with their points of view.

Quantity or quality?

The main method of involvement in most cases is a group of people meeting together. An obvious exception is Community Appraisals, which initially rely on questionnaire surveys. These often produce a high response rate - quantity of involvement - possibly at the price of the deeper understanding that can come from discussion with others in a meeting. The Imagine method can also be an exception, often using one-to-one interviews.

Most of the techniques are usually open to anyone to take part. Exceptions include Citizens’ Juries, Future Search and Round Tables. In the case of Citizens’ Juries the aim of selection is to ensure representativeness and so legitimacy. In the case of Future Search and Round Tables invitations go to a carefully selected cross-section of the community to maximise the diversity of those attending and to ensure that all the community’s issues are aired.

How should we work with experts?

One of the choices to be made is whether outside experts are ‘A Good Thing’. Some people take the view that people are empowered by having outsiders who are ‘on tap but not on top’ to provide them with information. Others take the view that greater empowerment comes from observing the principle that ‘all the information necessary is in the heads of the participants’.

What probably makes the difference is the nature of the topic. Action Planning, for example, is often used for quite complex planning issues, and outsiders can help provide a fresh approach.

What are the responsibilities of organisers?

The use of these techniques is not truly participatory unless all participants can also be involved, if they so wish, in organising the activity. So before beginning any participatory activity, it is important to create a climate for participation.

As a general principle, the group of people organising the activity will be most likely to achieve a successful outcome if:

  • they come from a known and respected organisation
  • they are representative of a wide range of organisations within the community
  • they have credibility within the community
  • there is a clearly defined purpose for the activity
  • there are proper mechanisms for analysis and reporting the results to the wider community
  • there is a realistic chance of positive action/projects as a result of the activity
  • all of those interested in achieving the actions/projects can become fully involved


These are high ideals, and hard to achieve. It is a good thing to aim high, but important to be realistic. It may take much time and much effort to achieve those aims. However it is not unrealistic. The president of the World Bank agrees, and is very clear about the value of this kind of approach:

“The message is very simple: participation works.” - James Wolfensohn

During his 10 years as President of the World Bank, James D Wolfensohn focused the spotlight back on the institution's true purpose - fighting global poverty and helping the world's poor forge better lives. Under his leadership, the World Bank implemented a range of significant reforms to help achieve its mission, and broke ground in several major areas including corruption, debt relief, disabilities, the environment and gender.

He drew attention to the importance of involving young people and the need to expand the development dialog to include civil society, indigenous peoples, faith-based groups and other non-government stakeholders.

On May 31, 2005, at the end of his second term, he left office and assumed the post of Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement.

Case studies

It is useful to be able to look at the work of others when putting together your own action plan. I have highlighted below a selection of sources for such case studies and a number of links to particular approaches. These are not held up by myself as necessarily having got everything right but they do identify what steps they took and what has been learned in that process.

European Charter for Small Enterprises

One of the successes of the European Charter for Small Enterprises is that it has enabled the participating countries to learn from each other’s good practices and to action plan on the basis of what they had seen elsewhere. In 2004, the Member States reported some 20 cases where they had based their own policy improvements on experience from other Charter countries. Over the years, the number of these cases has increased and the current exercise provides more than 40 of such cases.

For example:

  • The French SME pact was partly inspired by a Norwegian scheme and has itself since inspired Italy and the Netherlands.
  • The Estonian public consultation website was inspired by similar portals from the United Kingdom and Finland.
  • Sweden successfully set up the EMAX entrepreneurship camps for young adults which are today being held across the Nordic countries.

In other areas, Member States have cooperated right from the start to set up measures together, as in the case of the CETMOS system, where Austria and eight other countries cooperated to enable a joint search of the databases of their patent offices. The same goes for the European multilingual online learning platform BLCM: Germany cooperates with four other countries to internationalise the vocational qualifications for car mechatronics.

Another example is Slovenia which exchanged experiences with, amongst others, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Norway before setting up a system for the reduction of the administrative burden. Slovenia has since presented its new system to delegations from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.

I have included some links to case study presentations which give a flavour of the range of areas where action planning has been of value, the kind of impacts it can have and the lessons learned by those involved in the process.

Regulatory reform in Croatia

This is a good example of the steps taken in order to develop an action plan. The key learning points from this process were:

  • Check similar experiences in other countries at the very beginning
  • Ensure commitment and strong support by the Government
  • Position Implementation Unit to be close to the Government
  • Align project with existing reform efforts and projects
  • Engage business community to actively participate in the reform
  • Ensure good and high performing staff and local expert assistance
  • Identify quick and easy wins
  • Develop clear and precise instructions/guidelines for regulatory bodies and private sector – apply one standard for all stakeholders
  • Use public relations (media) and proactive communication to promote the reform
  • Use project success to proactively promote and “push” further actions.

Youth Enterprise Education Strategy in Wales

As part of the Welsh Entrepreneurship Action Plan this is a good example of a mature action plan that continues to join up different government departments and key stakeholders. The key learning points from this process were the need to:

  • gain consensus from all stakeholders to ensure commitment to the strategy
  • identify a lead agency with appropriate reporting mechanisms and resources
  • convert attitudinal change into behavioural change in order to give the strategy real impact
  • recognise that cultural change is a slow process and results will not be immediate
  • develop a national strategic framework with buy-in from key partners and keep the strategy refreshed

In tune with Business in Hungary

As part of the Europe-wide drive to reduce the burden of regulation on business, the Hungarian Ministry of Industry brought together a range of government departments and business representative bodies to make their environment more business-friendly. The key learning points from their experience were:

  • That a clear vision was needed from the outset and that a champion should be appointed within the government;
  • Consultations were a vital part of the process and that a stable partnership was needed to ensure that the action plan stayed on track;
  • That this was a long term commitment on behalf of all the parties and that needed to be clear from the outset;
  • That measurement of achievements and a clear strategy within which these achievements could be set were very important. This required some form of organisational guarantee (monitoring, pressure) to ensure momentum was maintained;
  • That all of the above require human resources to be invested in the process.

Denmark’s high-growth strategy

The Danish Government had reasonably high volumes of start-up companies but wished to have a greater proportion of them achieving high growth. In order to do so it researched its own current position with partners, identified some key barriers and looked to others elsewhere in Europe to see if there might be good examples which they could learn from. Some of the key lessons are as follows:

  • the rationale needs to be explained thoroughly to a great number of parties
  • make sure to have a broad and open dialogue based on clearly defined goals
  • demonstrate your good intensions to ensure a long-term and sustained effort
  • changes in infrastructure take time – and they need to be long-term
  • make sure that all can see the advantages of the new system
  • focus on effect
  • aim to make joint IT systems attractive and have them established quickly
  • clarify the boundaries between public services and private services

National services network for SMEs in Poland

Set up by the Government in 1996 but led by an independent enterprise agency, this is a very large network of non-governmental, independent and non-profit business support organisations which cooperate to create a system to enhance the competitiveness of Polish SMEs by providing a complex offer of high-quality services for entrepreneurs and those who start business activity. It has had notable successes in localising and yet expanding the range of services, in mapping what is in existence and establishing standards, and in adapting to the changing needs of entrepreneurs. It has also had its challenges in terms of meeting the diverse needs of the network and would highlight the following learning points:

  • The need for closer cooperation between government, ministries and business support organisations;
  • The requirement for national and regional evaluations of SMEs needs in order to maintain relevance and to provide a context for monitoring and evaluation;
  • The need to explore the opportunity for common programmes and projects across the network.

Examples of national or regional enterprise strategies

The previous section looked at a number of regions and member states who had been through an action planning process and highlighted some of the key lessons of that process. I have highlighted below a number of regional and national action plans that are helpful to get a picture of the different kinds of plans that exist to meet specific challenges of that area.

Progress innovation and the cohesion strategy for Denmark in the global economy

In June 2006 The Danish Government has produced a vision that brings together very high prosperity with equally strong social cohesion. It starts from a strong base in both areas and maps out a path for continued improvements. The strategy has materialised from discussions in the Danish Globalisation Council, an advisory council chaired by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and with high-level representatives from key sections of the Danish society.

Enterprise: Unlocking the UK's talent

On 12 March 2008 the UK Government launched the Enterprise Strategy. The Strategy’s vision is to make the UK the most enterprising economy in the world and the best place to start and grow a business. It is designed to unlock the nation’s entrepreneurial talents, boost enterprise skills and knowledge, help new and existing business get funding to start up and grow, and ease the burden of regulation – particularly on small firms which feel its impacts most.

Entrepreneurship Action Plan for Wales

In 1999 the National Assembly for Wales passed a resolution that “The Assembly notes that a successful future for the Welsh economy depends on a strong culture of entrepreneurship and agrees that the relevant Assembly policies should reflect the importance of successful entrepreneurship and the need to increase the level of business start-ups in Wales and the rate of survival, innovation and growth rates among small and medium-sized firms in Wales.”

A partnership of government, entrepreneurs and business support organisations was tasked with giving substance to this - The Entrepreneurship Action plan for Wales. The vision of this plan was “A bold and confident nation where entrepreneurship is valued, celebrated and exercised throughout society and in the widest range of economic circumstances”.

Transforming Irish Industry

In October 2007 Transforming Irish Industry was launched. Over the lifetime of the National Development Plan 2007–2013, the State will invest €8.2 billion in science, technology and innovation. This will bring Ireland into line with R&D performance in leading countries and enhance the development of a knowledge-based economy.

Within this context the Irish government sees entrepreneurship as playing a significant role in regional economic development. Promoting entrepreneurship and facilitating the key infrastructural needs of Irish enterprise across all regions is vital to ensuring a vigorous pipeline of new business leaders, new business ideas and innovative products and services. Enterprise Ireland is heavily focused on facilitating entrepreneurship and the enterprise environment in local and rural communities, on driving the creation of innovation based start-ups and on proactively developing companies in all regions.

International comparisons

COPIE has developed its own tool to help members assess their own priorities for inclusive entrepreneurship .It is worth bringing to people’s attention other international comparisons. These do not focus upon inclusive entrepreneurship and are less likely to be of direct assistance to regions but nevertheless do give a wider context for those developing a coordinated strategy as they indicate relative strengths and weaknesses.

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM)

Since its inception in 1997 by scholars at Babson College and the London Business School, GEM has developed into one of the world’s leading research consortia concerned with improving our understanding of the relationships between entrepreneurship and national development. Over the past decade, harmonised data on entrepreneurial attitudes, activity and aspirations have been collected to provide annual assessments of the entrepreneurial sector for a wide range of countries.

GEM takes a broad view of entrepreneurship and focuses on the role played by individuals in the entrepreneurial process. The GEM Adult Population Surveys ask a representative sample of at least 2,000 adults in each country about their attitudes to, and their involvement in, entrepreneurship. For many individuals the entrepreneurial process often starts with personal assessments dealing with attitudes and perceptions to entrepreneurship. GEM therefore collects data on attitudes and perceptions such as perceived opportunities to start businesses, perceived skills and knowledge to start businesses, and national support for starting a business as a good career choice. Also, GEM asks adults about intentions to start a business in the near future.

Unlike most entrepreneurship data sets that measure newer and smaller firms, GEM studies individuals’ activities with respect to starting and managing a business. Furthermore, GEM views entrepreneurship as a process and considers people in entrepreneurial activity in different phases from the very early phase when the business is in gestation to the established phase and possibly discontinuation of the business.

Within this context, GEM provides a means by which a wide variety of important entrepreneurial aspirations such as innovativeness, competitiveness and high-growth aspirations can be systematically and rigorously studied.

The Global Competitiveness Report

The Global Competitiveness Report series has evolved over the last three decades into the world’s most comprehensive and respected assessment of countries’ competitiveness, offering invaluable insights into the policies, institutions, and factors driving productivity and, thus, enabling sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity.

Produced in collaboration with leading academics and a global network of research institutes, the Global Competitiveness Report provides users with a comprehensive dataset on a broad array of competitiveness indicators for a large number of industrialised and developing economies. This year’s edition features a record 131 economies, accounting for more than 98 percent of the world’s GDP. Besides hard data from leading international sources, these indicators include the results of the Executive Opinion Survey carried out annually by the World Economic Forum. The survey captures the perceptions of several thousand business leaders across the countries covered on topics related to national competitiveness. The Global Competitiveness Report includes the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, developed by Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin at Columbia University; the Business Competitiveness Index, developed by Professor Michael E Porter, Director of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School as well as detailed profiles for each of the 131 economies covered and data tables displaying relative rankings for more than 100 variables.