Living Campus Participatory Planning

Posted on March 30, 2008

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The LivingCampus is is both bottom up and top down. We have leadership from the top (our CEO Phil Ker is very supportive) and have a strong groundswell of support from our community. Incidentally, Phil makes a useful point that we need to move beyond an us (staff) and them (students) and others (oustide) and consider the polytechnic as a community: we’re educating with and through the community itself.

There is a clear topdown element. This is something we want to see happen. In a way this is not dissimilar to other public education programmes. William points to the Victory Gardens (US) and Dig for Victory (UK). Putting aside the negative imagery of the war metaphor, retelling the community benefits of the victory garden (greatest challenge society has faced etc) is a strong image. There’s also some great graphics (OK it’s propagandist, but those wartime designers knew what they were doing – women, spades not ships, carrots). They also did a great job of building community spirit through recognition of effort, competitions and events. (and while we’re avoiding real work, see the BBC interactive history of gardening).

Equally important, if not more so, is the bottom up aspect. We are heavily dependent on the energy, ideas, passion, knowledge and commitment of our community. To some extent we just have to let this happen – I’m a fan of the sow the seeds and get out of the way approach. But, we can and should establish structures to facilitate this. In our case, if someone wants to get involved, it must be very obvious how to do this; if they want a section of garden for themselves we need to make it clear how to do this; if someone is eating their lunch and feels like doing a bit of weeding then they must feel empowered to do this.

There are some things we need to sort out: some boundaries. The assumption that the LivingCampus is organic needs some thought and consultation (does this, for example, preclude a class wanting to explore hydroponics?). What happens if someone doesn’t look after their area? Whose responsibility is pest control (yes, I know – reconceptualise the definition of pest, it’s a hypothetical question).

We’re purposefully coming in halfway between the two extremes with Participatory Design (wiki) (or Planning: wikip). Oltheten describes participatory planning in the community development forestry sphere from :

participatory planning can be defined as joint actions of local people and project staff with the objective of formulating development plans and selecting the best available alternatives for their implementation. It should be a two-way learning process of dialogue, negotiation and decision-making between insiders and outsiders, concerning activities to be undertaken by the insiders and supported by the outsiders.

Oltheten describes four assumptions of participatory planning:

1. Local empowerment constitutes a basic condition for achieving sustainability. The first assumption, therefore, is that participatory approaches facilitate this process of local empowerment by creating opportunities for specific disadvantaged groups, such as women or the landless, to have access to external resources (training, credits) or to mobilize their own resources (organization, knowledge, skills). Further, particular and often conflicting interests of the parties involved, conflict management is frequently an important dimension of natural resource management.

2. Participatory planning approaches aim at strengthening the local capacity for sustainable development in terms of knowledge, skills and organization. One of the important ways to ensure that local capacity is improved is through the recognition of the appropriateness of local knowledge in designing project actions. The second assumption is that the use of participatory approaches will allow the integration of local knowledge systems into local project planning and implementation. The project then complements these knowledge systems with technical support for the development of appropriate technical menus. Therefore, in particular during the planning process, emphasis should put on the mutual assessment and mobilization of local knowledge and management systems.

3. Participation does not just mean getting the basic information out of the community in order to “target” the project interventions effectively. This approach is oriented towards establishing horizontal relationships between external agents (the project) and the local community, as equal partners who are willing to learn from each other. The third assumption is that participatory planning facilitates a two-way learning process between the local community and the project. This two-way learning process should facilitate the timely adjustment of project support services to changing local realities. Similarly, it should strengthen local capacity to identify and mobilize local as well as external resources needed to undertake sustained actions.

4. Development projects operate within an existing institutional framework, and participatory approaches should provide planners and decision-makers with the necessary information for providing more adequate enabling environments and institutional support. The extent to which local communities are given the conditions for, are capable of and are interested in developing more sustainable resource management systems will determine the level of local capacity for claiming higher quality external services. The institutional environment should respond to these bottom-up claims for more decentralized planning. The final assumption is that participatory planning will enhance political commitment and institutional support for local planning by building a common understanding between institutions and local groups.

Using this process oriented approach, we’re calling for anyone with an interest in the LivingCampus to participate in an “interactive participation” whereby people participate in joint design of the LivingCampus. Following Fien‘s advice we’re seeing a careful role for the professional and rather than starting with a blank piece of paper, we’re working out a process that comes in half way between the blank paper and the plan.

So exciting, watch this space… (and this LivingCampus wiki space where the collaborative designs will form).

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