Climbing the ladder

One of the common models of citizen participation is the Arnstein ladder, as some, or even many, of you will perhaps already know. For a quick recap, it goes like this (with the top being the ideal, the bottom the pits):

Degrees of power

Citizen control

Delegated power


Degrees of tokenism




No power



An interesting and probably worthwhile question for every campaign group is to ask itself where it finds itself on the Arnstein ladder with their decision-makers (local authorities for local campaigns, DfT for national campaigns). In Newcastle I reckon (hope!) we are somewhere between Consultation and Informing, but occasionally, depending on the subject, we fall back to No Power – on the brief occasion we may be bumping up to placation but certainly do not leave, as yet, the tokenism header.

Thinking this through for your campaign may be a good indicator for the involvement (influence) that is granted by decision-making system. The position also is in direct relation to their attitude towards you. At we are constantly striving to get more influence (naturally, as you would as a campaign group). But actually knowing where your stand in the first place, allows a much more coherent discussion about campaign strategies and tactics to emerge too.

That position on Arnstein’s ladder and your clarity of where you are allowed to stand, can also help to better understand and catalogue your campaign’s successes. But that is for another blogpost, perhaps.

Word of warning. Personally I am not a great fan of the Arnstein ladder in relation to democracy and democratic process. This unease stems from my preference of representative democracy over direct democracy. However, I am keen to understand direct democracy as I go along. Please help me, if you can, and leave your comment below.


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