in Change Agents, System 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. Please make a list, and know they are opportunities.

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

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 spoken, become music, fine art, or any of a thousand mediums of choice. There it is; communication tools are ubiquitous. Therefore, how do you find people who seek, receive, and impart information and ideas in a helpful way other than selling 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, path, or place you can name or 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. Nevertheless, 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 ensure sound, temperature, and color do not assault and that gatherings are not disrupted. People can exchange views, trade ideas, or data and negotiate over intent, desired results, and expectations. Change occurs 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.

The Architect

Kevin Lynch, in “A Theory of Good City Form” (1960), describes five elements for “legibility” in the urban or suburban experience of a place. Can it be adapted to the placelessness of digital communications.  We organize our ‘mental maps’ into elements that yield our relationship to physical sites. The way Lynch broke it down remains widely regarded as a good 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 valid, yet it is without the power to implement. However, it is now possible to achieve in the virtual space, and anyone can do it because everyone can have a role in implementation.

The Work Ratio

When inputs predict desired output, efficiency becomes measurable. Still, the former loses value unless an impartial application of what is right occurs. Lynch describes this problem by emphasizing a second primary criterion — efficiency with justice. The spatial/or architectural bar described below asks, “what is the cost of anything else we would choose to value in achieving five goals: vitality, sense, fit, access, and control?  

As for the performance dimensions of a human settlement, the five criteria map onto ecological parameters for community survival. They may be employed in designing a place. It is reasonable to assert that the organism tends to fail when actions destroy a plant or animal’s performance dimensions. If plants and animals have value only in their use to people, then any non-conversion of land must consider these values lost. The value of new houses or shopping centers is more significant. If plants and animals have an intrinsic value, then some extra-market systems must arise to embrace new values. Here is Lynch’s idea for the creators of urban environments.

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. The remaining two 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 their failures.

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 in Lynch’s analysis.

The design and development of online participation platforms are developing rapidly. 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 links 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 central components will be found. A joining of assets linked to pathways passes 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. These places have experiences, familiar sights, signs, and monuments 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 capacity to expose similar experiences in comparable periods with the different perceptions of others.

In 1975, I became friends with an artist pictured here. He was very fond of his “riders” and drew them everywhere. We raised some money to paint murals. He painted because he wanted people to see and protect cyclists. He painted murals because he wished others to paint, but his bicycle drawings helped to change the NYC transit policy. In 1977, American Youth Hostels organized the five borough bike tour, and by 2020, 30,000 people annually participated in a city tour to raise funds to support cycling. It allowed people to see their city in a new way.

In the 90s, architects and planners in a Pittsburg, PA, design center also wanted to raise funds and encourage people to recognize one another with a bike route. A project known as Pedal Pittsburgh (now PedalPGH) was born, and it was verified to be a robust exchange that crossed through the 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 insufficient. It was a demonstration of 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 2020, a new power was discovered. Each rider’s experience and the purpose of riding could be shared in a virtual space to 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 an early 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 sudden assembly 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 various small multifunctional vehicles that could enrich the quality of life for all residents.

February 2005, in the heat of debate, 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 to justify their mass arrests, just before the Republican National Convention came to NYC.

To help define critical mass and make it be an ever-evolving, spontaneous unique experience for the individuals who participated in a bike ride 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 malfunction, it is essential to produce demonstrations that motivate the change agencies. Kevin Lynch’s observations 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 engaged to create the leverage for a reasonable change in public transportation policy.

Using passageways, conduits, and tubes to link one destination to another is a helpful metaphor. The places where you live, learn, and work as a network of physical destinations now include a new address. The old addresses have boundaries with transitions that express differences in experience. Within these destinations are four main components—a joining of assets linked to 1) pathways that pass through, 2) edges to form 3) nodes as place. A constituency then functions to create 4) districts. Familiar sights, signs, and monuments function as 5) landmarks within these places.

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. You are part of a host network with known physical boundaries and edges with location addressing at home and work. The difference is that an interface identification protocol (IPv4 and IPv6) increases communication access to every place worldwide. 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 different observation of edge transformations. Connecting these two worlds with comparable pathways of participation requires a better understanding. Using a common language will help define the involvement choices that can improve control of 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 can be altered and monitored—knowingly or unknowingly, the sale of user and usage statistics 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 physical experiences. Both are directly affected by the quality of the place they speak. One is easily manipulated. The first edge defines this choice of use and 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, how Kevin Lynch adds nodes, districts, and landmarks to the urban arc of life is helpful. Imagine the city on the right representing physical locations and constituencies interested in improving a specific quality of life, such as using a human-powered vehicle for every trip with a substantial guarantee of safety. Now imagine the power to connect with every person in that limited environment that wants the same thing.

With an IP address, the questions are. 1) what nodes am I a part of? 2) 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 helps understand 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 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 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 an IP means as a place.

Adding Lynch’s exploration of the urban form helps comprehend a 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 offering thousands of new types of engagement you can acquire by walking. An entirely new and rapidly developing fifteen-minute city business model aims to know the fine grain of who you are in a region the size of Boston or the Northeast.

Finally, a set of attractions and landmarks form continuously. Examples are a specific data stream that meets a need or a planned set of experiences that signify achievements. Regardless of the order, we should learn to perceive and understand the digital environment, like walking or cycling. 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 decision point, but is it yours?

Multiple sizes and locations across these landscapes of common interest discovery have many successes and failures. The example in this post briefly explains why you will find bicycle lanes on city streets throughout the country. The more difficult explorations for discovery are explored in posts on system change. The resurgence of the movement for civil rights or the termination of racism has complex sets of partial success and qualified failure. The definition of a growing list of malfunctions exhibits the rise of urgency in 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 well-known times when a group is 1) manipulated, 2) called an exhibit, or 3) treated as tokens. 


Those who administer an exit poll during an election, 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. Nothing is 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 people will sense a lack of fairness when crossed. 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, a political cause, 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 through judgment about a problem to make it pre-extant. For example, you are 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 from offering a more attractive prescription by saying, “let’s find some things we are interested in reading.” A similar example, “you are within the law, but you are immoral,” differs considerably from working to see challenges within a larger ethical framework.

Token Information

Engaging in complex community development issues such as human rights, sustainability, basic safety, housing, and education affects many people differently 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 with 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 future actions. Participation is based on the information given and little else. It 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 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 social change performance. It is painful to recognize differing perceptions of the same experience in a time and place as valid. How people interpret an incident may be correct or incorrect, but always perceived as accurate. There are many reasons for this, but two are 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. but other 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 walking 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, offices for work, arenas for games, etc. 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 most, we freely allow ourselves to be part of the three most common forms of civic participation described above. The danger is not knowing the multiple types available. For example, the quality of a physical location experience is a product of active design drawn from consultation into form. The rows of chairs in a school or the line of pews in a church is a design asking people to listen and accept membership. The new pathways described below are unnerving. Participants lack clear, concrete objectives as the process is ambiguous. Luckily, ambiguity has the potential to be highly creative.

The “Winding”

The forms described above have one overall acronym – DAD (decide, announce, and defend). It is produced in fun urban terms such as a LULU (aka, a locally undesirable land use). 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. When manipulated, shown for a cause, or asked to follow without the opportunity to question, the mind-shaping type has visceral, potentially violent consequences.

Testing participants’ breaking and balance skills occur with a nonlinear injection of possibilities. The desire for speed is disrupted but can be replaced with a similar emotion – discovering how to absorb different preferences and perceptions in the wind of everyday experiences. Help in assessing risk/reward conditions builds energy people can share. A review and exploration of five winding experiences suggest new engagement strategies. The first presents 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 control structures.

Assigned Consultation

Someone or some group has gotten people’s attention, 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, or even when stuck in traffic on a commute. When something new is presented, the “projects” tend to define and solve problems simultaneously – elect a representative and raise money for the scouts. When this expectation fills a meeting place, ask and answer these accountability questions.

  1. Who decided to seek public involvement, and how is it planned?
  2. How is the involvement of 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:

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 freely borne membership that “self-assigns” the consultation process. 

  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?”

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 consultation gives the go-ahead to poke and prod it just enough to discover the actions available to kill the potential for apathy.

Composed Consultation

Those who have control will make turns on or off the road. They have selected 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 the ability to exhibit the intelligence inherent to a collective enterprise. Top among them is to have a name for the various collaborations discovered to the time used.

For example, consider forming a “scouting team” to look further up the road to report views as a “research group” asked to examine the past by interviewing participants in a similar effort about their satisfaction and achievements. Thousands of examples of “never doubt” groups are possible. The operation composed consultation is to sustain interest in discovering new resources applicable to all and, in doing so, broaden and composition of recent 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, deciding how to get there becomes possible – to choose a means. The power to maneuver, bargain, and negotiate also becomes distributable. In many ways, a good partnership plays in a 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, protect, assist, 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 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 many benchmarks, portals, and passageways exist. 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, and reading dominate the game’s concept.

It isn’t the absence of the desire to be helpful 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 opens up exhilarating world views when answers to these questions are easy. 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 he 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 “taken” as if it were power itself. On the other hand, effective leadership is given and taken in delegating and sharing decisions. This form is undoubtedly 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 even guarantee the capacity to make decisions for others. 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 valuable image of a “mountaintop” on the winding road regarding decision-making. Everyone can get there by seeing it, but not all simultaneously or for the same reasons. The fact that it exists and 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 with 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 drawbacks, like potholes, then 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 applying physical skills 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 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 data flow describes an organization’s capacity to achieve goals. Structured training experiences illustrate the importance of these types of events in real-life experiences.

Controlling “We Decide”

Control systems also recognize that organizations can establish definitive delegation power. As a result, control systems can have considerable influence over human conduct. Ask anyone with experience with New York City’s alternate side of the street parking regulations. While this example involves financial penalties for nonparticipation, active control systems are those fully embraced by community-wide value systems. After all, the New Yorker is experiencing 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 accurate 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, seeking participation as an end in itself is invalid. 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.


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 exchanging knowledge and experience in 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 severe 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 delegating decision-making. The basis of managerial power every community can obtain in managing complex activities leads to a planned course of events. These games are intuitive within the community circle or geography of the neighborhood.

  1. Research on issues is done 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 investigate the underlying causes of the pain selected so the members can address causes and solutions within a series of standard geographic reference points.

On the other hand, when specialists evaluate a point 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, problem-solving establishes a self-empowerment process that encourages the provision and selection of self-enabling tools. In examining the availability and facility of 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.


Two essays that influenced this post are well-known Sherry R. Arnstein’s 1969 article in the AIP Journal, 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, adding 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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