in Change Agents, People, Places, Politics and Plans, Urban Change

Placeless Participation

Defining a New Public Engagement Process for Placeless Participation

Where are the physical places for public decision-making that assure the right to a personal view and the power to express them freely on all matters? If you can answer that question and make a list, know they are opportunities. If you don’t, find out where are they now. They will be needed.

The places to create a system change are disappearing into globalized digital fragments. You know the old range; it moves outwardly, from the privacy of the bedroom to places where you cannot scream words like fire, and to larger venues where rights of passage allow you to be heard and there are places where you can yell as loud as possible and no one would hear you, whether it is a canyon’s echo or in the din of a crowd.

System change requires these places. If a small group like “a band” learning to play in a garage eventually fills a stadium with thousands of ticket buyers, that is a system change. It is organized by a defined set of communication tools and the talent to create music that people would purchase. Communications may be written as a narrative or clearly spoken, become music, fine art, or any of a thousand mediums of choice. There it is, communication tools are ubiquitous. Therefore the question, how do you find people who seek, receive, and impart information and ideas in a useful way other than the sale of tickets? You know this as an experience of membership, from classroom to university, congress member to Congress, but what if you want to get that metaphorical band together or back from where it was lost? Or what if there is no right of passage, no recognized path, or place you can name, even locate? What can you do?

What if the revolution came, and you missed it, lost the poster, didn’t pay attention, or only listened to minds that hate? The communication tools for placeless participation are new, and there is a struggle to use them well. The new devices offer an evasion of experience that absorbs the placeless like a sponge.

The quality of space is its climate. Care is taken to assure sound, temperature, color, do not assault, and gatherings are not disrupted. People can exchange views, trade ideas, or data, as well as negotiate over intent, desired results, and expectations. Change occurs in the act of face to face, in a place structure for participation, but it is not a system change. That requires an open exchange between the known and unknown.

Kevin Lynch in “A Theory of Good City Form” (1960) describes five elements for “legibility” in the urban or suburban experience of a place that can be adapted to the placeness of digital communications.  We organize our ‘mental maps’ into elements that yield our physical relationship to places.  The way Lynch broke it down is widely regarded as a useful intellectual and graphic notation tool for communicating the abstractions of urban places and structures. 

In” Image of the City,” Lynch isolates several categories of form-generation growing out of urban experience to measure growth and development: vitality, sense, fit, access, control, and two significant criteria – efficiency and justice.   Despite a generation of ‘interpreters’ every element of Lynch’s analysis remains true, yet it without the power to implement. It is now possible to achieve in the virtual space, and anyone can do it because everyone can have a role in implementation.

When inputs predict desired outputs efficiency becomes measurable, but unless an impartial application of conformity to what is right, the former loses value. Lynch points out two major-criteria (efficiency and justice) are themselves aspects of each spatial criterion described below. In each case, one must ask, “what is the cost in terms of anything else we would choose to value, in achieving a degree of vitality, sense, fit, access, and control?  

As for performance dimensions of a human settlement, the five criteria map onto ecological parameters for community survival; that is, they may be employed in the design of an urban place, an arboretum, or even an aquarium.  It is ecologically reasonable to assert that if we destroy a plant or animal’s performance dimensions, we tend to destroy the organism.  That is, if plants and animals have value only in their use to people, then any non-conversion of land must consider these values as lost.  That is, the value of new houses or shopping centers is greater than the opportunity forgone. If plants and animals do have an intrinsic value, then some extra-market systems must arise to embrace new values. Here is an idea that has been with the creators of urban environments such as Lynch for decades, and yet it has not developed.

Vitality is the experience of energy and strength. The intellect is developed with the injection of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. The relationships established in a place based on vitality and sense produce an understanding of a fit, conditioned by access and control. These remaining two elements suggest access in a variety of layers or portals in which the rights of entry are established. The overall effect of vitality, sense, fit, and access reveals a quality of control, or the capacity to assure the recurrence of events, products, or processes. The purpose of understanding these elements is to recognize and expose its failures.

With these seven elements well-considered, the creation of a place in which people can change the rules of access and challenge control is possible. The difficulty of entering the placeless environments offered through digital communications is realizing and interpreting these elements without the physical functions that offer proof in Lynch’s urban analysis. The design and development of participation platforms online are developing rapidly and as in every virtual environment, nothing is impossible. First a brief description of the physical aspects that facilitate civic participation.

The use of passageways, conduits, and tubes link one destination to the next. These objectives will have a boundary or frame confirmed by a transition and experience of difference. Within these destinations, three main components will be found. A joining of assets linked to pathways pass through edges to form nodes, that may become districts or regions defined by a constituency placing value on its uses. Each may have a range of functions such as a university campus, or a shopping district. Within these places, there are experiences, familiar sights, signs, monuments that function as markers.

Wilfred M. Thomas, Artist

Participation in public affairs and friendly discourse is nonlinear when it is within the limits of a few lives, but its content tends to fold into the layers of a more extensive cultural process involving many lives. These creative cultures shape a person’s individual capacity to expose similar experiences in comparable periods with the different perceptions of others.

Back in 1975, I became friends with an artist, pictured here, and we raised some money to paint murals. He was very fond of his “riders” and drew them everywhere. He painted them because he wanted people to see and protect them. It would not be until the turn of the century that a far more powerful communication tool would be used to make a change. In 1977, American Youth Hostels with help from Citibank organized the five borough bike tour, and now put over 30,000 people on a city tour to raise funds to support cycling. It allowed people to see their city in a new way. In the 90s, I worked with architect’s and planners as community advocates called design centers. The Pittsburg, PA design center also wanted to raise some funds and get it people to recognize one another with a bike route. A project known as Pedal Pittsburgh (now PedalPGH) was born and it proved to be a powerful exchange that crossed through old race and ethnic lines and people developed a new and joyful view of the steel city. Closing the streets for a bike tour once or twice a year is not enough in fact, it was a problem.

Places for serving a specific interest such as city-cycling vary, but as the following example will illustrate Pittsburg, New York City, and cities all over the world have thousands of cyclists who are in danger. They need a right to the road among automobiles. From the seventies through 2000 a new power was discovered. Each rider’s personal experience and the purpose of riding could be shared in a virtual space to discover and expose one truth – a bike trip in NYC (or any city) should not be a life and broken bones experience or a flirt with death.

At this point (2004) a highly motivated communication effort steadily built an ability to air this grievance with many voices via “text” and a blog. When challenged for their power by the police authority, it became necessary to sustain “critical mass” demonstrations, until negotiations were re-established more seriously and a system change occurred that saved lives, and safely replaced automobiles for many trips. It opened up new pathways, albeit mostly etched into the road with paint, but it also began to mark the way and the place for a variety of small multifunctional vehicles that could enrich the quality of life for all residents

February 2005, in the heat of battle, when the New York Police Department was bearing down on our once peaceful critical mass. Enormous precedence was being set. The police were trying to define what critical mass was and fit it into some logical explanation complete with leaders and organizations. This was happening, most likely to justify their actions of mass arrests five months earlier, just before the Republican National Convention came to NYC. I wanted to help define critical mass myself, or rather keep it undefined and make it be an ever-evolving, spontaneous unique experience for the individuals who participated. I wanted a way to personalize the experience through my own words and to connect with the amazing fact that this bike ride was happening on the same day in over 300 cities around the world.

Michael Green

Before examining the structure of system changes as facilitated by attacking a malfuntion, it essential to produce demonstrations that motivate the agencies of change. I like Kevin Lynch’s observations, but they do not provide a pathway to civic participation, only the context. The acquisition of new power, even in this “safe biking” example, requires a better understanding of why “the police” had to be used to create the leverage for a reasonable change in public transportation policy.

The use of passageways, conduits, tubes serves to link one destination to another is a useful metaphor. The places where you live, learn, and work as a network of physical destinations now includes a new address.  The old addresses have boundaries with transitions that express differences of experience. Within these destinations, there are four main components—a joining of assets linked to 1) pathways that pass through 2) edges to form 3) nodes. A constituency placing value on a range of uses and range of functions to create 4) districts. Within these places, there are familiar sights, signs, monuments that function as 5) landmarks.

Agency of Change

The new address is a numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol (IP) for communication. Your home/work and IP address serve similar functions. At home and work, you are part of a host network with known physical boundaries and edges with location addressing. The difference is an interface identification protocol (IPv4 and IPv6) increases communication access to every place in the world. The path is for lightspeed travel, and the edge, as described by Kevin Lynch, is gone. Well almost.

The edges that Lynch spoke of would mark a noticeable change in the environment as defined by a coastline or river or more subtly in transitions from a shack in the woods, to lonely single-family buildings, to brownstone rowhouses and tall, skyscraping multiple-use structures. The edges formed by IP addresses, on the other hand, build more keenly on economic circumstances and preferences in communication styles with the documentation of preferences and purposes.

Estimates of nearly two billion websites include one person or family network to sites that serve millions of people daily, such as Amazon, Wikipedia, or Google. Also, some three billion people use the internet through several social media accounts. In this sense, participation along known paths and observed edges in a physical world have local launch pads in a physical place and a community that requires the observation of edge transformations differently. Connect these two worlds with comparable pathways of participation require a better understanding. The use of a common language will help to define the choices of involvement that can lead to better controls over both worlds.

The viewpoint for this observation of participation begins with two choices. A website owned by a person or company is an authoritative launchpad that controls the subject matter. The services of a social media account are considerable, but the pages are not yours. The content is removable by others, and it can be altered and monitored—the sale of user and usage statistics knowingly or unknowingly is routine. A personal or business website is the focal point for participation in other mediums, but it controls its content. Both choices will reflect expressions based on the physical experiences . Both are directly affected the quality of a place from which they speak. One is easily manipulated The first edge defines this choice of use, and it determines how the human relationship aspects of involvement in a community develop.

You live in the world on the left, but from a communications point of view you understand that world the way Lynch produced “images” of the city on the right. The online communications medium of the internet is not as complicated as the pathways and edges that define movements involving home, family, work, neighbors, friendships, and life in search of social and economic well-being. Nevertheless, the way Kevin Lynch adds nodes, districts, and landmarks to the urban arc of a life is super useful. Imagine the city on the right represent physical locations and constituencies with an interest in improving a specific quality of life such as being able to use a human powered vehicle for every trip with substantial guarantee of safety. Now imagine the power to connect with every person in that limited environment that wants the same thing.

When I understand my IP address, the questions are in what nodes am I apart, what kind of districts do they form, and what are the landmarks (attractions) of each. Using these three terms can reduce the jargon that describes the technical function of your phone or other computers.

Search “IP packet,” and 17 million locations deliver in half a second because nodes on the internet are composed of servers.

In 1960, when Lynch wrote his first book, a node was a concentration of some characteristic at the strategic focal point into which a participant enters. In Lynch’s case, those points were identified and defined using a series of Boston streets (image above). Thus, Lynch demonstrates how the psychology of cognitive mapping is useful in understanding the city in the context of regional planning, urban architecture, and design.

Edward Tolman (1948) wrote “Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men” to describe navigating an environment that uses spatial knowledge to make choices. In the early 70s, I traveled to Kentucky by car on a research project with a friend, a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and Bryant, an African-American. After arriving, we had a choice made for us when told that sensitivity levels were a little “touchy” and to avoid a stretch of state highway. I assumed that “sensitivity” was White, but I learned Bryant thought it was Black weeks later. We laughed.

Between 1970 and 2020, it is the lightspeed that changes everything. Traveling with an IP address has made cognitive mapping choices very different. We create mental images of a place based on our personal experience or as given to us by others. At any moment, IP travel offers a series of narratives, videos, training programs, and product offers as choices. However, there are, as yet, very few resources to further your understanding of what your IP means.

Adding Lynch’s knowledge of the urban form is useful in understanding your unique IP self or social media membership. In the lightspeed world, distinguishing between an IP that identifies you in a dense local district produces attractions that offer thousands of new types of engagement that you can acquire by walking. An entirely new and rapidly developing business model aims to know the fine grain of who you are in the context of a region the size of Boston or the Northeast, but do you know who you are in that world concerning the one you walk in?

Finally, a set of landmarks to which you are attracted form continuously. Examples are a specific data stream that meets a need or a planned set of experiences designed to build benchmarks that signify achievements. Regardless of the order provided, we should learn to perceive and understand the digital environment in the same way as the one we walk. Both pathways have the quality of a physical object, which gives it a high probability of evoking a larger image in which one path becomes vital because it is a point of decision, but is it yours?

Multiple sizes and locations across these landscapes of common interest discovery have many successes and failures. The example given in this post is a brief explanation why you will find bicycle lanes on city streets throughout country. The more difficult explorations for discovery are explored in posts on system change. The resurgance of the movement for civil rights or the termination of racism have complex sets of partial success and qualified failure. The definition of a growing list of malfunctions exhibit the rise of urgency regarding the course of human history

Three spatial forms describe how the engagement of participants leaves little room for reciprocity in teaching and learning about community change.  These are the places in which a group is 1) manipulated, 2) called an exhibit, or 3) treated as tokens, are well known. 

Manipulation

Those who administer an exit poll during an election or a consumer market or political opinion survey expect benefits. The product of their analysis of the data gathered provides an idea of what the immediate future holds. Identifying an unmet demand in the market for goods or services or taking a sample of a decision already made by a large group predicts outcomes.

We are all familiar with election night exit polls. There is nothing grievously wrong with these forms of participation, but the opportunity for redress on the part of those used for these purposes is limited. It is participation without balance. The manipulation occurs in highly localized places such as a shopping district or a street outside a voting place. Surveys or other activities that offer little understanding of purpose are acceptable to people. They enjoy sharing their thoughts in person, on the phone, or online and do not expect the knowledge gained by others is shared with them at some future date. However, there is a line, and when crossed, people will sense a lack of fairness. Whether they step or stumble across this line, numerous acts of betrayal are possible. Whether deliberate or unintentional, this is a significant responsibility in the practice of a community’s participation.

Decorative Prescription

Perhaps you engage people (especially students) in community projects or a political cause, or a demonstration with a few placards for a march, or an event such as an awards ceremony.  Here, the quality of participation is a lesson in how appropriate actions acquire benefits. Creating involvement in addressing a problem with public displays of concern, such as a brief march, will involve people. People are happy to purchase a ribbon and decorate themselves to symbolize identification with a cause. Still, they lack effectiveness beyond a show of power, an exhibition of solidarity, or the appearance of consensus. 

Participation occurs in the form of judgment about a problem to make it pre-extant. For example, raising money or distributing position leaflets.  Also, to get a child’s participation by saying, “you are a poor reader because you just don’t read.” is a judgment different offering a more attractive prescription by saying, “let’s find some things we are interested in reading. About?” A similar example saying, “you are within the law, but you are immoral,” is considerably different from working hard to see challenges within a larger ethical framework. Producing acts of uniformity for a cause works. The downside is that participation in socially diverse settings weakens when there are various issues to define and resolve.

Token Information

Becoming engrossed in complex community development issues such as human rights, sustainability, basic safety, housing, and education affects many people in very different ways in all urban landscapes. Presenting options that deal with concerns in these settings that direct residents to their rights and responsibilities can become “tokens.” Individual leaders may understand an issue well enough to stand up and say, “We have the answer, follow us,” and do so with all the persuasive powers at their command. While this might be true, it precludes participation and the opportunity for others to engage the problem directly and define it for themselves. We may be quite willing to follow, but this weakens the chance to experience negotiation power regarding immediate and possibly, future actions. Participation based on the information given and little else inhibits the development of new ideas and data.

Participation as a “done deal” is reasonable; its weakness is the myth of the “now or never” demand. Its strength is in the implied rage built into “no justice, no peace” because it is not a threat. It is a prediction. What must be recognized is how the hopelessness that wells up when “Black Lives Matter” is countered with the “all lives” statement. The latter is a statement of willing ignorance or a poor understanding of history. The experience of no change whether, day-to-day or by generation, invokes the requirement for improvements in the public’s understanding of social change. It is painful to recognize differing perceptions of the same experience in a time and place as having validity. How people interpret an experience may be correct or incorrect but always considered to be correct. There are many reasons for this, but there are two I like best. First, it is well proven that we fill in visual data (color, images, light, faces) in the rush or stream of events before us, and second, doubting the correctness of our senses is considered a step toward madness. It is not merely sustaining the discipline to look both ways.

Newer forms of active participation produce leadership structures willing to give up predetermined conclusions and “re-enter” the problem from the beginning with participants in a continuous flow.  Integral to the growth of democratic systems is knowing how other highly informed participants can broaden their perception of what is needed. What is the use of someone “knowing the way” when the capacity to follow will not grow or modify in the process?

It is impossible to say a better way is possible when none can be exhibited with validity. Rage and hopelessness are the sisters of no change. This is where advanced communication systems focused on local engagement and participation can bring a form of experience that can effectively eliminate the despondency of our times.

Toward More Effective Participation

At this point, it is appropriate to bring up “mobilization.” Being organized can come from the willing participation in surveys without ever knowing the results, participating as an exhibit of an issue, or being treated as a token for a cause in a march. It is OK. We don’t mind answering questions or walk in a protest carrying a sign or wearing a ribbon. We are a society based on assembly. We share classrooms to learn, churches for prayer and offices for work, arenas for games, and so on. The reason for this is apparent; society has valuable things to trade and information to deliver. 

Some gatherings are regimeoriginated, others purely voluntary. As institutions, they may help us choose what we need to know. We participate in protecting what we have. But, on the other hand, when we have nothing or the appearance of nothing compared to others, participation seems to have a very high cost and little evidence of immediate, exchangeable value. Why?

For the most part, we freely allow ourselves to be part of the three most common forms of civic participation described above.  The danger of it is not knowing that your knowledge is among the multiple types available. For example, the quality of a physical location experience is a product of active design and drawn from an original consultation form. The rows of chairs in a school or line of pews in a church is a design asking people to listen and accept membership. At some point, people were asked to create an assembly space. The same for the first desk or table, wheel, The new pathways described below are unnerving. As the process begins, participants are without clear, concrete objectives and a social distancing world. It is, by its nature, ambiguous.  Luckily, these periods of ambiguity have the potential to be the most highly creative.

The “Winding”

Overall, the forms described above have one overall acronym – DAD (decide, announce, and defend), and it produces in fun urban terms such as a LULU (aka, a locally undesirable land uses).  One nationally active community organizing coalition describes the forms of participation described above as the BOHICA (“bo-hee-ca”) problem.  Or bend over, here it comes again,” suggesting these forms of assistance might as well be a swift kick in the pants. Another described it as a beautiful path to achieve “maximum feasible misunderstanding” to play with the phrase “maximum feasible citizen participation” regarding impacts. 

Unlike a metaphor, the winding is literal and applicable as an alternative.  A winding can refer to rivers and roads, even clockmaking. The mind-shaping type when being manipulated, shown for a cause, or asked to follow without the opportunity to question has viseral, potentially violent consequenses.

Testing the breaking and balance skills of participants occurs with a nonlinear injection of possibilities. The desire for speed is disrupted, but it can be replaced a similar emotion – discovering how to absorb different preferences and perceptions in the wind of common experiences. Help in assessing risk/reward conditions builds energy people can share. A review and exploration of five winding experiences suggest new engagement strategies. Briefly, the first present two forms of consultation – assigned and composed, that outline resource packaging for participant-initiated projects. The next three describe member command structures by delegation systems, then data sharing methods, and the third introduces various sets of control structures.

Assigned Consultation

Someone or some group has gotten the attention of people and they assemble. A list of possible “projects” are offered that define and solve problems. A talk begins and the people question the plans. We confront the quality of participation every day. We understand and accept most of them, whether getting signatures for a candidate, selling cookies for the scouts, even when stuck in traffic on a communte. When something new is presented the “projects” tend to define and solve problems in the same breath – elect a representative, raise money for the scouts. When this kind of expectation fills a meeting place, ask, and answer these questions regarding accountability.

  1. Who made the decision to seek public involvement and how is it planned?
  2. How is the involvement people determined?
  3. What measures are used to evaluate contributions to the program and projects proposed?

The discussion is guided by asking process questions such as:

  1. When will the experience, thoughts, and energy of people shape or alter these projects? 
  2. How will this help resolve the problems we have just described?
  3. How will this help us to accept, reject, reframe, and define the opportunities offered?”

With the knowledge that accountability and a clear process will remain in constant review, the work required to establish active project-to-project participation rests when the imagined events are activated. Reciprocal levels may be hard to find, but they often represent a form of freely borne membership that “self-assigns” the consultation process. 

Without a doubt, an emotional coil forms to represent the impossibilities. Some will call it the camel’s nose, others – the elephant. Whatever people want to call it, the rise of several small groups will begin to examine all sides of the thing. Encouraging self-assignment through a consultation process gives the go-ahead to poke and prod it just enough to discover the actions available to kill the potential for apathy.

Say a group of trial lawyers want to change the behavior of district attorneys in arraignment proceedings. A group forms, and they get the DAD experience. A series of lawsuits or formal complaints report a failure in fulfilling rights guaranteed to citizens. In these matters, the court does not enhance the quality of life nor judge its inadequacy. 

Composed Consultation

Those who have control will make turns on or off the road.  They have managed the selection of a whole series of possible projects as part of a planning-to-act process. It helps to determine mutual accord and the consent needed to move on down the road.

Completing a fair summary of newly discovered information from recent events reveals the probability of moving too quickly.  The process stops because of sweeping generalizations, placation, or other feelings that slide a crisis. The lack of human resources, skill, and cash, you name it. To help control the speed of participation, I recommend participant leaders develop the means to introduce the following consultations:

  1. Members generate the program plan in the selection of project activities.  (list, prioritize)
  2. Resolve mistrust, or confusion arising from the powerholders’ release of power.
  3. Encourage access to independent technical resources to those implementing projects.
  4. Compose groups implementing projects to define potential programs.
  5. Explore the issues and problems raised with adequate tools.  (testing, skill assessments)
  6. Ask participants to delegate the responsibility in summation to a representative body.

Summation involves proof of intensely undistracted listening. It requires a reading of non-verbal languages, and above all, the ability to exhibit the intelligence inherent in a collective enterprise. Top among them is to have a name for the variety of collaborations discovered to the time used.

For example, consider the formation of a “scouting team” asked to look further up the road to report views, or a “research group” asked to examine the past by interviewing participants in a similar effort about their satisfaction and achievements. Thousands of examples “never doubt” groups are possible. The operation composed consultation is to sustain interest in the discovery of new resources useful to all, and in doing so broaden and composition of new conferences. The prevailing summary statement should prove that “no one is as smart as all of us.”

Participant-Initiated Partnerships 

With a few places to go to achieve identified ends, it becomes possible to decide how to get there – to choose a means. The power to maneuver, bargain, and negotiate also becomes distributable. A good partnership in many ways is playing in low-risk trial and error effort. The game can be solemn among adults, but once skill development is well exercised – it’s usually called fun.

The idea of a partnership contains many actions. They form to provide advice and consent opportunities or to protect and assist and reject or abandon an effort. For example, once a participatory project begins with young people, the partnership should be intelligent and skilled enough not to interfere with or over-direct the play as if they were surrogates. The very roots of our learning abilities begin with games followed by reflection with adults on their meaning.  The reverse is equally possible.

Adults tend to respond poorly to the initiatives of the young because it involves that transition from “I decide” to “you choose.” These changes shape the “rites of passage,” for which there are many benchmarks, portals, and passageways. One of the poorest of these “portals” is as follows: “as a child, you play. When you become an adult, you work.”  Non-interactive media such as TV, film, reading tend to dominate the concept of the game.

It isn’t the absence of the desire to be useful in community affairs for both young and old. Instead, it is more likely to lack leadership in forming participant-initiated partnerships that demand interactive forms of learning and experience. Here are some questions to use in building and supporting these organizations:

  1. Do the projects serve the interests and needs of individuals in small groups?
  2. Are these various designs recognized as part of a whole?
  3. Are quantified goals and objectives written about these projects?
  4. Is there a feeling of strategic accomplishment in meeting goals and objectives?
  5. Have issues of policy and priority been discussed?
  6. Are sufficient resources available to accomplish the projects envisioned?
  7. What is the evaluation practice of projects undertaken as part of the plan?

The winding road metaphor begins to open up exhilarating views of the world when answers to these questions come with ease.  If unanswered, the participants do not have a vision of the future and do not know where they are going.  The phrase, “if you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there” in my experience was restated best by Yogi Berra, when told us to be careful, “if we don’t know where we are going because we might not get there.”

Planning what to do has been outlined. Participant initiatives reveal an ability to undertake decision-making and assume responsibility. Exposing this as an enhanced condition unfolds practical limits and prescribed periods. Decision-making power organizes participants into groups given individually selected but mutual learning needs or interests.

Leadership is often a thing “taken,” as if it were, in itself, power.  On the other hand, effective leadership is something given and taken in the process of delegating and sharing decisions.  Without a doubt, this form is more complicated and often painful in its seemingly sluggish pace.  The heart of knowledge is experience and reflection with other people.  As the “winding road” speed will vary with every individual or group, we recognize how awareness (cognition) occurs at different rates.

Delegated and Shared Decisions

Delegation systems acknowledge that no one person or group has absolute control. We face degrees of delegation to ourselves (to-do lists) that include, even guarantee capacity to make decisions for others to do. We also learn to negotiate the conditions that allow “outsiders” to change the list if the resources exist to respond to a delegation and delegate.

There is a useful image of a “mountaintop” on the winding road regarding decision-making. Everyone can get there in the sense of seeing it, but not all simultaneously or for the same reasons.  The fact that it exists, that it is there, establishes the means for a continuing relationship, consistently defined between task groups to get us all there in one or more of its many forms.

The capacity to distribute resources produces a trading and bartering environment if the intent is to achieve mutual benefits. Many participant perspectives involving a series of reasonably well-implemented projects create individuals and groups who have the power to contract for resource exchanges from the “outside” or “inside.”  The participants “know what they need to know” and control the process of gaining this information.  The dialogue moves from “just tell us what to do, or know” to decisions about the forms of mutual assistance available to discover what needs to be done and learned.

At this point, there are also drawbacks, more like potholes than boulders, when a group stumbles on a task or project. The esprit de corps climate can foster win-lose confrontations instead of win-win conclusions. The result will be participants who are or feel “left out” of the process.  Competitive sport is an excellent example of this drawback. It has a dominant win-lose component of real value. Still, the often-neglected win-win conclusion is a broadly dedicated group of participants engaged in applying physical skill and necessary teamwork.  Remaining focused on these win-win objectives is essential.

All organizations run from the top down, but those closest to the source of information give power from the bottom if there is a way to bubble up. The freedom of those at the top can cause forgetfulness about the importance of stopping to take a look around. Delegating from the top to all participants is a power function to respond to demand from the bottom. This top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top flow of data describes an organization’s capacity to achieve goals.  Structured training experiences are available to illustrate the importance of these types of events in real-life experiences.

Controlling “We Decide”

Control systems also recognize that organizations can establish absolute delegation power.  Just ask anyone who has experience with New York City’s alternate side of the street parking regulations. As a result, control systems can have considerable influence over human conduct.   While this example involves financial penalties for nonparticipation, active control systems are those fully embraced by community-wide value systems.  After all, what the New Yorker is experiencing is alternate-side, street-cleaning as a commonly held community value. 

A proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a community value, it implies modest differentiation between parenthood and the responsibilities of the community. Too often, we forget this includes the child.  The exclusion of children as full participants is frequently due to the research styles of social, psychological, and even anthropological sciences limiting participation to the first three described above. For example, written “permission” for the involvement of parents in various events (being interviewed, field trips) is rarely asked of a child. 

Under what conditions are people of any age allowed to say “no” or asked to “give permission,“ even as a child?  There is a fundamental difference between going through the routine demands of participation and having real management control over outcomes.  This point occurs in the path of life but recurs continually in the development of a community.  Ultimately, a person or a community can control what it can make recur.  For this reason, it is invalid to seek participation as an end in itself.  More than any other force, involvement in the design of community activities is driven by the full and repetitive disclosure of values affirmed and expressed consistently and openly.

Summary

There have been eight parts of participation presented here.  The first three describe the weakest and most conciliatory forms on the road to active service.  They seek to “educate” or “treat” participants but leave little room for the exchange of knowledge and experience in the process of managing change.  I used a winding road analogy to introduce activities that support tradeoffs and negotiation to define intent, the predictability of results, and the clarity of mutual benefits.  Our sense of fairness is a consequence of participation in civic affairs; however, the more serious issue is that “hope” does not produce a future. A plan does. 

The most efficient form of assistance engages task and project groups with experiences and resources to establish the capacity for the delegation of decision-making. The basis of managerial power every community can obtain in managing the complex array of activities leads to a planned course of events.  Within the community circle or geography of the neighborhood, these games are intuitive.

  1. Research on issues is by the people concerned socially or economically by degree.
  2. Research is a commitment to the individuals and their control of the analysis.
  3. Research begins when a concrete problem is identified; and
  4. We proceed by investigating the underlying causes of the problem selected so that the members can go about addressing causes and solutions themselves within a series of standard geographic reference points.

On the other hand, when specialists evaluate an issue or problem, they carry additional influence and responsibility for the structure and direction of subsequent actions. For example, it is possible to alter people’s experiences without their advanced knowledge or insight regarding the nature of the change.  More positively, the act of problem-solving itself establishes a self-empowerment process that encourages the provision and selection of self-enabling tools.  In examining the availability and facility with these devices, the potential for a wrong is measured.

The motivation derived from defining and investigating problems is powerful. Detailed environmental analysis or local history produces scientific and humanistic questions. These issues engage geographic reference points that function from the local to the global and back again. Participation processes can embrace all people’s validity of their personal views, experience, knowledge, and foresight. Investing in the value of citizenship in this manner creates a condition where anyone at any moment can have critical insight essential to success.

References:

Two essays that influenced this post are well known by Sherry R. Arnstein’s 1969 article in the AIP Journal, entitled A Ladder of Citizen Participation. The second is by Roger A. Hart, in 1992, Innocenti Essays No. 4, “Children’s Participation – From tokenism to citizenship,” published by Unicef – United Nations Children’s Fund that added his interpretation. Finally, the addition of Kevin Lynch’s viewpoint of the urban structure in A Theory of Good City Form and Image of the City helped give the language of place to the participation process.

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