Enhancing Public Participation with IAP2 Standards & ThoughtExchange

The alignment of technology and best practice frameworks is crucial for genuine public participation. ThoughtExchange is at the forefront, providing a platform that aligns closely with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) principles.
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March 4, 2024

Catherine Daly

Enhancing Public Participation with IAP2 Standards & ThoughtExchange

5 minutes

Public participation is an essential aspect of modern governance, ensuring that decision-making processes are transparent and directly informed by the stakeholders they affect. Aligning with IAP2 standards can significantly enhance these processes’ effectiveness and credibility.

This article explores IAP2’s ethos of inclusive, participatory decision-making and democracy and examines how ThoughtExchange supports that ethos and makes inclusive and participatory public engagement a breeze.

In this Article

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What is IAP2?

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) is a collective of public participation professionals dedicated to promoting and improving the practice of public participation and enhancing the interactions between the public and governments, institutions, and other bodies that impact public interests across Canada and internationally.

The association has grown from 300 members in 1992 to more than 17,000 in 2023, with members from 26 countries across its six defined regions: Australasia, Canada, Indonesia, Latin America, Southern Africa, and the USA. This rapid increase in membership indicates the importance of participatory decision-making for modern organizations.

To fulfill its mission, IAP2 undertakes various initiatives, such as:

  • Catering to its members’ educational requirements via workshops, publications, and modern communication technologies like ThoughtExchange.
  • Championing public participation around the world.
  • Encouraging results-oriented research to bolster its educational and advocacy objectives.
  • Offering technical assistance to refine and elevate public participation practices.

IAP2—along with broad international input—developed three pillars for effective public participation processes:

  • 1
    IAP2 Core Values which define the expectations and aspirations of the public participation process.
  • 2
    IAP2 Code of Ethics which speaks to the actions of practitioners.
  • 3
    IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation which defines the level of public engagement in any public participation process.

What is the IAP2 public engagement process?

The IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation outlines five levels of public engagement that organizations can follow to engage the public effectively in policy development and decision-making. These levels include:

Levels of Public Participation

IAP2 Goals

Promises to the Public

1. Inform
To provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problem, alternatives, opportunities, and/or solutions.
We will keep you informed.
2. Consult
To obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives, and/or decisions.
We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.
3. Involve
To work directly with the public throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.
We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the alternatives developed and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision.
4. Collaborate
To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision, including developing alternatives and identifying the preferred solution.
We will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.
5. Empower
To place final decision-making in the hands of the public.
We will implement what you decide.
Source: IAP2

Tools for effective IAP2 engagement


IAP2 publications

The IAP2 has a wealth of resources available to assist organizations, decision-makers, policymakers, and practitioners in improving the quality of public engagement work.

These publications include guidelines and frameworks for public participation and the Journal of Deliberative Democracy, a forum for the latest thinking, emerging debates, alternative perspectives, and critical views on deliberation and public participation.

Member training & certification

The IAP2 has an extensive training and certification program called Global Learning Pathway (GLP). The training is learner-centric and based on competencies that practitioners worldwide indicated were key to doing IAP2 engagement work.

Courses are offered regionally online and in-person and include certificates in public participation, designing P2 and engagement, understanding people and communities, and digital advertising strategies for public participation.

Public engagement technology

Public participation strategies should be inclusive, providing equal opportunities for all community members to participate. This may involve language translation, accessibility accommodations, and targeted outreach to underrepresented groups in a community.

The IAP2 advocates for organizations to use modern engagement methods that make equitable and inclusive participation easier.

ThoughtExchange is an advanced engagement platform that can engage thousands of participants simultaneously, ensuring broad and diverse public participation. With ThoughtExchange, public consultation professionals can use a choice of engagement tools, including:

Surveys for nuanced qualitative and robust quantitative data when used with Deep Dive questions. Perfect for gathering feedback for IAP2’s Consult and Involve projects.
Exchanges for inclusive, collaborative conversations with groups of 10-10,000+. Essential for IAP2’s Collaborate projects, allowing participants to interact with each other's perspectives to help prioritize solutions.
Interviews (beta)
Interviews (beta), an AI-powered qualitative feedback tool. Dig into sensitive topics with 1:1 interactions at scale, great for Consult and Involve projects where polarization is present.
The best part is that participation in engagement activities can happen at any time, on any device, and in over 100 languages, breaking down barriers and inviting input from all community segments.
"ThoughtExchange is a great tool for municipalities that want to foster meaningful community engagement because the best engagement allows people to interact with the feedback of others."
"The ability to have that type of interaction makes the process more participatory, and the outcomes more credible and relevant. That particular feature of ThoughtExchange makes it so useful to us, and it should make it a platform that other municipalities look to."
— Manager of Public Consultation at a Large Canadian Municipality
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How a large municipality uses ThoughtExchange for successful IAP2 engagement

The public engagement team at one of the largest Canadian municipalities recently demonstrated the successful application of IAP2 principles using ThoughtExchange. Tasked with engaging tens of thousands of constituents annually, this municipality needed a platform that gathered feedback and promoted participant interaction in line with the “Collaborate” level of IAP2's spectrum.

ThoughtExchange is instrumental in enabling "thick engagement"—a deliberative kind of engagement that allows participants to interact with each other's feedback.

The Exchange garnered significant participation, with thousands of constituents sharing and rating thoughts, leading to a clear understanding of the community's priorities. This level of insight is invaluable in ensuring that decisions are not just informed by the loudest voices but by a true cross-section of the community.

The municipality's public engagement professionals found that the platform's interactive nature made the process more participatory, credible, and relevant to the constituents’ needs and concerns.

ThoughtExchange’s advanced analytics tools provide the engagement team with context to the feedback—a nuanced perspective that traditional surveys can’t offer. And with our automated theming and conversational AI tool, Advisor, the municipality saves hours and thousands on its analysis process.

By leveraging ThoughtExchange, the municipality ensures that its engagement practices align with IAP2’s Collaborate guidance, and effectively enhances its public participation strategy—leading to more informed, equitable, and accepted outcomes. ThoughtExchange is instrumental to their engagement team’s ability to accurately hear its community’s feedback and meet IAP2’s standards.

Explore how ThoughtExchange’s platform can align with your organization's public engagement goals and meet IAP2 standards.
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Catherine Daly
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Catherine is a professional writer based in Vancouver, B.C. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism (for passion), a master’s degree in marketing (to pay the bills), and has over 15 years of experience working with big tech brands like Adobe, Hootsuite, HP, Oracle, PayPal, and ThoughtExchange.

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