What is participation?

From the co-creation workshop organized by Co-Creating Cultures at the CCCB

I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Photo of the prototype of Hypermedia City realized during the workshop

Foto taken by CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna, 2011

I will not go into how the co-creation workshop was carried out by Co-Creating Cultures at the CCCB because few participants have done it very well here and here (only available in spanish). I would like to talk about how I experienced it as a repeat participant (I participated in the first workshop last year), and what I have learnt from it.

Like Ramón Sanguesa said during the workshop: participation is an attitude. It is the starting point I believe, the fundamental of a participative project. This is what I have learnt from this workshop. There have been discrepancies on this matter during the workshop as we do not all agree on what participation is and what it involves. That is why we can feel, sometimes, that our work is not so productive, or gives the impression that it did not fully answer to the apprenticeship expectations.

I believe the reason why we sometimes feel that we have not learnt enough about participation, that we have not explored further enough the problematic, is due to this attitude we have acquired in school (sitting on benches receiving knowledge): to receive, being passive. Designing forms of participation is based precisely on active participation, that is to give, which is a fundamental element. It is with this state of mind that we will make the most of a workshop like this, that it will answer to our expectations. We will then stay away from the marketing aspect, that companies adopt, giving value, using 2.0 technologies, to the concepts of social currency, reputation, recommendation or networking; which, in my opinion, does not help (but the contrary) to develop a participative attitude.

I noticed during this workshop that my concept of participation must be clarifyed and my attitude improved. I chose the Hypermedia City project. Little after started working on it, I realized it was not a participative project (as I understand participation). This is a participant of my group who made this comment and made me realize it. I did not even realized it on my own! How come? First of all, I believe it is due to few words in the project description, like “networked”, “platform”, “innovation”, “social media”, “interactive technologies”, “web 2.0”, which made me think it was a very participative project, because these words refer to or are usually used when we talk about participation. But taking into account how the project was developed so far: the objective was to bring together on a same platform varius creative agents involved in research and innovation of different cities in the world, where their content on social media was shown according to an algorythm which aims to stimulate the competition between cities. In my opinion, there is no participation because actors of the project do not have an common objective to build something together.

I chose as well to be in the group of the project author because I thought I would understand better his proposal and participate “better”. In the end, it did not help to “hypermodify” the project as the workshop instigated. Trying to understand, through the author vision, the objective of the project, the value proposition and how it was generated, our group remained too close to the author original thinking, without giving another turn to the project, and consequently enrich it.

One difficult exercise is to discuss on a project when you have not developped it, i.e. you know little about it and you do not know your teamates. That is why it is mandatory to endorse this participative attitude, i.e. putting yourself into the skin of the final user to understand his needs and bring relevant modifications to the project. If one wanted to make the most of the workshop, its intensive format allowed to develop an immediate participative attitude, the one we usually adopt in real life, when we are sure something good will come out, or when we gain acknowledgement.

In a participative project, all the voices must be heard. Each of the participant has the responsibility: to give his opinion without imposing it, to listen (here I am referring to an active listening: understanding what the teamate wants to say, making his opinion ours); to make the voices of members who are shy or least interested in the project come out inviting them to give their opinions; and to mantain an elevated concentration without entering and leaving the debate when we feel like.

We experienced some difficulties during the debate because we did not have the same definitions of what participation is. For instance, the author of the project and myself did not agree on the word co-creation: he defended the idea that Hypermedia City is a co-creative project because actors of the platform build a virtual city together just by being on the same platform. I called his attention telling him that the actors did not have a common objective to create something together, that is why we could not talk, in my opinion, about co-creation. To avoid these discrepancies, at A+C+C CoCreació, when we started analyzing the first study cases on participation, Irene saw the need to write a post From interaction to Co-Creation that explained the different levels of participation, which we used as a starting point for our investigation. We have just finished our glossary (the first version, that will soon be published on our blog) based on the study cases we analyzed, to make sure we talk about the same thing when discussing the concepts we investigate.

Ramón and Irene, when we started to work in groups, explained the different steps of the work they asked and gave us a timeframe for each phase. In my group, we did not respect these timeframes (being absorbed by the discussion) because we did not come to make a clear decision, made by consensus, for each phase. We closed the steps because we had to. Maybe that is the reason why we had the feeling of something unachived. Maybe because it was only a workshop and not real life, we kept discussing (and it surely has been the most interesting part of the workshop for me) and we did not oblige ourselves to fulfill the instructions of the workshop. For my part, I admit I did not take into account the timeframes when discussing with the others. I do not think it was positive for the project, neither for the group in general.

I will conclude saying that this workshop allowed me to identify the starting point of participation: the attitude.

EMMANUELLE BRESSON

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