Universal Declaration of Human Rights @ 60+ logo
Gathering a body of global agreements
logo of United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

  United Nations


un logo

United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

11 June 1976

black line

[Recommendations from the Vancouver Plan of Action, June 1976]

The Vancouver Action Plan. E. Public participation


1. Participation is an integral part of the political processes of decision-making; in a field as complex as human settlements, it is also a necessity because the task is too great for governments to accomplish without mobilizing the interest of inhabitants, using their ingenuity and skills and harnessing otherwise untapped resources.

2. Public participation is the dynamic incorporation of the people in the economic, social and political life of a country which would ensure that the beneficiary is an effective participant in collective decisions with regard to the common good.

3. A co-operative effort of the people and their Governments is a prerequisite for effective action on human settlements. The magnitude and intractability of the problems are too great for Governments to act alone. Citizen participation should be an integral part of the decision-making processes on the full range of human settlement issues. Citizens must be provided opportunities for direct involvement in the decisions that profoundly affect their lives. Such participation can heighten citizen awareness of the complexity and interrelatedness of the problems and the urgent need for concerted action. Involvement of citizens can also be an important means of making creative use of their ingenuity and skills, thus making effective use of often untapped resources.

4. Participation can be conceived, from the top downwards, as the involvement of the higher echelons of government in the decision-making of smaller groups; laterally, as the co-operation between parallel or competing sectoral interests; or, from the base upwards, as the direct involvement of residents in the making of decisions and implementation of programmes which concern them. The first two forms of participation are the basis of strategies, planning procedures, implementation of programmes and, in general, management of human settlements; the last, under the label of popular participation, is becoming an indispensable element of a truly democratic process.

5. Every effort must be made to remove barriers which preclude active participation by women in the planning, design, and execution of all aspects of human settlements and at all levels of government.

6. Public participation is an integral process and therefore it should not be divided into partial participation as this would lead to the current general conception of participation as a way of cheap local labour, or as a mechanism for the solution of partial problems at the local level.

7. Citizen participation, by definition, cannot be achieved by fiat. But it can be facilitated by removal of political and institutional obstacles and by providing information in clear and meaningful terms. It can also be stimulated by providing opportunities for early and continuing involvement in the selection of alternatives. The inaccessibility of information and the absence of appropriate mechanisms for the expression of alternative views are often major stumbling blocks for effective involvement of citizens in shaping their future.

8. The basis of public participation is the incorporation of the population into the production, consumption and distribution of goods in a country.

9. Public participation implies not only efforts to convey information, but also a very important effort of education and formation to allow both specialist and public participation to play a determining role in evaluating the economic, technical and administrative consequences of the measures under consideration.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.1 Role of public participation

  1. Meeting basic human needs and improving the quality of life in human settlements requires critical choices in the allocation of scarce resources, the utilization or available resources and the harnessing of new ones; this process cannot be effective without the active involvement of the people affected by such decisions.

  2. Public participation should be an indispensable element in human settlements, especially in planning strategies and in their formulation, implementation and management; it should influence all levels of government in the decision-making process to further the political, social and economic growth of human settlements.

  3. Particular attention should be paid to:

    1. Strengthening the role of the population, men and women, in taking decisions affecting all aspects of the development of human settlements;

    2. The definition of the role of public participation as a means of mobilizing untapped human resources and improving the effectiveness of those already operative;

    3. The involvement of people at all levels of activity in resolving their conflicts;

    4. The advance public disclosure of strategies, plans and programmes for public discussion should be made at the early planning stages before major commitments to the project have been made.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.2 Participation in the planning process

  1. To obtain a democratic process with maximum participation, special attention should be paid to the organization of planning and the implementation of plans.

  2. The planning process must be designed to allow for maximum public participation.

  3. This can be achieved by:

    1. Devoting more interest to the drafting of documentation for decision-making in order to make it more intelligible to laymen, e.g. by abundant illustration, by describing the problems connected with different alternatives and by using a language which laymen can understand;

    2. Dividing the planning process into stages showing when important decisions should be taken and by taking special measures to involve a wide range of citizens;

    3. Helping public officials in every possible way to fulfil their important task of acting as a communication link between authorities and the citizen, e.g. by preparing discussion material, arranging public meetings, visiting schools and holding press conferences, etc.;

    4. Seeking the participation of women in the conception of shelter, infrastructure and services and in the provision of transportation and access to community services.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.3 Two-way flow

  1. Public participation does not mean simply the mobilization or people to implement the independent decisions of governments and professionals; participation requires listening and response in both directions.

  2. To be effective, public participation requires the free flow of information among all parties concerned and should be based on mutual understanding, trust and education.

  3. This may be achieved through:

    1. Legislation to stimulate public participation and to provide wide accessibility to public information;

    2. Allocation of resources for the development of skills within the community to render participation progressively more effective;

    3. Information and possibly legal aid services to inform the citizen of legal rights and duties in relation to human settlement issues as well as to provide legal assistance;

    4. Appeal and arbitration bodies to reconcile public interest and individual rights;

    5. Wide use of mass media to provide a forum for citizen participation and public debate;

    6. Submission of all major planning decisions to appropriate processes of public inquiry, with particular emphasis on the rights of the least privileged sectors of the population;

    7. Involving specially trained personnel in social and community work in the field and community work in the field of human settlements.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.4 Wide involvement

  1. Public participation is a right that must be accorded to all segments of the population, including the most disadvantaged groups.

  2. Public participation should integrate the various sectors of the population including those that traditionally have not participated either in the planning or in the decision-making processes.

  3. Particular attention should be paid to:

    1. Expanding and strengthening the role of community organizations, voluntary groups, workers' organizations, tenants and neighbourhood organizations;

    2. Assisting in the formation of non-governmental organizations devoted especially to human settlement issues and encouraging the existing ones to focus their programmes on such issues;

    3. Decentralizing planning and public administration institutions and establishing or strengthening locally elected bodies so as to ensure the democratic character of popular participation;

    4. Securing the active involvement of groups whose participation is normally limited;

    5. Adopting procedures which would facilitate the active participation or youth, the handicapped and the elderly.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.5 New forms of participation

  1. Of all human endeavours, public participation is the one which can least afford to be isolated from current trends and changes in society, in so far as these effect the relationships between the governing and the governed, the professional and the laymen, the strong and the weak.

  2. Public participation must respond to both newly emerging needs of society and to existing social, economic and cultural needs. The people and their governments should establish mechanisms for popular participation that contribute to developing awareness of people's role in transforming society.

  3. Areas for special attention include

    1. Establishment, especially in rapidly expanding urban areas, of effective channels of communication between the people and all levels of government, as well as mechanisms for enabling people to attain full control and influence in the formulation and implementation of policy for the development of human settlements;

    2. Establishment in large and medium-sized cities of neighbourhood councils capable of increasing public participation in city management;

    3. Encouragement of the formation of farmers' and landless labourers' organizations, in the rural areas, in order to improve their condition,

    4. Recognition of the changing role of women in society and encouragement of their full participation in development;

    5. Public accountability required of large corporations;

    6. Public interest research and public interest law;

    7. Active encouragement and support of all members of the public, to acquire the confidence and skills which will ensure their participation at all levels of human settlement planning.

Return to [Top] [Action Plan]

Recommendation E.6 Mobilizing resources

  1. Public participation is a human right, a political duty and an instrument essential for national development, especially under conditions of resource scarcity; unless their participation is encouraged by the appropriate political, economic and social institutions, people cannot identify with the decisions which affect their daily lives.

  2. Public participation elicited on a scale commensurate with the problems of human settlements, should influence all decisions concerning management of human settlements and should focus on the application of resources to improvement of the standard of living and the quality of life.

  3. Efforts should be directed in particular to:

    1. Assessing felt needs and priorities as a necessary prerequisite for settlement plans and programmes;

    2. Promote actions which motivate people to decide and act for themselves with the appropriate support of Governments. Self-help projects in which the population has a concrete part in the implementation of plans should have the support of Governments.

    3. Defining what the people can decide and do better for themselves and determining the area of government action accordingly;

    4. Decentralizing planning institutions and implementation machinery and especially management operations to the maximum possible extent, to enable local communities to identify their own needs and fields of action;

    5. Making large-scale public participation a continuing feature of the political process with respect to issues concerning human settlements;

    6. Mechanisms to promote participation by the people in production, distribution, and consumption, and programmes for employment, job training, and distribution of consumer goods:

    7. Utilize popular participation for housing construction to facilitate adequate accommodation to all citizens.