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Introducing ‘Participation Now: meet the practitioners’

Participation Now is a new Open University web platform that hosts an accessible and expanding collection of over 120 of the most creative examples of contemporary public participation and engagement initiatives. Meet 'the Practitioners'.

Mounting awareness of the limitations of top-down forms of public organisation is generating an explosion of interest in public participation.

Whether organised by government officials, social movement activists, labour movement organisers, commercial or media actors, artists or educational institutions, our project encourages the exploration of a growing constellation of emerging practice worldwide.

As researchers we are building an analysis of what the political stakes are in this field. We are exploring the variety of roles that publics are being given; how initiatives relate to pre-existing organisations and resource forms of public self-organisation.

We are looking at the varied ways organisers are setting out to represent publics and whether new formations of ‘the public’ may be emerging as a consequence of these activities. We are setting out to map relationships between these wildly varied and widely distributed initiatives and the specific struggles, difficulties, opportunities and triumphs that practitioners and publics are experiencing and realising in different domains.

But Participation Now is also a collective project. The platform is designed to support dialogue, networking and mutual learning, not just among researchers, but also among the increasing numbers of practitioners and citizens who are now interested and involved – some of whom have already contributed short articles to the editorial partnership between Participation Now and openDemocracy.

To build this debate, this week we publish a series of interviews that examine these developments from the perspective of those who are responsible for organising them – we call them The Practitioners.

Introducing this week’s Practitioners:

We began on Monday with an interview with the 38 Degrees team, who are fusing technological and community organising approaches with the aim of helping them be ever more reactive and participative. 

On Tuesday we shifted perspectives to talk to the founders of Complaints Choir, who use the medium of song to structure empowering collective experiences of local participation. You also heard about UK Uncut, who devise creative and participative forms of public action too, but do so with an entirely different intention.

‘Run by the community’ after being ‘rescued by Occupy’, on Wednesday it was the turn of Friern Barnet Community Library. Shifting register again, on Thursday we talk to Deirdre Lee from Puzzled by Policy, a European Commission-funded project to engage citizens in policy making. And from New Zealand, hear of a new prototype for making collaborative decisions online that is also bringing down the barriers to participation in the democratic process.

Next up on Friday is Mikey Weinkove from The People Speak, who reveals a rather different approach to ‘citizen engagement’, which sees itself as facilitating fun as much as supporting an empowering experience of democratic debate. And our guest feature is completed on Friday by an interview with Alison Lamb at Newcastle City Council about UDecide, a participatory budgeting scheme that has been running since 2006. 

Together, this week's projects provide insight, not just into the diverse aims of contemporary public participation initiatives but also regarding the values, traditions and technologies that underpin them; the efficacy of different organisational forms; and the political and cultural negotiations that so involve their organisers.

For all those now working to creatively anticipate futures that are both more public and more participative, we hope you will find these interviews as interesting as we do.


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