What does community participation look like?

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Photo from Institute for Circumpolar Heath Research

I was invited to present a topic of my choice at The Institute for Circumpolar Health Research [ICHR] during their “Rooftop Talks” in Yellowknife. The Talks are meant to “have casual conversation on northern health and wellness research topics and to build on relationships for a northern health research network”. My guess was that a discussion about community participation might be a good fit for the folks from northern health services.

During my work with the Toronto Drop-in Network, I spent a lot of time working with this idea of community participation. At that time, I supported homeless community service centres (called drop-ins) in Toronto. Drop-ins were often trying to offer their participants as much control and ownership over the social services that were provided to them. With this strategy, community centres’ services were much more closely aligned the needs and vision of drop-in participants.

The process of participation was also very helpful to the lives of drop-in participants too. For example, having someone listen to your needs, feel heard and seeing a change can be especially meaningful for people who are street-involved.  For example, Drop-in participants would offer feedback to the workers and funders (through town halls or member advisory committees) or be paid to take training and later sit on hiring committees and boards. If you’re interested what it looks like in practice, check out these Toronto-based drop-ins who are major champions of this approach: Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, The Stop Community Food Centre, St. Christopher’s The Meeting Place and Sistering.

It is not only homeless services that could benefit from working towards increase participation. Instead, I believe that all social services have much to gain from considering how to meaningfully increase and support the participation levels of service users.

But what does this community participation actually look like? How can service users or community members offer feedback that is actually taken seriously and fully implemented? What participation tools are available? There’s certainly a lot to explore.

I decided to offer an adapted presentation of Sherry Arnstein’s “Citizenship Ladder”. I explained the different participation levels and what would need to be considered while moving towards increased community participation in a social service system.

It was a fun talk on the shore of Great Slave Lake. I even managed to sneak in a mini public consultation exercise  concerning the start time of future events.

Arnstein certainly isn’t the only person with a participation model. There are may different kinds of “ladders”, “spectrums” and “continuums” out there. Here are 2 useful resources I highly recommend if you are looking to dig deeper into what community participation looks like.

Public Participation

  • The Citizens Handbook offers all sorts of well-tested tools for groups, organizations and communities to use. Here’s a brief look at some of their tools.

citizenshandbook

Train the Trainer … DEBUNKED!

This past spring, I helped an organization develop their strategy to promote their program in neighbourhoods across Toronto. Broadly, this method of promoting an idea or tool to a group of people outside of a familiar group is called community outreach.

My guess is that if you’re using the term “community outreach”, you’re likely trying to make the world better in some way. If not, you would be looking into marketing or Propaganda 101. So you probably want those involved to be those who are connected to the social issue you are hoping to tackle. Who are these people so connected to this issue and how to do you reach them? There’s not an easy answer – especially if you’re stuck in the belief that what works best for you will work best for someone else.

Even with years of experience, I still made plenty of mistakes when developing the community outreach strategy. Over the next month, I will outline a few strategies that always tempt me during community outreach; strategies that seem exciting, but rarely work on their own. Let me be clear and say each strategy has the potential to be invaluable, but they are all based on certain assumptions that need a closer examination. I’d like to outline some of the pitfalls with each strategy, starting with…

Let’s train trainers!

The main idea behind the “Train the Trainer” model is that if one trainer could be used to teach 10 folks, then maybe if you trained 10 “regular” folks to be trainers themselves, and then they trained 10 folks themselves… well well … looks like you just did community outreach to 100 folks! YES!!! #WIN!

NO! This falls flat on 3 major assumptions:

People can organize people. 

Not so true. To have a steady social network, understanding of an area, time and skills to promote, budget and organize accessible regular space with food, as well as the ability to document and evaluate the event, is asking a lot of folks. The tough truth is that people are not robots, and they live wonderful and dynamic lives. To believe that all 10 folks you train will have the organizational or administrative capacity to replicate a short or lengthly community workshop, training or public meeting is unrealistic.

People can become trainers.

Maybe. Training folks is not easy. Your Train-the-Trainer certificate by itself will not guarantee success of what happens next. You must consider the folks the new trainers will be working with and how they will be training them. Consider, for example, the assumptions we often make about literacy and computer use. Is your whole curriculum written in english and only accessible online? How will your trainers support someone whose first language is different than their own? On top of that, what does working with a group of people actually look like? Upper level board room meetings can be straight-up nasty! How, too, will your new trainers support those who have a learning disability or have had traumatic experiences in classroom setting? Let’s be honest – at the very basic level of training capacity, it’s very hard for anyone to teach anything.

People have time.

Are your newly trained trainers being paid equitably to attend training and to do their own training? Are they given the resources to pay others to attend their meeting. They do? Fine. That’s great. But more realistically, you are likely hoping that the trainers who you are training are volunteers in some capacity, and are looking for other unpaid folks to take their training out of their sheer interest or stake in the issue. These folks, the unpaid trainers and those attending these workshops, do not have time.

Let me explain. I like to use the term time poverty from time to time (haha?). People are busy. People have children. People support people they care about. People are working long long terrible hours and live far away from you and the transit sucks and is expensive. Likely the “community” in community outreach that you are trying to connect with, is busy. If you do not provide supports and resources (transit, child care, accessible space, adequate honorarium, food) for the new trainers or to the communities they are expected to outreach to – folks will not show up.

***

Consider Train the Trainer model DEBUNKED! Next up, another classic tactic that is ripe for debunking … “Let’s find volunteers!”

Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination)

As a young, able, hetero, Canadian, white guy – it’s easy to forget about privilege. To me, it is a living exercise to keep challenging myself to see how my privilege oppresses others – and do something about it now. Here’s a great checklist that I continue to use and reflect upon:

1. Practice noticing who’s in the room at meetings – how many men, how many women, how many white people, how many people of color, is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people’s class backgrounds. Don’t assume to know people, but also work at being more aware.

2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak.

2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how long they speak.

3. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn and/or thinking about what you’ll say next.

4. Practice going to meetings focused on listening and learning; go to some meetings and do not speak at all.

5a. Count how many times you put ideas out to the group.

5b. Count how many times you support other people’s ideas for the group.

6. Practice supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get more in-depth, before you decide to support the idea or not.

7a. Think about whose work and contribution to the group gets recognized.

7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it more often.

8. Practice asking more people what they think about meetings, ideas, actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. This creates an internal organizing culture that is alienating for most people. Developing respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex and difficult, but absolutely critical – and liberating.

9. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to asking other people “what needs to be done”.

10. Think about and struggle with the saying, “you will be needed in the movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement”.

11. Struggle with and work with the model of group leadership that says that the responsibility of leaders is to help develop more leaders, and think about what this means to you.

12. Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex and there are many contradictions. Remember that the path we travel is guided by love, dignity and respect – even when it is bumpy and difficult to navigate.

13. This list is not limited to white guys, nor is it intended to reduce all white guys into one category. This list is intended to disrupt patterns of domination which hurt our movement and hurt each other. White guys have a lot of work to do, but it is the kind of work that makes life worth living.

14. Day-to-day patterns of domination are the glue that maintain systems of domination. The struggle against capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and the state, is also the struggle towards collective liberation.

15. No one is free until all of us are free.

From the Colours of Resistance webpage

via RANT Collective : Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination) and Chris Crass

Folk High Schools

When I started my Masters in Adult Education and Community Development, I had unique interest which would take me deep into the 150 year history of alternative education and its connection to Canadian adult education system as well as a study trip to Sweden to study Folk High Schools.

So what are folk high schools exactly? Here’s a short piece of my work (with super power house edits by Ashleigh Dalton) which was recently published in the Global Citizen Digest and can be viewed here all cleaned up and ready to go. Here is the text with a few extra photos of my own.

 

Grundtvig’s Yippies: Sweden’s innovative folk high school creates space for global learners

“The best way to learn about YIP would be to live it yourself”, Reinoud Meijer, the Program Coordinator for the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP) suggested to me over Skype. Within a week of that brief conversation across the Atlantic Ocean, I arrived in the small Swedish village of Ytterjärna to experience firsthand what Meijer was talking about. In Ytterjärna resided the centre of YIP, an innovative education model with an undaunted aim to change the world.  My task of the trip: to uncover what appeared to be the creative blend of a gap-year program, social entrepreneurship training and global education.

Folk High Schools

YIP is based on the Scandinavian community college model called folk high schools. They emerged from the vision of Danish Bishop N. F. S. Grundtvig as a humanistic model of adult education that would counter what he saw as a problematic contemporary education system. Grundtvig referred to existing Scandinavian educational institutions of early nineteenth century as “schools for death”, claiming that they taught dead subjects, dead language and “deadened the students who were forced to endure them” (Davis, 1971, p. 27).  In contrast to ‘standard’ post-secondary institutions like universities and colleges, folk high schools require no exams, offer no diplomas, and express an explicit commitment to dialogue and student-centred curriculum (Toivianen, 1995; Paulston, 1980).  Instead, folk high schools are small post-secondary residential learning centres that emphasize creating a sense of community and captivating learners into engaging with civil society. The result of Grundtvig’s efforts and persistence for a ‘School for Life’ was the opening of the first folk high school in 1844 in Denmark.

Folk high schools are immensely popular in Scandinavia, attended by approximately one hundred thousand students each year (Bagley & Rust, 2009). Currently, more than three hundred folk high schools exist in Scandinavia, each with their own governing body and funding (ibid). Most notably, folk high schools do not charge participants tuition or costs that are not directly related to their living and material costs. Folk high schools are typically promoted to youth aged 18 to 25 years of age as a transitional year for personal development before focusing on a professional or academic career (Toivianen, 1995).  Courses vary widely, focusing on such curriculum as the arts, outdoor leadership, religious studies and organic agriculture (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). All folk high schools have a focus on advancing democratic and social participation (ibid).

 

Conversations of Yippies about community development

Anthroposophical Beginning

Although Grundtvig’s folk high schools influenced adaptations in Sweden, it was Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophy that eventually inspired the emergence of YIP. Anthroposophy, translated as human wisdom, has led to Waldorf education, as well as holistic practices in farming, medicine and business. Following a decade of meetings, conferences and conversations by Waldorf youth and educators, the initial concept for a post-secondary international service-training program was formed. While its formation is interlinked with the lives of its anthroposophically-educated organizing staff, YIP is committed to exploring multiple perspectives and forces that shape society including Steiner’s philosophy and its applications.

The core curriculum of YIP is based on social entrepreneurship principles, understanding current global issues, and as the name Youth Initiative Program implies, encouraging initiative amongst its participants. Each week, students or “yippies” as they affectionately call themselves, are immersed in a different field of focus taught by international experts and innovators in the field. Previous facilitators to YIP have included former presidential candidate of the Phillipines Nicanor Perlas, and founding publisher of Utne Magazine Eric Utne. Weekly topics have ranged from the most recent trends in social media innovation, facilitation processes, sustainable building design and political economics to traditional practices of storytelling, portrait painting and theatre. Meijer likes to say that although YIP is a yearlong program, “it takes a lifetime to digest”.

YIP offers a full day intensive residential program for youth aged 18 to 25. Situated 55 kilometres south of Stockholm, Sweden, YIP sits on the expansive Järna Fjord which connects to the Baltic Sea. Since beginning in August 2008, YIP has graduated over 75 participants from 20 different countries. The 2010/11 semester will produce its third graduating class, with 40 participants from 18 countries, including three Canadians.

The Living Word

A critical focus of YIP, and folk high schools in general, is what Grundtvig termed the “Living Word”, the process of learning within the present moment. According to Lawson (2000), the Living Word describes the use of dialogue between the teacher and learner where the teachings remain alive within the teacher and are based in the learners’ reality and interests. The method of teaching is often centred on workshops that emphasize group work. This process allows teachers to support and guide students’ individual learning processes (Toivianen, 1995). Contrary to a lecture style of teaching, dialogue helps both the learner and teacher to name their current reality and come to common understandings, and encourages social transformation and equality (Freire, 1970).  Bolivian participant Joaquin Zambrana explained the value of youth learning for themselves: “(YIP Staff) give tools, knowledge, things you can use to build what you want to built, but it is always up to you”.

A frequent practice of folk high schools is its focus on inner narrative. Bugge (1983) suggests Grundtvig aimed to “make people conscious of what they are”, “what they have to do”, and “what it all means” (Bugge, 1983, p. 19). Similarly, folk high school learners are often at a time of transition and are offered space to discover what is true to themselves and their place in society (Toivianen, 1995). In Scandinavia, not surprisingly, most applicants are recent public school graduates seeking to grow individually, socially and academically (“Folkehogskole,” 2011). YIP puts a special emphasis on supporting each participant’s personal journey with an organizing staff specialized in counseling and autobiographical work. Moreover, the most recent research testifies that folk high school students report that their experience helped them to “dare to be themselves” (Knut & Solhaug, 2010, p.80) in a way that supports reflection, personal maturation, confidence building and self worth (ibid).

At YIP – biodynamic farms surround the campus

International Youth Initiative Program

When I arrived into the YIP, I found the yippies picking apples, building fences and renovating walls. Their first month involved hands-on tasks that focused on community engagement and asset-based community development (ABCD). Led by urban researcher Kiara Nagel from the United States and designer of cooperative games for social change Edgard Gouveia Júnior from Brazil, yippies split into groups to make the dreams of the local residents a reality. Using the metaphorical “glass half full” approach of ABCD, yippies attempted to use the skills and knowledge held within themselves and the local community, rather than depending on outside financial support. For example, one resident of Ytterjärna wanted a public space for local sheep to graze. Discovering local community bureaucracy, finding resources, negotiating with neighbours and learning the methods of woodwork – the yippies were introduced to a microcosm of the process required for social change. Learning through engagement with local community issues and creating space for reflection with dynamic facilitators makes up what I would call YIP’s Living Word.

It is often noted by researchers of Grundtvig and folk high schools that learners do not manage to find their identity alone, but in relation to others (Knut & Solhaug, 2010). Residential schooling, that is, schools that have a live-in element for learners and teachers, provides an important contribution to learning about a sense of community. For example, there are certain social behaviours that most formal educational institutions do not or cannot teach. These include how to live independently, cook, share gratitude and problem solve within a group. YIP offers a residential style of learning where lessons on how to live together are often as important as the course work itself. Similar to the aim of other folk high schools, YIP students are guided to seek democratic solutions to residential challenges in ways that encourage tolerance and understanding. They are also required to work on the maintenance and upkeep of the residence, which could include cleaning, gardening and providing meals. In this sense, there is no separation between school and life. Democratic principles learned in a classroom have real implications for delegating chores, resolving conflicts and building consensus between residents. Although seemingly insignificant, even the act of deliberating which late-night movie to watch together was itself a practice in learning participatory democracy.

A unique feature of YIP is its one month international internship. After six months of studying weekly themes, organizing initiatives within Ytterjärna and researching individual projects, yippies travel abroad individually or in groups (without a supervisor) to work with a socially and environmentally sustainable project or organization anywhere in the world. Past internships have been to eco-villages in Nepal, a children’s school in Kenya and a media non-profit organization in USA. However, YIP internships differ from traditional international volunteer programs in its aim to deepen comprehension of global challenges and experience how others work towards solutions, rather than provide answers or cures. Following the completion of YIP, some yippie graduates return to their placements to help develop projects further. This year a group of seven yippies will travel to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to work with a youth centre which continues to be organized by a YIP alumni.

I left a chilly and more beautiful Ytterjärna after a couple weeks feeling as I had almost become a real yippie. The early morning scramble to class, the late night conversations by the fire and the utmost joy in discovering myself lost reminded me of my summer camp days long gone. However, this program is not for careless children, but is determined to tackle the injustices of the world. Through its commitment to sustainability, dialogue, community building, and individual growth, while immersing in one’s relationship and obligations to others, YIP offers a model for adult education that could extend to global citizenship. Indeed, it may not be long until Grundtvig’s yippies show Canadians how to create the school for life for themselves. In fact, it already has begun.

For more information about The International Youth Initiative Program – visit www.yip.se

Nico Koenig, M.Ed Adult Education and Community Development, works with civic education programs for youth and continues to explore innovative learning spaces, sustainable development, social media and food. He can be found cycling in Toronto and online at www.findthesky.com

Ashleigh Dalton is a graduate student in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She works in research and policy around poverty reduction. Ashleigh‘s interests include citizenship, community engagement and civic education

Bibliography

Bagley S. & Rust V (2009). Community college models. Springer Verlag. Part IV. 279-298

Bugge, K.E. (1999). Canada and grundtvig. Jorn Thomsen Offset, Kolding: Kroghs Forlag A/S og.

Davis, D. (1971). Model for a humanistic education: the danish folk highschool. Columbus, OH: Chales E. Merrill .

Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Folkehogskole. (2011, January 31). Retrieved from http://www.folkehogskole.no/index.php?page_id=44

Lawson, M. (2000). “N. F. S. GRUNDTVIG” Prospects:the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. XXIII, no. 3/4, 1993, 613–23.

Knut, A., Solhaug, T.(2010, December 10). “Som en sang i sinnet – som et eneste sollyst minne”. Elevers utbytte av folkehøsgskolen Retrieved from http://www.ntnu.no/plu/forskning/prosjekter/folkehogskole

Paulston, R. G. (1980). Other Dreams, Other Schools: Folk Colleges in Social and Ethnic Movements. University of Pittsburgh Press

Toivianen, T. (1995). “A Comparative Study of Nordic Residential Folk High Schools and the Highlander Folk School.” Convergence 28.1 (1995): 5-24.


A moose charging towards me in Jarna!