I've just caught up with an article by Nick Wilding which elegantly connects three key themes important in participation: developing more participatory organisations; power-holders letting go of control; and adopting an ecological worldview that sees "a radical inter-connectedness between all things". In Slow down... go further he warns that for professionals faced with polices for engaging with the public, "participation could easily become the next thing to do on a check-list in a busy day in a rushed week".
Participation is about much more than a tick-box. It's about a radical challenge to a culture that isn't working at local, regional, national and planetary scales. A culture that has valued profits over people and planet, and limitless consumption over sustainable relationships between people and places. The emerging, participatory, ecological culture requires that we find the time for community and conviviality. Practically, that means getting together with our friends and colleagues who we can trust to learn together about both doing participation and being participative. It means having the confidence to tell each other stories that matter to us in our job-roles as well as people concerned for people and the planet. This needs some practice. And practice needs good, reflective time and a good, reflective space.
Nick then expands on the three themes, and concludes:
This article has been about creating a participatory culture of learning by doing where failures are understood as the best teachers. This is a culture of celebrating successes, of projects that emerge organically as participants slowly build the confidence to accomplish small things first, and then be surprised at how the seedlings flourish over months … years … decades. This is a long-term culture, a culture with its feet and hands in the soil - and its heart and head working together to nurture ecological and community regeneration. This is a culture where the expert is ‘on tap, not on top’. Most of all, this is a culture of (as the Buddhists might say) ‘beginner’s mind’ – that is to say, a culture of learning and inquiry where it’s not the answers that matter but the quality and depth of the questions that we learn to ask of our own practice.
Nick Wilding is a culture change consultant and action research facilitator, and a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology. The article was originally was published in Scottish Natural Heritage's annual publication, 'The Participant'.