Promising Catalog of Collaborative Participation Methods

I literally stumbled upon the website the other day while searching for information on a specific public participation process – Oregon’s Citizen Initiative Review process (as part of Accord’s post-Public Participation in a Polarized Era conference work).  I was surprised to not have encountered the site earlier since it appears to have quite an extensive number of collaborative process cases and methods, and is organized in a fairly user-friendly way to allow searches on keywords, people, etc.  True to the ‘wikipedia’ model that no doubt inspired its creation, site content is generated by users and is totally free.  All content is open-source and available for use under the Creative Commons License.   And its reach is global, with users and cases from every continent.

The site describes its origin and purpose in this statement: ‘Participedia harnesses the power of collaboration to respond to a recent global phenomenon: the rapid development of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world. We live in a world in which citizens of most countries are asking for greater involvement in collective decisions. Many governments, non-governmental organizations, and even some corporations are responding by experimenting with ways to increase public participation. Hundreds of thousands of participatory processes occur each year in almost every country in the world. They are addressing a wide variety of political and policy problems. And they often supplement and sometimes compete with more traditional forms of politics, such as representative democracy. Participedia responds to these developments by providing a low-cost, easy way for hundreds of researchers and practitioners from across the globe to catalogue and compare the performance of participatory political processes.’

A quick scan of the types of cases included on the site reveals a wide range, including urban planning, civic education, public policy development and review, and participatory budgeting.  Cases can also be searched by many different factors such as their intended purpose (e.g., raising public awareness, community building, making public decisions), their targeted participants (e.g., youth, low-income earners, etc.), and their type of interaction among participants (e.g., discussion, negotiation, etc.).

Likewise, the array of different methods is laid out systematically to allow for searches on specific factors, such as the degree of issue polarization, type of organizing entity, intended purpose, etc.

A few quick observations:

  • While the quantity and variety of cases and methods is extremely large, their consistency, level of detail, and relevance are sometimes spotty.  This is no doubt the outcome of a user-generated content platform that may not have rigorous editorial standards.  I found the description of the Citizen Initiative Review Process to be well-written, accurate, and sufficiently detailed for this type of online resource.  Likewise, other entries such as ‘deliberative polling’ are very complete and detailed, offering a fairly comprehensive array of important details and insights about the method.  On the other hand, participedia also includes fairly generic methods such as ‘mapping’ and ‘school councils’ that are fairly well known already, and the written entries for them are cursory.  Other methods on the site are vague and incompletely-written, like the entries for ‘liquid feedback’ and ‘bar camps.’
  • This site lacks information on some important and unique forms of collaborative decision-making, such as Joint Fact Finding.  Perhaps this is because the method is still somewhat new and/or not widely practiced, but undoubtedly the main reason is because no one has written a description for the process and submitted it to participedia yet (a worthy ‘rainy day’ project).
  • I checked for cases that took place in my home state of Hawaii and found only one – a bike plan public participation process from 2009.  Again, many interesting and worthy cases and methods from the 50th State could find their way onto the site, and perhaps benefit others around the world searching for new and more effective collaborative processes.

For those interested in exploring new types of cases and methods, or for checking on ones you’re familiar with already, I encourage you to visit the site.  Educators and practitioners alike can benefit and it offers an opportunity to contribute to the global knowledge-base of collaborative decision-making processes and other forms of public participation.

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