Monthly myth - level of influence in engagement and risk

This month’s myth addresses mistaken assumption that offering people less influence over a decision translates to the organisation having increased control over the process and outcomes. 

Some engagement processes lend themselves to a lower level of influence than others, and key factors like purpose, scope and stakeholders need to be considered.  However, if the intention is to reduce influence in an attempt to ‘manage’ the process, control outcomes, cut corners or minimise time and resources, organisations can find themselves in hot water.  This approach can lead towards (rather than away from) a whole slew of risks – from unmet expectations to community backlash and blown out timelines to resource intensive backtracking.

Read on for 6 key questions you can ask to determine the right level of influence.  Plus, we’re pointing you to a host of helpful reading and resources that will help you get this vital engagement element right.


When we talk about influence, we’re referring to the impact people affected by or interested in the decision can have over the decision.   The IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum provides a tool for determining the level of participation the public will have in an engagement process. This directly correlates with the level of impact or influence they will have over the decision.

Increasing the level of influence on offer can seem scary at first, particularly for leaders that are used to maintaining control over outcomes or feel they have a ‘mandate’ to make the decisions and therefore are used to making decisions without consultation. 

Ultimately however, selecting the wrong level of level participation can lead to risks that equate to a loss of control.  Take community outrage for example – people that haven’t had an opportunity to participate meaningfully in an important decision that affects them may decide to circumvent your process.  People can make themselves heard via other avenues such as the media and elected representatives.  This is a risk to the organisation on several levels and can take the decision out of its hands completely.

Determining the right level of influence

Determining the correct level of participation and influence is complex, and it needs to be tailored to the individual context and circumstances surrounding each process.  However, there are some key questions you can ask yourself that may give you a starting point.

What’s the history of this issue?

Is this a complex dilemma? Is it a problem that has been difficult to solve for some time?

What the answer tells you:

Problems that have a long history (i.e. over time it has been proven they cannot easily be solved) or are complex and difficult to navigate, lend themselves to a higher level of influence.   People often need more time and information when dealing with these types of dilemmas.

What is the scope of this process?

What is negotiable (i.e. what can participants have input into or impact on) and what is non-negotiable (i.e. what will or has been decided by others)?

What the answer tells you:

If there is very little left on the table for people to influence, or a decision has already been made, it’s disingenuous to offer a high level of influence.  Don’t pretend that people can impact a decision if that isn’t true in any tangible sense.  If you’re right at the beginning and people can influence real aspects of the decision, then a higher level of influence may suit.  Be aware of the tendency for organisations to minimise scope – often there’s more wriggle room than you realise.

What does your public expect?

What are the community and stakeholders’ expectations around level of influence?

What the answer tells you:

Disparity between what is offered and what is expected can cause tension and lead to outrage.  Consider who this decision affects and what their expectations might be when compared to what you’re offering.

What level of commitment exists?

What level of influence is your organisation or decision makers willing to commit to? What promise are they willing to stand behind?

What the answer tells you:

If an organisation isn’t prepared to genuinely consider community or stakeholder input, it’s not advisable to promise them high level of influence over the issue.  This position may cause issues in and of itself, but don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Ensure decision maker buy-in occurs on the level of influence before proceeding.

Who is impacted or interested?

Who is affected by or interested in the outcomes of this process? What voices need to be included in the conversation?

What the answer tells you:

Often, there are cohorts within your community and stakeholder groups that will require a higher level of influence than others.  Assess these groups individually and ascertain what level of participation fits.

How polarised are people?

Are there firmly entrenched, conflicting views around this issue?

What the answer tells you:

When people are sitting firmly on opposite sides of an issue it is impossible for an organisation to come up with a ‘correct’ or trusted answer.  In this case the dilemma needs to be shared and solved in partnership with the community and stakeholders, which lends itself to a higher level of influence.


Influence is key to community engagement! The quality of an engagement process is determined by the level of influence. The below video details what influence in community engagement means to MosaicLab. This video was created as part of Engage2Act's 2018 Blogging Challenge in honour of Global Community Engagement Day

SUPPORT FOR engaging decision makers

We’re often told by people working in the engagement space that they struggle to engage their decision makers in the process or get buy in around project scope and level of influence.   To assist, we’ve created a suite of free resources that may help you to address some of the common challenges around decision maker engagement.


If you’re planning an engagement process, the following resources may assist you in considering level of influence for your project:

  • The IAP2 Quality Assurance Standard for Community and Stakeholder Engagement provides a process by which engagement projects can be assessed, including a section on Level of Participation.

  • The Public Participation in Government Decision-making Better Practice Guide prepared by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office references the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum and provides clear expectations for government engagement processes around a number of elements, including understanding who is affected and how they should be included.

  • In January 2018 Wendy Sarkissian wrote a post ‘Influence and Community Engagement’ as part of Engage2Act’s Global Community Engagement Day celebrations.  The post discusses and references several resources including a new book from the United States by Roz Lasker and John Guidry (2009), Engaging the Community in Decision Making: Case Studies Tracking Participation, Voice and Influence




Do you have any tips for selecting the right level of influence? W'e’d love to hear your ideas. Share your thoughts in the comments below.




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