This is the next post in a series of guest contributions where we invite colleagues to share their own expertise from a broad range of specialities. The following post is written by Malvina Artheau a coach on collaborative practices who is heavily involved in Living Lab science communication.
Collaborative economy, science with and for society, inclusive societies, do it together… it seems that having everyone participate in everything is becoming the new trend to advertise your project, product, service or company.
I’m no sociologist; nevertheless I feel this wave of participation is spreading into different areas: business, culture, science, policy etc. Most of the time I see it as a positive reaction to what we can see as our world dysfunctions; inclusion is something that we crave for. But at other times I also see the downside of it, the pressure to include participation can lead to the loss of any critical sense about it want to look cool or open minded? Let’s go for participation! Participation is slowly becoming the new green. Post-its and Lego certainly are happy about it as it seems to have either extended their market or opened new ones since their products are largely used during the creativity sessions which are an inevitable step of any participatory process.
But is participation really useful? Is it always appropriate? Does it fulfill a real purpose?
Participatory processes can take place at different scales, whether with all staff of an organization, or more largely involving all stakeholders in a project (including “end-users”). In both cases the processes and methods are more or less the same. The declared ambition is to produce things (services, products, ideas etc.) that best fit the needs and expectations of people involved and foster engagement. Unfortunately those ambitions often stay to the state of mere “lip service” as the two following examples show:
I have been facilitating or attending quite a few creativity sessions, whether to generate innovative (another word there would be lot to discuss about) and serious game scenarios, to identify new potentials for a digital application, to define a project or to imagine the contents of a science exhibition. In those sessions a diverse range of participants, including the concerned audience of the product or service, is put together in a room, dutifully following a creativity method in small groups. The session is often thought to bring out new, unforeseeable and astonishing ideas. Well, from my experience, (breaking news!) it doesn’t. Within a couple of hours, a group of participants, no matter how skilled and engaged they are, won’t do better than what the people who organized such a workshop would have.
Within an organization, the management team wants to engage all the staff in a new product, or new workings processes. A large consultation is organized for people to express their ideas about it, and give them ownership of whatever will happen. But then, contingency are, that none of those ideas can be put into action. The result as far as trust and engagement of staff is concerned can be a lot worse than just launching the product or setting the new processes.
With those two examples the point I want to make is that involving people is not by definition, a « good » or « efficient » thing to do. It’s all about identifying which goals participation can help achieve and those it cannot.
Engaging in a project involving participation from all stakeholders requires to:
- Be honest with you participants on what they will participate into and what they will not and on to what extent their participation will be turned into something real.
- Be ready to accept ideas which come out of a consensus, even if you don’t like them.
- Know the limits of participation, especially in large groups and short time periods.
- Don’t expect participation to solve all your problems.
Once those points are settled, developing ideas or solving problems with all people concerned can be a rich and fulfilling experience. Chances are you will learn a lot, about others and about yourself, and you might even change some of your perspectives.
This post was written by Malvina Artheau, who, as coach on collaborative practices, focuses (among other things) on the Living Lab approach within cultural organizations as well as helping to set Responsible Research and Innovation into practice.
To find out how you can contribute your expertise, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
 green as for « green washing » : greenwashing is a form of spin in which marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwashing