You already know how each of the participation process steps look like. Now it’s time to put it into practice.
The rest of the course will serve as a guide for you to decide together with your school community on which of the three learning dimensions requires closer attention. This will help you decide which of the course pathways you take. Are you sure you should start with the architectural space? The virtual and technological one? Or maybe the social space should go first?
PARTICIPATION PROCESS TEAM
All members of the school community influence the way your school functions. All of them, meaning the management, teachers, educators, library staff and other employees, and – most importantly – students.
Create a team that consists of the representatives of the school’s stakeholders.
Download the file and fill in the names of the team members.
GOALS OF THE TEAM
You already have your team. Now you should determine the goal, i.e. what to change.
Together with your team, make a list of ten areas that most urgently need a change. Then decide on 1-3 of them that absolutely cannot wait.
Download the file and fill it in together with your team.
The next step is to choose the participation technique.
Look at the different participation techniques and share the material with your team. Together, decide which technique should be used to fulfill a particular goal.
This method allows to co-decide on a school budget, or part of it. The scale of such an action may vary: from participation in the managing of the whole school’s budget and its priorities, by creating a hierarchy of expenses, to separating a small part of the budget and putting it into the hands of the school community. You may want representatives of all groups: students, teachers, parents, and other school staff to take part in such an activity. The process consists of several stages. The first one is to familiarise the participants with all the disciplines the budget embraces (for example, by consulting experts). Then, through a voting mechanism, the participants prioritise and select those categories that are of the highest priority to them.
The variant consisting of setting aside a part of the school’s budget and planning how to spend it can be implemented following ideas from the execution of the participatory budget project in various Polish cities. Members of the school community can first submit their proposed changes and activity ideas together with a detailed plan and timetable of expenses, which is then consulted with experts and finally subjected to a vote.
In addition to the direct effect of such participatory activities, such initiatives make sure that the funds are used in a way that actually responds to community needs. The use of this technique has also other, long-term results. One of them is building trust towards the school authorities and a sense of transparency in decision-making.
This is a technique supporting activities related to introducing changes and designing spaces, e.g. revitalization, renovation, reorganisation of the school building. It consists of bringing together, in the same place, specialists in various fields (lawyers, architects, civil servants, artists, school community activists) and inviting them to take part in a shared, moderated conversation. As a result, specific recommendations and proposals regarding the consulted matter, for example a specific school area, are produced. In the initial phase of planning this method allows to gather practical ideas and present different points of view. It also encourages the representatives of different groups that have not worked together before, to join the discussion and cooperate.
Depending on the scale and the particular needs, a different number of people can participate in the process. Also, its duration may vary depending on the case. Nevertheless, it is always a cycle of thematic discussions. During the meetings, all participants have the opportunity to present their point of view and their needs, but also to get to know and understand the needs of others. They also work out recommendations for the project together.
Its aim is to debate a specific topic. This consists in gathering opinions and discussing them, while contributing to building relationships within the community. This technique is similar in nature to an informal meeting of 8-10 people. It consists of three stages: each participant expressing his own position, commenting on others’ positions and a conclusion in the form of an open discussion. It is not a method focused on getting to an agreement or making a decision. Rather, it is focused on dialogue which is the goal in itself.
During the discussion, the participants are to follow six basic principles:
- openness – listen and respect the points of view of others,
- acceptance – refrain from judging,
- curiosity – try to understand others’ motives rather than convince them you are right,
- discovery – question the given knowledge and seek for new information,
- sincerity – talk about what is important to you,
- brevity – speak honestly and wholeheartedly but be concise.
When organizing a Civic Café we must above all properly arrange a friendly space. The most important element will be the table at which all the participants of the meeting will sit down together. It is also good to have snacks and drinks.
It would be best to invite all the interested parties to Café meetings, and if it turns out that there are many participants, you should consider dividing them in smaller work-groups or turning the event into a series of meetings. The person responsible for the Civic Café (it might be a teacher or a student) starts the meeting by explaining the subject, form and duration of the meeting to the participants, and informing them of the six principles to follow during discussion.
In the case of problems with the groups’ discipline, for example if the participants speak at the same time, you can use a small, symbolic object passed on from one to another as a symbol of having the right to speak. At the end, it is worth asking all the participants to say, one by one, how the discussion benefited them and what was most interesting.
This technique allows to have a broad approach towards the participatory process and its main feature is full commitment of the participants in defining the topics and extent of the activities. The number of participants when using this technique is unlimited, still the working method must be adjusted. The role of the initiator in the process (it may be a headmaster or a teacher) is limited mostly to being a moderator and to helping the participants with their activities. In this technique, it is very important to put part of the power in the hands of the school community. This gives it the possibility of having real influence: making a diagnosis of the context, identifying problems, generating solutions and planning future activities.
In practice, the method involves primarily visual and ‘interactive’ techniques that make going through all the process easier. The most commonly used tools include: mapping (e.g. the school building and its surroundings, favourite or dangerous places, groups forming the school community); setting priorities by prioritizing topics, problems and goals together; creative design and visualization.
A participatory assessment is based on several important assumptions:
- participation of representatives of all groups forming the community,
- defining a goal and agreeing upon it with all the participants,
- ensuring that each participant has the opportunity of speaking and being heard (thanks to rules set at the beginning of the meeting and using specific moderation techniques).
The result of the team’s work is the creation of a clear action plan in a given area of work, with information on the duration, resources and implementation costs.
This technique allows to create a map of specific places and space elements that require an intervention, and to examine the needs of the participants – the users of the space. It focuses on small group activities, preferably consisting of 3-4 persons. The key to understanding and applying this tool is to look at the space from the perspective of the user.
A research walk is an interactive, field work method consisting of talking to the users of a given place. It can be performed not only in an open space, but also inside a building. It is worth to use it in order to assess a place through the eyes of others or to gather ideas for new solutions for space planning. Recommendations from such consultations may be helpful in coming up with new solutions for school space and surroundings design, or in improving existing ones.
This technique allows you to easily engage the participants and to interact with them in a friendly atmosphere. However, it requires good preparation and competence from the person conducting it (from knowing the studied area to possessing the skill of asking questions and taking notes on the go).
In preparation for the implementation of the research walk you must:
- determine the space you want to explore;
- define in detail the issues and problems that you want to diagnose during the walk;
- plan who will be the guide during the walks: it should be a person that knows the space well;
- prepare a detailed plan and route for the walk: write down in an order the points of interest on the route, assign questions to each of the points.
It is good to visit a given space at different times of the day – when the sun is up, in the evening under artificial lighting, but also, for example, in different weather conditions to see how the perception of the space changes in different circumstances.
The groups participating in the walk should be small, with only a few participants. In larger groups, it is difficult to walk and talk about the surroundings at the same time. During the walks, photographic materials or videos should be prepared.
Have you chosen the goal and decided on the details? Have you selected the technique? If so, you can move on to preparing an action plan. Gather your team and fill in the file.
Action plan and resources analysis
Think out-of-the-box! Use the whole group’s potential!
Now you have to provide all the information in the action plan. Analyse your resources:
After the planning phase it’s time to act! At this step, you should know which part of the course best corresponds to your current needs. We hope that the knowledge you gain and the examples you see will inspire your school to make real improvements in:
- the architectural space
- the virtual and technological spaces
- the social space
Remember that each action should be evaluated.
Print out the file and meet your team again on the pre-established date to think if and/or how you managed to achieve your goal.