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  • Mainly about engagement and collaboration using social media and events, with some asides on living in London. More about David Wilcox and also how the blog started.
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I almost never see what I'm about to say discussed, but I think that the single biggest barrier to a participative culture is social class.

The greatest examples of poor government can be traced to the contempt that the professional classes have for the vast majority of the public. 'Political correctness' has made it very difficult for the mass media to advance negative imagery of groups that transcend class (ethnic minorities, sexual preferences, gender). As a result, middle classes have overcome barriers to their own advancement, and professionals have felt more inclined to take the step towards these groups that need to be taken in order to involve them in participative processes.

But every time you open a newspaper or turn on the TV, you see the working class portrayed as feral, violent, stupid and feckless. In the same way that people who read the Daily Mail are more frightened of street crime and immigrants, the middle-class users of almost every other strand of the media have an exagerated fear and contempt of the bulk of the British public.

I suppose that there are structural reasons that could excuse the mass media for this behaviour, but until it becomes as hard to use the word 'chav' as it is to use the word 'coon', this is unlikely to change.

I'm not, by the way, advocating an extension of political correctness. The reason that the white working class are more tolerant of black people than any other section of society has nothing to do with the way that bossy interest groups have stopped using the 'N-word'.

Until the professional middle classes can educate themselves to include and value contributions from the working class, public spending with be wasted on the wrong priorities. The same will be true until the professionnal middle classes can start divising routes for working class people into the professional middle classes.

So, David, I think you're absolutely right about participation being a cultural issue.

I think you're right about the need for a cultural shift - I don't really think there's been one. The analogy I'd use is this - you can learn how to deploy participative methods, but if you don't understand and/or sympathise with the underlying ethos, it won't work, but you can still tick the box.

My experiences in the front line of working in participatory ways (on inter-ethnic conflicts, resident/ageny partnerships, eco-skirmishes) is that many of the agencies think they understand it, but they don't. Focus groups, Area Forums, surveys, etc. are not (in my book) participative ways of working - they create the illusion of choice, but these 'choices' are not negotiated and groups are often manipulated by the frame that they are set in. Going further along Arnstein's ladder past consultation either scares the pants of agencies (and many of those who work there) or they just don't get it and think it's like the native American pow-wow, quaint, but an inefficient waste of time.

As to the web 2 etc. It still ain't dialogic, so, for sure it makes some things possible, but I still can't see your face or the face of the people who read this; as you're all veiled by the web. Bring on VR.

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