Participation in social science is an umbrella term including different means for the public to directly participate in political, economic, management or other social decisions. Ideally, each actor would have a say in decisions directly proportional to the degree that particular decision affects him or her. Those not affected by a decision would have no say and those exclusively affected by a decision would have full say. Likewise, those most affected would have the most say while those least affected would have the least say. Participatory decision making infers a level of proportionate decision making power and can take place along any realm of human social activity, including economic (ie Participatory economics), political (ie Participatory democracy or parpolity), cultural (ie intercommunalism) or familial (ie Feminism).
The term is used in management theory (as in "participatory management") to denote a style of management that calls for a high level of participation of workers and supervisors in decisions that affect their work. The term is also used in Participatory Economics or "parecon" as it is theorized and elaborated in that model.
For well-informed participation to occur, some version of transparency, e.g. radical transparency, is necessary, but not sufficient. It has been suggested in the participatory economics model that for full and meaningful participation to exist, some form of Balanced job complex is necessary: self-confidence, empowerment and information must be equitably distributed.
Sherry Arnstein discusses types of participation and "nonparticipation" in A Ladder of Citizen Participation (1969). She grades levels of participation from Manipulation (least citizen participation) to Citizen Control (most citizen participation). The three (3) categories used are:
Degrees of Citizen Power characterized by Citizen Control, Delegated Power, and Partnership
Degrees of Tokenism characterized by Placation, Consultation, and Informing
Nonparticipation characterized by Therapy and Manipulation
Arnstein continues to define citizen participation as "the redistribution of power that enables the havenot citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately included in the future".
The complete original text of Arnstein, dating from 1969, but still very valid can be found on http://lithgow-schmidt.dk/sherry-arnstein/ladder-of-citizen-participation.html
Multiple other "ladders" of participation have been presented, most notably Connor's "A new ladder of citizen participation" (1988), Wiedemann and Femers' "Public Participation in waste management decision making: analysis and management of conflicts" (1993) and Dorcey et al. "Public Involvement in government decision making: choosing the right model" (1994).