Question 1

What characterizes a culture of participation and learning in which citizens or residents participate?

  • It is creative. It is a process that facilitates creative efforts. This means that there is trust between participants, thus that they feel the process is respectful, permissive and warm. People dare to try; it feels like failure is allowed.
  • We also stress that, parallel to this feeling of freedom, there is a structure that enables the process to be democratic in some sense. There are rules of the game for how participants communicate and for how decisions are made. These rules are constantly discussed and reflected on.
  • The process is also transparent.  The agenda is known and discussed; it is clear who owns the process and developments can be monitored. Participants receive feedback on what is happening and on any decisions made. This, among other things, is what creates trust, not only among participants, but even between actors inside and outside the process.
  • Time is needed to achieve trust. Time at the outset to get to know each other. Time to discuss the agenda and rules of the game. Time at the end to respectfully present, to each other and the community, the results and knowledge generated during the process. Those with the right to allocate time have the most power, thus time is in this sense an instrument of power. Actors participate on unequal terms during meetings, in that civil servants are there on working time while residents are there in their free time.
  • Another concept we find essential to processes of participation and learning in which residents take part is difference. Here we mean difference in the sense that many different kinds of actors are involved (residents, civil servants, researchers, teachers, students, etc.) and in the sense of affiliation in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, class, income, housing type, place of residence, workplace, etc.
  • Perhaps our most important insight is that the process is reflective. There are thus elements of critical reflection, and it is important that all participants be considered bearers of knowledge in this reflective process.
  • The fact that it is reflective also implies that conflicts are considered opportunities for learning rather than as problems to be avoided. Thus, the process is organized in a way that makes these triggers visible and that makes learning from them easier. The goal of the process is not consensus.
  • Last but not least, a culture of participation and learning including residents is characterized by celebrations. Celebrating the different stages in the process is a vital part of establishing a creative environment where trust can develop. It can also be a way to give something back to those involved, which we feel is important for building trust.