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Quality of Public Participation

Public Participation is mandated by law, but not all “Public Participations” are equal. Two County Governments preparing a policy to promote employment for the youth might follow different paths; one of them might bring a random group of citizens into a ballroom of an upscale hotel to share the policy as it has been written by a few experts, while the other government decides to reach out from the very beginning to all the youth organizations and representatives of the business sectors with the greatest employment potential to ensure that all key stakeholders actively contribute to the policy formulation.

This page outlines some of the more general considerations that might help distinguish between a mostly formal “public event” and an effective and meaningful process that represents an exercise in democratic governance


Preconditions Before, during, after Inclusion and equity
Reach the right audience Assess the process Useful tips



Preconditions for meaningful participation

For public participation to be meaningful, county governments need to consider the following:

  • Clarity of the subject matter: It is important to establish realistic and practical goals that have been accepted by all stakeholders to mitigate the public’s expectations. Making promises that cannot be kept will undermine public confidence in the citizen participation process.
  • Clear structure and process: Before public participation takes place, clear rules need to be set defining the conduct of the process, tools to be used, and how final decisions will be reached.
  • Access to information: Duty bearers should provide information in acceptable, easy to use formats.
  • Opportunity for balanced influence: The engagement rules should ensure a balance of opinion and avoid dominance or bias by a section of the public.
  • Commitment to the process: Proponents of public participation must be willing to obtain and consider public input in decision making and to ensuring that public participation works.
  • Inclusive and effective representation: Mechanisms must be established to reach out to all relevant stakeholders.
  • A climate of integrity: For the public to fully participate, government agencies and decision-makers must be credible, honest, and trustworthy.
  • A belief in the value of public input: Public input should result in better decision-making and better governance.
  • Capacity to engage: Ensuring that agencies know how to design and implement public participation processes. Both the agencies and the public should have the knowledge and communication skills required to participate effectively in the process.
  • Complete transparency: The timely sharing of easily understandable and accessible information to educate the public about the issues and options.
  • Bear in mind standing conditions of the participants: It is critical that facilitators understand their audience well. They should clearly discern the; social and economic status, religious beliefs, ethnicity, and clan of those engaging in public participation. Knowledge levels, incomes, and power wielded will influence the deliberations and ultimately have a bearing on the conclusion and subsequent outcomes.

Source: County Public Participation Guidelines. Ministry of Devolution and Planning (MoDP), Council of Governors (CoG). 2016


What to do before, during, and after

This table outlines what the county government and public must do when conducting and being involved in a public participation process, in order to make sure the public participation is effective


Phase 1: Before Public Participation

Phase 2: During Public Participation

Phase 3: After Public Participation

Obligations of the duty bearers

  • Provide all information on the subject matter and mechanisms of engagement.
  • Communicate what is expected of the public.


  • Respond to questions of clarification.
  • Provide ample time for members of the public to make their contribution.
  • Encourage the marginalised and the weak to speak.
  • Assess the process from those that participate.
  • Document lessons for future improvement.
  • Communicate the decisions made from the public input.
  • Facilitate engagement of the public in following up on implementation i.e. to participate in monitoring and evaluation of service delivery.

Obligations of the public / non-state actors

  • Access and read the information provided.
  • Seek further information where clarity lacks.
  • Consult other members of the public to generate consensus especially where prioritisation is needed.
  • Physically attend the meetings or send input to the online platforms created.
  • Allow room for debate and compromise to create a win-win situation.
  • Provide feedback to the government officials on ways of improving future public participation processes
  • Participate in the many avenues of learning to be more effective in future engagements
  • Engage in and provide feedback on the quality of service and ways of improving them.


Inclusion and equity in public participation

Public participation should be inclusive and all citizens should have the opportunity to participate in county governance regardless of age, gender, religion, race, or political affiliation as individuals or as organised groups.

Inclusion relates to the deliberate act of involving groups who are often left out of governance processes that impact them. Examples of these groups are women, youth, older people, persons with disabilities, the very poor, and minorities due to ethnicity. It is important to consider how minority groups can be supported to engage meaningfully in county processes and their views and needs integrated into decisions made and services delivered. The needs of these groups should be considered and mainstreamed broadly across sectors during planning and budgeting processes and in service delivery.

To ensure inclusivity, county governments should plan appropriately and allocate resources to be effective. For example, considering accessibility venues, seeking the services of translators to translate official county documents, using indigenous languages, and using audiovisual aids and other media to reach all groups.

For quality participation, all citizens should have access to information, be informed, empowered, and facilitated to engage in county governance processes and make objective decisions about issues that concern their lives.


Marginalised communities

All public participation processes must involve minorities and historically marginalised groups. The Constitution defines a marginalised community as a relatively small population that has been unable to fully participate in the integrated social and economic life of Kenya. All public participation processes must strive to involve minorities and historically marginalised groups for example:

  • traditional communities that out of a need or desire to preserve their unique culture and identity from assimilation, have remained outside the country’s integrated social and economic life. 
  • indigenous communities those that have maintained a traditional lifestyle and livelihood based on a hunter/gatherer economy and pastoral communities. 

The ideal approach is to integrate minorities and marginalised individuals in the mainstream public participation process. However, where this may not be possible, the county ought to hold focus group meetings specifically targeting the mapped-out minorities and the historically marginalised.


Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)

All persons with disabilities, regardless of their impairment, legal status, or place of residence, have a right to public participation in governance, legislative processes and policymaking. They also have a right to services offered by county governments. Thus, county governments should consult closely and involve PWDs and their representative organisations in all matters concerning the right to participate. Counties should respect the principles of consultation with PWDs. This includes: 

  • civic education, providing information, choosing venues, and means of engagement that pay attention to their unique needs. 
  • training county officers in conjunction with PWD organisations representing different disability constituencies, on how to effectively carry out civic education and public participation for PWDs.
  • collaborating and working with statutory organisations concerned with PWDs including the National Council for Persons with Disabilities.


Issues of inclusion and equity go hand-in-hand because the groups that are usually excluded from county processes and services are often the same people who have the greatest need further perpetuating disparity. Equity is an important concept and constitutional imperative for county governments in terms of how resources are distributed. It is not about equal distribution of resources across wards or communities. Equity means that some wards or communities within a county will have greater needs than others or will be starting from a lower base than others. It is important to recognise this so that resources can be allocated where the need is greatest. 


Considerations to ensure inclusion in public participation

Accessibility of spaces where public forums are held: Forums should held on days and times, and venues that are physically accessible and open to all persons, regardless of age, disability, economic, social and cultural background or status. Consideration and provisions should be made to reach geographically isolated areas, particularly in counties that are vast and populations dispersed.

All communication and documents relevant to the matter at hand, both technically and non-technical, must be provided in formats that are accessible to all regardless of literacy level or ability or disability. They should be simplified, translated as necessary in languages understood and formats to meet needs of vision or hearing impaired. Facilitators, translators, sign language interpreters and visual and hearing aids should be availed to ensure inclusivity. 

Some challenges to inclusive public participation processes include: 

  • Inaccessible venues.
  • Technically written documents, which alienate the semi-literate, illiterate, and the visually impaired.
  • Lack of sign language interpreters.
  • Forums on weekdays and at times when most women are busy with their social and economic activities.
  • Forums held and conducted in places and spaces that are not perceived as ‘youth friendly’.
  • Geographically isolated areas are seldom reached.
  • Some counties are vast and therefore transportation can be costly and often unreliable.


Source: Citizen Engagement Strategy: An internal review, 2020, AHADI.


Reaching the right audience

The best communication methods to use will depend on the group you are targeting. The following methods can be used to support an inclusive public participation process.

Target group

Proposed communication methods


Social media, radio, TV, e-platform, newspapers, local languages, specific networks

People with disabilities (PWD)

Braille, sign language, radio, TV, newspapers, local languages, specific networks


Radio, TV, newspapers, notice at health centres, markets, local languages, specific networks


Large print publications, radio, TV, newspapers, notice at social fund offices, local languages, specific networks


Newsletters, TV, radio, newspapers, social media, e-platform, specific networks and professional groups

Source: County Public Participation Guidelines. Ministry of Devolution and Planning (MoDP), Council of Governors (CoG). 2016


Assess the process

This table might help identify the key traits of an effective public participation process

Area of Public Participation

What to look for?

Planning for Public Participation

  • Does the county government’s department responsible for public particitionhave a plan and budget covering key public participation activities for the year?
  • What about the and the sub-county and and ward offices do they plan for regular public participation activities?
  • Do the other departments include public participation in their planned activities?

Resource allocation

  • Is there a budgetary allocation for public participation? If so, how much and is it sufficient?
  • Are there competent county public officers leading the public participation process? If so, how many?
  •  Is there a clear administrative structure set up and working, including the sub-county and ward adminstration?
  • Are there clear mechanisms and processes and tools in place?

Civic education

  • Has the public been adequately educated on the public participation process and content?
  • How many civic education sessions have been held, and how many people attended?

Access to information

  • Are documents for discussion provided in good time?
  • Is the information provided in formats accessible to a large and diverse population in the county?


  • Has the county government mapped out stakeholders?
  • Have all stakeholders been provided adequate notice to participate in the decision making process?
  • How many stakeholders actually participate?


  • Has the county government put in place mechanisms to include youth, women, older members of society, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups to effectively participate?
  • How many youth, women, older members of society, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups actually participate in public forums?
  • How many and how diverse are focus group discussions held?


  • Was the public informed in good time about access to documents and when forums would be held?
  • Were effective communication channels employed?

Information from the public

  • What mechanisms are in place for receiving, recording and processing feedback and complaints fromcitizens?
  • In what formats was the information collected from the public?
  • Are records maintained; and how many views were collected from the public and responded to and how timely was the response?

Data collection from forums

  • Information on number of public partiicpation forums held, number and diversity of people attending.
  • Are there reports on public participation? Are these sent to the county assembly?


  • Was the public informed of the outcome of their participation in a timely and accessible fashion?
  • What views were taken up and why? Was timely feedback provided?
  • What views were ignored and why? Was timely feedback provided?

Source: Adapted from County Public Participation Guidelines. Ministry of Devolution and Planning (MoDP), Council of Governors (CoG). 2016


Useful tips for arranging quality public participation processes
  • Provide a clear purpose for the engagement—by referring to the laws (in simple language, don’t read out lists of articles from laws).
  • Agree together on where to meet, who attends, for how long, how agreements will be made and logistical arrangements.
  • Explain how and why any tools will be used and do not complicate.
  • Public participation must be real and not treated as a formality or be tokenistic.
  • It should be genuinely representative and inclusive of diversity—if not then it will not be seen as legitimate.