Setting the Scene for Participation

Setting the Scene for Participation – Learn how

Participation In South Africa 

In South Africa, the terms ‘public participation’ and ‘community participation’ are widely used. According to J.J. Williams, adjunct professor at the University of Western Cape, the understanding of community participation in South Africa today is closely related to the community struggle against the former apartheid state: 

“[Community participation] means that communities have a richly-textured history of strategic mobilization against exclusionary and discriminatory government practices at the local level. It […] can and should be revisited and adapted, to advance the interests of the materially marginalized communities at local level.”

In other words: Community participation can learn from the community struggle that there is a high potential of “local community power” which can be used today in a non-violent way to reconstruct social cohesion and community structures, which strengthen the protective factors in relation to violence and crime.

South Africa´s constitution provides for community participation specifically in the IDP processes at local level. Local governments are important players in realizing and co-ordinating these kinds of participatory processes.

Figure 1: IDP and Safety Planning – A guideline to assist local government to integrate processes. (c) CSIR, 2008

According to the Municipal Systems Act, 2000, Chapter 4, Art. 16, a municipality “must develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance”.

The Municipal Systems Act

The Municipal Systems Act sets out a new vision of municipalities. As part of governance of such municipalities, communities, residents and stakeholders play an active role in local planning processes.

This includes general planning such as the Integrated Development Plan (IDP); It also includes participation in more specific planning processes such as safety planning.

Three elements are emphasised:

1) The municipality must foster participation in

  • the IDP process,
  • the evaluation of its performance through performance management,
  • the budget process, and
  • strategic decisions regarding service delivery;

2) The municipality must foster community participation through capacity building in the community and among staff and councillors

3) Funds must be allocated and used for the above purposes.

Furthermore, the municipality must, according to the Municipal Systems Act, Chapter 4, Art. 17  (3), establish mechanisms, processes and procedures which take into account the special needs of disadvantaged or marginalised groups.

Principles of Participatory Processes

Figure 2: Community participation in systemic planning of violence prevention measures

What exactly does participation mean in the context of the use of this toolkit?

When we talk about participation in this toolkit, we talk about facilitating an inclusive process towards violence prevention in which the different governmental and civil society stakeholders play an active stance.

Participatory Process

Through using a participatory process, we assist people to participate actively in decisions that affect their lives. The process support and encourages all groups, especially those who don’t have a voice, to step forward and play an active role in planning.

A participatory process therefore helps to build a more equal society. Participatory processes do not have predefined results.

This can happen as part of safety planning in IDP’s or in other planning processes. The use of participatory tools helps us to facilitate participation in such processes.

In other words, the use of participatory tools is a means to strengthen and facilitate a participatory process. Their use is not an aim in itself, and does not guarantee a participatory process.

Those involved need to have an open, tolerant and respectful attitude. There must be a willingness to allow different perspectives and to consider the “violence-prevention interests and needs” of relevant groups, such as those of young people.


EMPOWERMENT embraces strategies and measures which support people to lead a self-determined, independent life.

Through empowerment, people are enabled to advocate their own interests, and participate in political processes and decision-making.

In a participatory process, the competencies and capacities of stakeholders are improved. Participation is therefore directly related to the concept of empowerment.

Many participatory tools which support such processes have been developed by Robert Chambers and practitioners worldwide, who have developed and advanced his ideas of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). Many of the tools presented in this toolkit go back to tools developed by Chambers and others, and were adapted to the context of violence.

How to make participation happen?

To facilitate a participatory process means to work with the many positive things that participants bring. It means to support all participants to contribute to the process and be part of it. As facilitators we are very careful not to dominate the process. 

Some General Tips

The following tips are just recommendations. Possibly you have had different experiences – then your experiences are the ones that count.

  • Keep things as simple as possible and as complex as necessary! Think about the level of understanding and knowledge of the group you are working with. You may have to work more slowly when introducing new and difficult  concepts. 
  • Quality is more important than quantity. Often the workshop does not develop as planned. Example: when a tool takes longer than anticipated, because the discussion takes longer than planned, it is worthgiving it more time  as long as there is a good discussion. When a tool takes longer than planned, it may require changes in the other parts of the programme. Sometimes it requires that other elements youhave planned are shortened or even  skipped. Recommendation: rather reduce a programme than rush through it.
  • Allow the participants to present their own contributions on their own. If you asked everybody to write their ideas on a certain topic on moderation cards, let each one present his/her cards and pin it on the pinboard, or lay it on  the floor if you don´t have a pin board. When the cards are too clustered3, as facilitator, you can provide support and help arrange the cards better.
  • When planning one day events, pay attention to providing a good mix of inputs and practical exercises as well as discussion rounds. As a rough guide, be aware that participants struggle to concentrate whenpresentations take longer than 20 minutes.
  • Ensure breaks that are long enough to recreate, as well as to chat and discuss. In a one day event, there should be one longer break in the morning, for lunch and during the afternoon. It is helpful for everybody   to start the  afternoon session with an energiser.
  • Monitor the participation of marginalised groups or their representatives, or those with “little power” in the web of power relations within the community. As facilitator you should try to ensure that membersof such groups participate.
  • Use visual material, wherever possible.

What makes a good facilitator?

The tools and methods presented throughout this guide depend on good facilitation. For an overview of the qualities a good facilitator should possess, as well as a variety of tips regarding methods and visualisation, download this short guideline.

How to design a workshop

For some guidance on how to design a workshop, you can download this checklist and template for workshop design.


Below you will find some tools which are helpful when you start to work with people on the topics of crime and violence, as well as prevention. They help to get participants to tune in to the topics and the way of working.

Tool 1 - Mingle-Mangle (60 min)

Objective: To ensure participants introduce themselves, to create a good atmosphere for the group to work together and to establish a link to the topic of violence; this will be the first time that such a link is established between participants own experience and the reality of violence. Download

Tool 2 - The Opinion Scale (15 min)

Objective: To provide participants with the first introduction to the topics of violence and crime related to personal experience. Download 

Tool 3 -Shoe Shuffle (15 min)

Objective: To establish a first introduction to the topics of violence and crime related to personal opinion. Download

Tool 4 -Systemic Triangle (20 min)

Objective: To create an understanding of and a feeling for a systems approach. A systems approach shows the dynamic way things interact. It helps us to make sense of these interactions. Download

Tool 5 - Double Wheel


  • Option 1: The participants get to know each other. Exercise serves as a warm up. (15 min.)
  • Option 2: The participants exchange their thoughts on a certain topic, before you collect ideas in a plenary session (20 min.)



Landman, K., Meiklejohn, C., Coetzee, M. (2008): IDP and Safety Planning – A guideline to assist local government to integrate processes. Pretoria, Prepared for the Gauteng Department of Community Safety by CSIR.

Williams, J.J. (2006): Community Participation: Lessons from post-apartheid South Africa, Policy Studies, Vol 27, No. 3, 2006, 197-217.

More helpful links

The Open Society Foundation South Africa´s Crime and Safety Project website offers relevant policy briefs, among others on community participation in community safety projects

Participatory Methods Website of the Institute of Development Studies (with Robert Chambers as Associated Researcher)

World Bank Website: Participation and Civil Engagement

FAO website with PRA tool box (with focus on rural areas)

UN Women website on participatory tools for collection of qualitative information, specifically for violence against girls and women

Manuals with participatory methods or a participatory approach referring to violence and conflict: Lieberman, S, K. Landman, A. Louw, and R. Robertshaw. (2000). “Making South Africa Safe: a manual for community-based crime prevention”. Published by the National Crime Prevention Centre, Department of Safety and Security & CSIR.

Useful handbook with many examples for icebreakers and energisers, as well as topic- related exercises:

Schilling, Katharina (2012): “Peacebuilding & Conflict Transformation – Methods & Games to facilitate training sessions”, edited by: Kayser, C. Djateng, F., published by CPS & BfdW

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