Governments and cities around Australia and indeed the world have recognised the need to shift toward more inclusive decision making processes, particularly when dealing with issues of the public realm. Despite some significant efforts in this space, including in the creation of urban living laboratories, there is a continued scepticism of consultative processes, and little accountability as to whether the stated goal was achieved. The International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) public participation spectrum (Inform, consult, involve, collaborate, and empower) is currently the primary way of describing the level of involvement (or not) of citizens in decision making processes. Many elements of this spectrum can be traced back to Arnstein’s 1967 Ladder of Public Participation, however, there is one significant difference. The IAP2 approach is largely based on rationalism (planning and strategy), while Arnstein’s Ladder supports a critically pragmatic approach based on reflection and assessment of actual outcomes. This paper uses Forester’s theory of critical pragmatism to contrast the IAP2 spectrum with Arnstein’s Ladder as ways of evaluating public consultation. With support from Sennett’s (2012) notions of dialogic and dialectic cooperation, the paper highlights the mismatch between assessing planned and actual outcomes, and suggests how the adoption of Arnstein’s Ladder alongside the IAP2 spectrum might help governments and cities to engage more meaningfully with their citizens.