Last week I attended a workshop called Local Engagement in Democracy hosted by Involve. They had, with the Institute of Volunteering Research and NCVO, recently completed research into how people participate throughout their lives.
The final report of the research was interesting reading and I was quite excited about what the workshop would throw up.
The main findings from the report, for me, were that people participate in different ways and at different levels throughout their lives. In fact, despite trying very hard, they couldn’t find anyone that hadn’t participated at any level ever. Even people that thought they didn’t participate, when they thought about it further, had actually participated. Even if that was going to scouts as a child or donating to charities.
The other thing is that participation is a deeply personal choice, that is largely based initially on a personal connection or realisation. It’s also voluntary. So, given that motivation, organisations cannot actively ‘make’ people participate. They do it of their own free will because it’s something that they feel a connection to. Organisations can do more, once the connection is created, to help ensure resources, access, information and support are readily available. But there is little an organisation can do to create that emotional connection for potential participants.
We often talk about reaching the unengaged, those that don’t participate at the public level, but if we take the learning from this research – beyond providing them with the information, access and resources to participate – there is a real possibility that many of these people will never engage because there’s no emotional connection to the public participation on offer.
And is that a bad thing? What participation levels are we willing to accept? There are two issues here, and ones that are frequently brought up by PB practitioners. These are, on the one hand, public bodies want a fair representation of the community involved in public participation. This is both to ensure that the concerns, ideas and issues of all sectors of the community are heard and addressed, if possible. It’s also to ensure that the public body isn’t discriminating or alienating any one group of people. Plus, having fair representation will help to legitimise any public participation. And on the other hand there is the real issue of there being groups of people that are significantly more marginalised from society than others, and often they have most need of public support and services. Thus, in communicating better with them, services are more likely to be aligned to their needs.
There’s also the perception that participation is a ‘good thing’. And to an extent, perhaps this is true. But is it always? And for whom? And is it really productive for community engagement professionals, communications experts, neighbourhood managers and other officers and councillors to continue to bang their heads against walls trying to get people to engage that simply don’t want to? I know, a controversial thought from a PB person.
I’m not sure I’ve found all the answers on this yet, but this report provides some food for thought and ties in nicely with the international research we were involved in earlier in the year, which looked at who participates in PB processes. Having now read this report, and discussed a number of these ideas and issues at the workshop, I’m keen to explore how these two pieces of research might be brought together, so we have a better understanding of who is and who isn’t participating in PB and why – and what we can do to enable participation, and what we can’t.
You can download the report here. The findings from the international research should be available towards the end of the year.
Reference: PB Unit
Involving citizens and communities in securing societal progress for the well-being of all – Methodological guide
Over the last 60 years, the idea that the creation of material wealth is essential for ensuring the well-being and fundamental rights of citizens has been broadly predominant. In this organisational model, based on an increase in quantitative wealth, there is an implicit link between growth, individual well-being and collective well-being. This view of constant improvement presupposes a commitment by states and businesses to the fair distribution of the benefits of growth. Accordingly, states – as guarantors of the collective well-being – have focused their efforts on improving gross domestic product (GDP).
Today, globalisation has destroyed the ethical link between growth and national well-being. A “negative” perception of GDP has developed as a result of problems of pollution, environmental destruction, increased inequalities between social groups and especially the realisation that growth alone is unable to secure material well-being for all or optimism for the future.
At a time when confidence has suffered significantly and when the old benchmarks are being challenged, this guide, following on from the Methodological guide entitled Concerted development of social cohesion indicators (2005), addresses the concept of societal progress for the well-being of all by involving citizens and human communities in defining what this means and how it can be brought about. It explains how we can move from the idea of well-being pure and simple to well-being for all, and describes the interactions between personal and collective well-being so as to build a shared vision of the future and an ability to work together based on deliberation, devising measurement tools and consultation, in an approach which takes into account both present and future generations.
This guide seeks to foster an approach to progress in order to make it more easily manageable and give it a more human face.
With this guide, the Council of Europe is making a contribution to the current debate on progress and well-being from its own perspective, which is to renew and strengthen democratic processes and the ability of citizens to be involved in the decisions relating to the challenges facing society.
Presentation of the guide and acknowledgements
Part 1 — Rethinking well-being together with citizens and communities
CHAPTER 1 – A MULTITUDE OF INITIATIVES WORLDWIDE
CHAPTER 2 – DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE INITIATIVES
CHAPTER 3 – DEVELOPING A GENERAL REFERENCE FRAMEWORK
Part 2 — Rethinking progress Introduction
CHAPTER 1 – UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING OF PROGRESS TODAY
CHAPTER 2 – RETHINKING STRATEGIES FOR PROGRESS
CHAPTER 3 – CONTRIBUTIONS, LIMITATIONS AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE EXISTING INITIATIVES FOR SOCIETAL PROGRESS
Part 3 — Rethinking reference frameworks
CHAPTER 1 – IDENTIFYING THE COMPONENTS OF WELL-BEING FOR ALL (SOCIETAL PROGRESS)
CHAPTER 2 – BUILDING SOCIETY’S CAPACITY TO ENSURE WELL-BEING FOR ALL
CHAPTER 3 – FINE-TUNING THE REFERENCE FRAMEWORK TO COMBINE METHODS
Part 4 — Rethinking the tools of societal progress (indicators)
CHAPTER 1 – GENERAL APPROACH TO INDICATORS AS KNOWLEDGE AND ACTION TOOLS
CHAPTER 2 – METHODS FOR CONSTRUCTING INDICATORS OF SOCIETAL PROGRESS
CHAPTER 3 – FROM INDICATORS TO ACTION STRATEGIES
Part 5 – Rethinking methods
CHAPTER 1 – METHODS OF CONDUCTING ELABORATIVE PROCESSES AT LOCAL LEVEL
CHAPTER 2 – METHODS OF CONDUCTING ELABORATIVE PROCESSES RELATING TO THE OTHER LEVELS
CHAPTER 3 – METHODS OF CONDUCTING THE LAST FOUR PHASES OF ELABORATIVE PROCESSES
Fonte: Council of Europe