Seasoned consultation & engagement professionals will be familiar with Arnstein’s Ladder – one of the most widely referenced and influential models in the field of democratic public participation that stretches right back to 1969.

Needless to say it’s had some criticism over the decades. For example, it implies that the top tiers of the ladder are best and should be aspired-to. Purists will also argue that information, engagement and involvement are exercised in the practice of good consultation.

Thing is, while we champion the notion of good democracy through inclusive decision making, a lot of the time our goals are aligned to smooth change management. For example, updating a policy to implement some sort of new way of working – or the reconfiguration of services due to funding cuts. Decisions have impact.

It’s no wonder that Arnstein’s Ladder has stood the test of time. A lot of organisations still strive for a holy grail involving some sort of devolved, embedded or shared power because this configuration allows them to change more quickly and with more built-in confidence.

Consider this. Take the typology of problems power and authority (Grint,.2005) and we have three types of situations – ‘crisis’, ‘tame’ and ‘wicked’. As well as each requiring a different style of leadership, at one end of the spectrum, wicked situations involve lots of uncertainty. They are complex and require lots of involvement or engagement.

In the middle, tame scenarios can be managed through rationality but with collective consensus. And during a crisis scenario you need quick decisions, hard powers or a temporary solution.

Mapping the change spectrum onto a participation spectrum you end up with something like this.

We’re really not sure if that’s useful (yet!) but we’re pretty sure that that mapping the spectrum of change, from positive to negative, could really help in planning consultation and engagement work.