A fun, inclusive, and flexible method of community engagement.
The Level Up Toolkit is a is a comprehensive and flexible guide for anyone seeking to co-create spaces for participatory and deliberative democracy in Europe, backed by science. It can be used at multiple levels of governance and from diverse starting points, whether it’s grassroots, community-led, or institutional. Our inter-disciplinary and international team of researchers has designed it over 14 months of research, collaboration, and testing.
We curate spaces for meaningful dialogues and creative output. In a world where online interactions are constant and offline connections are limited, we focus on physical encounters.
It’s not politics, it’s fun.
Our approach uses gamification techniques to engage participants. At all levels, games and fun activities allow for more informal connections and effective outcomes.
Our process bridges gaps between participants’ knowledge, cultures, and needs. Emphasising empathy and humility, we create a level-playing field for meaningful engagement.
The Level Up Toolkit provides a structure to facilitate meaningful dialogue for joint decision-making and/or public consultation, to help create sustainable and inclusive solutions.
Its implementation takes place during events (from a few hours to a few days) aimed at producing clear and impactful proposals.
The composition of the group may vary and is scalable, but would ideally include ⁓ 50 participants equally representing general public, community members, stakeholders from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), academic experts, as well as relevant policy-makers from the local, national, and/or regional level.
Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy is dedicated to ensuring that marginalized communities are included throughout.
The Toolkit is divided into a preparation phase and three levels:
Each level provides a framework to facilitate non-hierarchical interactions between communities and stakeholders.
We recommend conducting an impact assessment survey after the event to measure the effects the process on participants (their feeling of political empowerment, their level of connection and participation and the results of the deliberations).
The preparation phase consists of a set of instructions to the facilitators of the event (1) to select participants, (2) to send out consent forms to participants, (3) to conduct a pre-event survey to determine participants’ concerns and (4) to train themselves and participants with the guidelines for diversity and inclusion and disseminate pre-event information.
The first step is the selection of local community members, policy makers, and organisational representatives who will participate in the event. The selection of participants should be diverse and equitable. In the second step the facilitators reach out to the participants and ensure consent through conent forms. The third step determines the topic that will be discussed during the event through a survey. In the fourth step, facilitators are familiarised with the Level Up Code of Conduct which is outlined in our Safe(r) to Brave Space Guidelines. Facilitators then disseminate the guidelines to the participants and inform them about the structure of the event.
The core idea of the Level Up experience is to bring together people with different personal histories and diverse political backgrounds. Throughout the Toolkit, we refer to 4 different groups of participants: community members, representatives from institutions, experts, and stakeholders. We recommend to keep the proportions in table 1 to ensure a balance between all participants.
Table 1: suggested proportions of the overall group composition
Representatives from communities, such as civil society organisations or students from a school.
Relevant specialists for the subject under discussion, such as scientists, policy experts, or lawyers.
Relevant representatives from local, national, regional, and/or international authorities.
Representatives from private and public organisations or groups, such as businesses or lobbying groups.
💡 Remember: The selection of participants will be done according to the topic chosen (see below). The community members can be selected randomly (while following the diversity guidelines), while the participants from the three other groups can be selected based on the topic to be discussed. We recommend inviting the community members and selecting the topic before inviting the other participants.
The selection process of a diverse group remains difficult. The composition of the participants strongly depends on the setting and topic at discussion of the event. The Level Up team is still working on a more inclusive strategy to select diverse groups into events. But the following targets should be taken into consideration:
Diversity targets for the selection of participants should include indicators for ethnicity, gender (including non-binary options), sexuality, ability/health, religion, socio-economic background, age, and/or survivor status. This will be measured in the pre-event surveys and feedback will be sought for improvement in the post-event evaluations.
To ensure a smooth process of the project/event from a legal perspective, it is important to get consent from all participants. For that we recommend to send out a consent form to potential participants before they participate in any of the following steps of the project. We offer a template of a consent form. However, it is important to note that each consent form has to be adapted to the individual project and depending on the project might require additional specifications on the use of data that are not specificied in the template.
Option 1: Topic can be selected before inviting participants by the organisers of the event who want to consult the community and relevant actors on a specific topic.
Option 2: Topic can be selected after selecting participants. In this case, we recommend sending a pre-event survey to determine the participants’ interests through targeted questions. Such a survey can also help for the smaller group composition in Level 2 – Deliberation to anticipate similar interests.
We strongly recommend having facilitators (who can be the organisers of the event) who will ensure the smooth running of the event with their detailed knowledge of the Toolkit and Level Up principles. Facilitators will be in charge of moderating the event: guiding the participants from level to level and moderate the debates with empathy and objectivity. The facilitators should remain neutral throughout the whole process, even if they are part of the institution organising the event, and must ensure that every participant is able to voice their opinions in a safe environment.
As part of their training, the facilitators should be familiar with our guidelines for equitable engagement and briefing: Safe(r) to Brave Spaces Guidelines (see below). These provide detailed information on how to make the event as safe, brave and as open as possible. We encourage to send it to the participants as well.
Facilitators should then send a brief document with background information on the topic chosen for the event and details about how the event will be run (can include a timetable, rules of conduct, such as the Safe(r) to Brave Space Guidelines, and a list of expectations).
💡 More on the facilitator training package coming soon! The Level Up team is designing a training package, based on the most recent scholarship, to share knowledge on the best facilitation practices aligned with our values.
Make sure that the background information document you send to the participants adheres to the following standards:
The core aim of Level 1 is to create engagement and links between a diverse group of participants through an interactive format. This step is crucial to ensure a non-hierarchical and equal environment for the up-coming levels.
We offer four silos of activities, with different objectives to connect participants. Each silo includes a list of different sample activities. Facilitators choose and implement at least one activity from each silo which are tailored to the participants group (e.g., considering age, gender identity, language, professional background, etc). Facilitators are not limited to the sample activities offered in the silos and can include other activities. However, we propose to choose activities that reflect the underlying objectives of our silos.
💡 This level can be tricky if you know the participants and different groups you are bringing together are in a conflict. The Level Up team is coming up with an adapted version of the level where the groups are prepared individually before coming together to connect. We are also working on a training package for facilitators, based on the most recent scholarship, to share knowledge on the best facilitation practices aligned with our values. This training package will reflect on situations of conflict and how to navigate them.
The four silos of activities are: (Re)connection, Communication, Diversity/Inclusion, and Knowledge-Sharing. Click on the icons below for more information on each silo and examples of activities.
Activities dedicated to fostering meaningful bonds between people. These prioritise shared experiences, open communication, and impactful interactions.
Activities that empower individuals to enhance their conversational skills and foster understanding.
Activities that raise awareness of differing perspectives and experiences while promoting equitable participation.
Activities providing the opportunity for experts to inform other participants about the latest advances and developments in the topic(s) under discussion.
This level consists of deliberation in small groups leading up to policy proposals and a preferendum vote. First, the scenario setting provides a basic context of the general problem to be discussed. Second, the participants are broken into smaller groups to design policy proposals. The groups respond to targeted challenges (e.g. budget, social justice, environment etc.) utilizing our LEVEL UP system of guided debate. Third, the groups reconvene to share their proposals. Through a preferendum system, the participants rank the different proposals in terms of preference.
The deliberation phase should be moderated to ensure smooth running and engagement of all actors, with the moderator(s) involved in the preparation of the meeting, meeting itself, and after the meeting. This would mean that ideally the same moderators would be involved in the Preparation, Dialogue, and Outcome Phases of the methodology, as that would also build trust in the participants and contribute to the achievement of psychological safety. The moderator should be experienced and paid for by the institution. However, in order to ensure accountability of the moderator(s) to other groups as well, a vetting and veto procedure should be established.
5-10 min for scenario setting presentation. 5 min for quick What/So What/What Now presentation. 15-20 min for discussion of the scenario setting (TOTAL 30 min)
The scenario provides the context for deliberations between participants.
Who should be responsible for preparing the scenario? What should they look out for?
Someone from the relevant institution (the organiser, a facilitator, the institution to consider final policy proposals, a knowledgeable actor in the field) provides the scenario for the deliberations. The scenario:
Dependent on the time available: The scenario can be debated and challenged by participants (i.e., if the available budget is wholly insufficient, there can be pushback to explore how it would be possible to increase it).
Ideally, the scenario phase will end with some time to reflect and informally discuss (e.g., coffee break)
Scenario setting should also include a brief presentation of “What? So What? What Next?” framework for thinking and formulation of policy proposals. This will allow participants to understand what it expected of them (the presentation of their proposal to other teams/groups) and learn about the method of policy writing.
For deliberations, group composition should ideally be small (12-15 participants), respectful of the integrity of communities. The numerical superiority in the groups should be distributed along the inverse power gradient (see table 1).
Two possibilities for group formation:
(1) Random allocation (if time is short) – Pre-event allocation
(2) Open circle harvest of ideas (during the event)
The deliberation unfolds via a number of levels through which participants elaborate policy proposals and which structure their discussions.
On competitive aspects and time pressure:
Levels (stations, moving around):
At the conclusion of the deliberation, each team presents their proposal (max. 5 minutes). If time allows, there can be additional max. 5 minutes for Q&A after each presentation.
The facilitator’s role during the presentation stage is to reconvene all groups in a common space and to act as moderator. The facilitator thus coordinates the order of presentations, acts as timekeeper, and moderates the Q&A sessions.
Visual aids can be a helpful way for teams to share their work. We recommend that the groups design flip charts, large posters, or powerpoint slides throughout the Game during the Deliberation phase, to support their presentations. What visual aids groups should use, and what the content of the visual aids should be, needs to be clearly specified on the Game instruction cards.
If there is more time available, it would be great if another coffee break can be combined with a conference poster session. So before voting, participants can walk around and chat to each other about what different proposals entail and what they think.
This could also be structured as an actual debate between different groups (although then it probably is not a coffee time activity)
Participants are asked to vote on the proposals through limited ranking voting using borda count. This concretely means that voters assign the proposals preferences a descending score, with 0 being attributed to the last preference. The most popular option must always be assigned the highest number of points possible (if there are 5 options, but the voter only ranked 2, the highest ranked option still receives 4 points, followed by 3 for the second option). This has the benefit of the voter being able to express their favourite opinion, while also being able to indicate which options are actually acceptable to them.
The results can offer a resolution to the inter-team competition, but also provide nuanced information about different levels of support for different policies presented, that go beyond the simple voting for the best proposal.
The preferendum is entirely confidential.
At this level participants move towards articulating the process by materialising and embodying the experience through collective creative expressions. This celebratory transformation of the intangible into the tangible is based on the concept of the Arts-Based Initiative (ABI).
We use creative means to achieve four aims:
At the end of a day of hard work and (re)connection, it is important to celebrate the success of all teams. Success is understood as a process of debate, play and shared proposals that seek to transcend the LEVEL UP experience. This transcendence is based on the experiential learning that takes place during the Level Up event. Participants move towards the materialisation of the process through collective artistic objects, thus transforming the intangible into the tangible.
Celebration is based on the concept of the ABI which can be defined as any organisational and management intervention that uses one or more art forms enabling people to have an arts experience within an organisational context. It is primarily and fundamentally an experiential process that involves and engages people both rationally and emotionally through active or passive participation (Schiuma 2009).
The tool is structured around concepts of participation and fun. In the final stage these concepts constitute the spirit of the activities and simultaneously serve to:
For the event to be successful, we strongly recommend implementing a follow-up strategy to make sure the results of the event are not lost and that the connections made during it are maintained. The follow-up could include direct and concrete information about how the policy proposals have been used for policy.
Examples of follow-up strategies
💡 The Level Up team is currently working on expanding our website to build a platform where all participants can stay connected and share their ideas.
To measure the effectiveness of the Level Up Toolkit as a model for processes of participatory democracy, we assess its impact according to the following indicators:
Community members should be part of a local community affected by the issue – this group should represent the diversity of the local community targeted.
A list of factors to take into account to ensure diversity
To ensure maximum diversity, it’s essential to invite a broad range of individuals who bring different perspectives and experiences to the table. Here are some criteria and groups to consider when extending invitations:
Remember that the specific criteria for diversity may vary depending on the purpose and context of your event or group. It’s crucial to approach diversity and inclusion with sensitivity and respect for the unique perspectives and needs of all participants.
Experts, in the context of the topic under discussion (e.g., climate scientists, energy experts, etc.), are individuals who possess specialized knowledge, skills, and experience in a particular field or subject matter.
Institutional representatives are individuals who represent organized bodies, such as government officials at local, national, or EU levels, as needed for a particular topic or context.
Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or entities that have an interest or concern in a particular project, issue, or organization. They can significantly impact or be impacted by the outcomes of the project or decisions made.
Two Truths and a Lie: Participants take turns sharing three statements about themselves— two true and one false. The other members of the group try to guess which statement is the lie. This game promotes openness and helps people get to know each other on a more personal level.
The Marshmallow Challenge: In this team-building activity, participants are given spaghetti sticks, tape, string, and a marshmallow. They have to work together to build the tallest freestanding structure using these materials. It encourages teamwork and innovation.
Circle of Influence: Participants form a circle and take turns sharing their thoughts or ideas on a particular topic without any interruptions or judgment from others. This game fosters active listening and respect for everyone’s input.
Peer Teaching Sessions: Instead of a traditional lecture-style learning session, participants take turns teaching a concept or skill to the group. This approach encourages knowledge sharing and acknowledges that everyone has something valuable to contribute.
Tower Building Challenge: Provide teams with various materials (e.g., newspapers, tape, straws) and ask them to build the tallest, sturdiest tower within a given time frame.
Mystery Box Challenge: Present teams with a box of random items and challenge them to come up with innovative and practical uses for each item.
This option (open circle) can be anticipated and made shorter by carefully analysing the pre-event survey and anticipating areas of interest that will emerge and thus accordingly inviting and ensuring participation of institutional representatives and other experts/stakeholders who will join those emerging groups.
Alternatively, the present participants (not from communities) are nudged during this phase to join particular groups, to ensure at least nominal mixed group composition.
This option requires a moderator. Either a hired moderator familiar with OST, or an organising team member who is willing to get familiar with OST and implement it (1-2 days of familiarising and preparation or cca. 1500-2000 EUR for facilitator’s costs)
Groups do not have to follow the same progression through all stations (although they do have to make an appearance at all of them at some point)
What happens at a station, an example: once the team has a good idea for their proposal, they can move to the Budget station. There they will present their idea to the facilitator who will ask them targeted questions around budget issues (e.g. what means need to be engaged to implement your project? Is it within your government’s, city’s (etc.) means? How can you make it cheaper (if needed)? etc.)
The facilitator at each station needs to approve their Levelling Up before they can move on to the next station.
To start off with, there should be one group per station. However, if a certain group continues discussing the elements linked to a certain station for longer and other group is already finished at their original station, the second group can join the first at the same station and the facilitator will prioritise the newcomers with their advice (additional psychological competitiveness ensues)
Who can be a facilitator for the stations? Ideally, the facilitator would be an expert in the area of their station (e.g. a diversity and equity NGO representative for the social justice station). However, this will demand additional guests to be invited and who will not directly participate in the debate. An event’s facilitator can fulfil this role as they are here to guide the team’s through their project by asking relevant questions.
Depending on how many levels are included, but probably at least 2h for the deliberation, plus 5-10 min/group for presentations (30-45 min), plus conference/fair style option for milling around and discussing different proposals (30 min + coffee/refreshments), plus voting and results (Slido, 15 min) = 3.5-4h
This can be done on paper: each proposal is given a number or letter and the participants rank them on paper. One of the facilitators then enters in a pre-prepared calculation sheet that will work out the results.
The preferendum can also be done online on Slido which calculates the results directly. The participants are given a QR code to access the link and then rank the proposals on the voting page.
We recommend disseminating the proposals to a wider audience, e.g. on the Level Up website and invite a wider audience to vote on the proposals.
If art is framed as a social system (Luhmann, 1984), it can then be understood in terms of what it produces under optimal conditions: it shows us possible alternatives to the ways we look at the world we live in on social, economic and political levels. Beyond identifying the problems of the world we live in, contemporary artists are making proposals for possible alternative realities. Contemporary artists respond to the world they (we) live in with many facing the challenges of war and living as migrants or asylum seekers; others are under the oppression of authoritarian rule. Many artists pose explorative queries to societal issues by engaging with movements for peace; employing provocations and questions as tropes in their work; offering different possibilities and perceptions, thus reframing historical narratives. What unites current contemporary art methodologies is a true commitment to bring people together in co-creation, active participation, or simply by inciting further reflections and responses.
A major problem with current practices of democratic participation is that many of us are not informed on the decision-making processes that compose the very spaces in which we live.
In other words, a vast number of people are not communicating and truly participating in the processes that determine our/their daily lives.
Inspired by current contemporary art methodologies, we propose to use creativity and arts to create spaces of encounter that under optimal conditions will allow different actors to participate in the public sphere in equal and dialogic ways. Bringing together the apparently distant fields of democracy, culture, and creativity, these co-created spaces of encounter will favour the integration of neurodiverse perspectives while facilitating a collective reflection and the generation of new knowledge around the topics tackled using varied languages and discourses.
We recommend that in designing the creation of activities, as and starting point, all participants answer a question addressing the following:
Answers can be given verbally or non-verbally. Activities in the creative level can be oriented towards creating lineage of understanding based on words. In that case we indicate some possibilities such as:
Recording testimonies of participants to produce a video documenting the impact of Level Up. Subjects can present concrete questions or let the participants express themselves freely. We recommend to set limitations such as time per person/video.
Generate a word wall the group chooses words they identify with. They can be words that describe their proposals or their ideas about democracy/participation. They should seek words that convey their impressions before and after the implementation of our Toolkit. They may be words about the future of democracy in their communities or misgivings about the opportunities they have as a group or as individuals to participate in democratic life.
Composing a song: If instruments are available in the room, compositions with harmony can be made. If there is not access to instruments, then the use of body percussion or unison singing is recommended. The style chosen by the group should not be imposed but chosen by the participants and guided by the artists.
On the other hand, we can establish a series of activities focused on the use of artistic techniques that do not involve words but experiment with the visual arts or theatre.
Visual/Artistic installations: Around the selected topics the participants can create objects/designs with the idea that they will be integrated into a museum of democracy. The mission of these objects is two fold: expressing what the group has learned (collective reflection) and the transmission of knowledge to their community (local, national and international) once integrated in our living archive.
Performative action: Through the materials of their environments and based on the games played in the previous levels, we can obtain props to create a performative scene. It can have individual actors or be a collective expression. It can have a script/plot or be scenes with a single leitmotiv.
Sound collection: Using mobile devices or recorders, participants are encouraged to generate a sound cloud or a sound atmosphere to represent the session that has just taken place.
We recommend having at least:
To best facilitate creation, we suggest providing the following materials: