For years I have described myself as a specialist in participatory processes, naively assuming that people will understand what the work entails and why it is important.
Now that “participatory” has become a global buzz word, however, I feel the need to be more specific about what this multi-faceted concept means to me and the groups I serve.
Participatory processes are:
- The opposite of passive observation or merely being asked to listen while others speak.
- Enjoyable, but not frivolous.
- Intrinsic to the overall design of a meeting, event or project.
- Contribute directly to the outcome of the meeting, event or project.
- Foster a sense of inclusion, of being part of a larger whole.
Participatory processes are essential when:
- The complexity of the situation means that there is no single, correct solution.
- There are different points of view about the issue under consideration.
- Conflicts have already surfaced among the interested and/or affected parties.
- Collaboration is needed to design solutions that get implemented.
To be successful, participatory processes need:
- To take into consideration cultural differences and learning styles.
- To provide a variety of ways that people can participate.
- To be clear about the level impact of that the participants’ voice will have on the final decision.
- A firm commitment from the decision-makers to honor their promises to the participants.
- Careful planning and skilled facilitation.
Participatory processes can be used to:
- Collect and analyze information.
- Establish criteria for making a decision.
- Generate and evaluate options.
- Implement decisions.
- Monitor and evaluate the results of the actions taken.
I agree with the leadership expert and author, Ken Blanchard, when he says that “None of us is as smart as all of us.” For me, carefully designed participatory processes are a way to stimulate and harvest our collective intelligence. I would love to hear your thoughts!