Open Space Technology: when Participation is participated

30. January 2009 – 19:17 by Roberto Zarro

ParteciP.A. logo

Participation is a complex and multifaceted issue. Why not improving participation processes by means of a participatory practice? This has been the approach adopted during “Parteci P.A., the Meeting of the Participatory Democracy”, which took place form 21th to 23th of January, in Modena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. An Open Space Technology (OST) - a methodology for the design and organization of participatory events and meeting, through the direct contribution of the same participants – has been held as main method to debate about the future perspective of participatory policies.

Visions, hypothesis and concrete proposals about the possibility to improve participation processes has been shared among the participants. In an opening plenary session, more than one hundred people proposed the issues to deal during the rest of the day in specific workgroups, composed on a self-selection basis, and aiming to the production of thematic instant reports.

These are some of the topics which were debated: can nets, web 2.0 solutions and citizen journalism support and improve participatory experiences? How join together the tools of representative democracy with those of the so called “continue democracy”? How evaluate and measure the quality and the utility of participatory processes? How institutions can use communication and promotion strategies to ensure a better and larger participation? How involve difficult audiences like younger, immigrants and skeptics? How integrate participatory projects organized by different government degrees (from local scenarios till to European scale)? Is it possible to promote a new culture of participation within institutions, citizens and aggregated stakeholders, by means of specific educational programs? And – last but not least – should institutions promote only top down initiatives, must they at the contrary just facilitate bottom up experiences, or, better, could they shape hybrid formulas catching the best from both models? (The last issue will be discussed in the framework of an international meeting, promoted by Regione Emilia-Romagna with the support of Pep-Net, scheduled for the beginning of April in Bologna).

The results of every single discussion generated from these questions were finally summarized in a global meeting’s instant report, soon available (in Italian) here.

Much more details and insights about OST are available on Wikipedia and the other sites showed below; here we just list the principles and the rules characterizing this kind of meetings. Starting from the principles, they are:

  1. Whoever comes is the right people: this alerts the participants attending a session class as “right” simply because they care to attend;
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: this tells the attendees to pay attention to events of the moment, instead of worrying about what could possibly happen;
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time: this clarifies the lack of any given schedule or structure, and emphasizes creativity and innovation;
  4. When it’s over, it’s over: this encourages the participants not to waste time, but to move on to something else when the fruitful discussion ends.

If these are the main principles, the only rule to respect during OST meetings is the “Law of the Two Feet”: if at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go to some other place where you may learn and contribute. A behavior which has nothing to share with rudeness. On the contrary: this is the only way to respect everyone’s inclinations, and, first of all, who’s really interested in participating to single sessions.

Finally, here follow the two ways you can use your feet in OST contexts: stopping them in a place, either proposing ideas and contributes, or just listening and catching cues; or using them to move yourself: “like a butterfly”, who flies from a meeting to another collecting moments, thoughts and sensations; or like a bumblebee, sowing during the route what collected in every single stage which composes it.

External references:

Tags: , , , , ,

Post a Comment

The PEP-NET Blog uses the gravatar service to display your picture next to comments!