Participatory planning

Tool authored by: Saša Raicevich, Maiken Bjorkan and Giulia Gorelli; ISPRA, Italy; Norwegian College of Fisheries Science, Norway; Marine Science Institute, Barcelona, Spain (ICM-CSIC)

Tool Description

Participatory planning is a participatory process aimed at defining, proposing and having enforced a management plan on issues of common interest. Here we use the example of fisheries management plans as an example of participatory planning.Discussions Emphasis is given to a management plan as an approach that allows for integration of knowledge of stakeholders, scientists and policy makers, thus stimulating participatory research and action. Typically, participatory planning is an opportunity to tailor management rules at local/regional scale according to stakeholders needs. With the aim of contributing to the establishment of a bottom-up approach rather than the typical top-down approach, one can also integrate experience based – and research based knowledge. Participation can be defined as “the process of decision making and problem solving, involving individuals and groups who represents diverse interests, expertise and point of view and who act for the good of all those affected by the decisions they make and the actions that follows” (Fisher, 2001a,b).

Participation, then, is at the core of participatory planning. In some cases it represents the key element that determines the willingness of stakeholders and scientists to be engaged in participatory activities. If there is an active and open dialogue between relevant stakeholders, scientists and policy makers, this stimulates knowledge production, its mobilization and integration. In order to succeed, participatory planning activities should ensure the legitimacy, saliency, credibility and transparency of the process. It is also important to incorporate the needs of all actors involved in the process, including policy makers, in terms of problem solving.

Expected Outcomes 

The outcome of participatory planning is the design of a management plan that is based on a participatory process. The establishment of open dialogue, collaboration and mutual trust between all stakeholders is key in participatory processes. In addition, one should empower those who previously have been excluded from the management discourse. All this may include the development of new skills in participants and the building of new knowledge through the integration of different knowledge systems and scales (Reid et al., 2006).

What is needed

On the practical side, experience in group management is useful, as well as knowledge of the use of tools for scoping and working together (e.g. the presence of facilitators). When using management plans as a tool, extensive knowledge of fisheries as well as the administrative organization is needed in order to ensure both the needs of policy makers and fishers, while achieving sustainability.

How it works

  • Initiating the participatory planning process. Participatory planning builds on awareness and vision of individuals and/or groups and on their capability to see opportunities arising from problem solving. When one or more actors acknowledge the need for a participatory process to solve problems, and they engage in an active role to pursue it, the participatory process may start.
  • Building the partnerships. Involving relevant stakeholders is a key element that allows the first establishment of partnership. This process usually starts by selecting those individuals/groups that might be interested in the item to be addressed and are deemed to share a common/similar vision with the group and could result, in a first instance, in excluding some relevant stakeholders. However, involving all relevant stakeholders, scientists and policy makers from the beginning is strategic and building partnerships could be achieved by a call for interest to a larger group of stakeholders/individuals.
  • Assessment and Strategy. This implies the joint assessment of the problem to be solved and elaboration of the goals to be achieved. It may result in the involvement of further stakeholders and policy makers, as well as a better definition of the context and objectives of planning activities.
  • Planning. The core activity of planning is the context where different ideas, knowledge, and expectations are shared and decisions about different options are taken. In this arena, knowledge is shared, built, challenged, and consensus could be reached. The process of planning includes the understanding of what could, or could not, be achieved (according to administrative, economic, social and ecological constraints) and to find the best ‘optimum’ in such a context.


  • All relevant stakeholders and policy makers should be included in the process from its early stages.
  • The presence of facilitators could be very beneficial to support the process.
  • If using social scientific methods, make sure that those utilising the methods have the necessary training. Doing interviews is not simply a matter of “chatting” with fishers.
  • Conflicts between stakeholders are the rule, not the exception. Adopt an open process to acknowledge and reconcile them rather than neglecting their existence.
  • Time is needed to share and build knowledge, mutual trust and consensus.
  • Keep in mind that scientists and policy makers are also stakeholders.

Examples from GAP2 and beyond

Within GAP2, the Spanish Mediterranean Case study uses a Long Term Management Plan (LTMP) as a tool to establish a long term fishery policy from the bottom-up aiming at a sustainable exploitation of the deep-sea red shrimp (Aristeusantennatus).Red shrimp fresh from sea The plan establishes a number of technical measures defined though participatory planning over years, including fishers, scientists and policy makers. These measures include closed seasons, mesh size improvements and fishing effort (horse power) reductions in order to protect juveniles and reduce the overall impact of the fishery on the stock.

Importantly, the initiative for a LTMP came from the fishers themselves, as they observed that there was a significant decrease in the resource abundance, forcing them to think differently. Based on their long-term interactions with scientists in the area, the idea of generating a local LTMP to ensure the sustainable exploitation of their most important exploited species in economic terms was born.

Also key to a successful process is that the fishers are well organized through their Fishery Associations (cofradias), which is a traditional organization with deep roots across Spain. This ensures that fishers are given a voice; they are empowered and represented in a manner that they perceive as democratic. Also, the cofradia gives the other partners (scientists and policy makers) a well-defined stakeholder representative to communicate with. In addition, the scientists in the area are dedicated to both sustainability and a participatory process.Fisher with rope

Another important issue to take from this case study is that the LTMP provides fishers with the opportunity to reserve the benefits from the technical measures implemented for themselves, since only the vessels included in the plan (i.e. the trawlers of Palamós) can fish in the shrimp fishing grounds that are regulated by the management plan. Therefore fishermen also perceive the management plan as a protection, with legal rights, against conflicts with fishermen from other ports.

What people say about this tool

On the Plan:

“(With the plan) we have achieved something that we have always wanted: to decrease the effort. What has been vital is that we all sat down together” (Joan B. Company,  Biologist, CSIC).

“They (fishers themselves) thought that the sea was infinite, it should have been done many years ago!” Adrià Marti Simon (Red shrimp fisher and vessel owner).

On the process:

“It has been a public process. If someone feels excluded it is because they wanted to be excluded. The cofradias doors are always open. It has been a long process.” (Conrad Massaguer, Red shrimp fisher and vessel owner).

Working with scientists:

“If you only have the notes (science) and nobody to play, there will be no music. The experience of the fisher and the scientist are both important” (Conrad Massaguer, Red shrimp fisher and vessel owner).

References and resources

Fisher F. (2001a) Building bridges between citizens and local governments to work more effectively together through participatory planning. Part I Concept and strategies. UN-HABITAT, 140 pp.

Fisher F. (2001b) Building bridges between citizens and local governments to work more effectively together through participatory planning. Part II. Toolkit. UN-HABITAT. 83 pp.

Reid W.V., Berkes F., Wilbanks T., Capistrano D. (Eds.) (2006) Bridging Scales and Knowledge Systems. Concepts and Applications in Ecosystem Assessment. Island Press. 368 pp.

Web resources

Visual references and resources 

2 bottom trawler part of LTMP cooperative in the background Bottom trawler vessel part of the C Mixed catch from vessel comanagement_CSIC ICM scientist WWF and fisher Conrad Massaguer preparing trawl doors for closed season Red shrimp fresh from sea