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by • 26 Aug, 2010 • PeopleComments (4)2905

A broader perspective on participation – 5 things I’ve picked up outside of museums

On the slide

Photo by kagey_b on Flickr.

In a few weeks my girlfriend Suzan will move to London to do a masters in Applied Drama. Applied drama is, amongst others, theatre aimed at social empowerment and often participatory by nature. When Suzan discovered Nina Simon’s book The Participatory Museum, she quite correctly observed that if you search and replace “museum” by “theatre” in the book, the lessons in it are still true.

In fact, many of the participatory theatre book lingering around address the same issues, give the same solutions and occasionally go beyond what we in museums know about participation.

Lessons about participation and community work are not unique to one sector, I believe. They’re universal. A broader perspective to other sectors might help us to get further, sooner. Therefore I’m quite happy Suzan will be blogging about Applied Drama, so I can learn from what she learns. Maybe you’ll learn from it too. (This is shameless publicity, I agree.)

In the mean time, I’d like to share with you these 5 things I’ve picked up about participation along the way. I’ve learned them far from museums, but somehow they’re still useful (and probably utterly cliché).

100% participation

Cuba, Greece, Denmark and Australia have a 100+% gross enrollment rate in education (HDR 2009). Amongst others, that’s possible because people enroll in schools after their normal school-going age. The 30 kids in a classroom are complemented with 1 or 2 adults finally learning to read and write, for example.

100% participation is possible when you make you’re programmes and projects so welcoming and useful even outsiders join.

Were there really people not watching?

12.2 out of  16.5 million of my countrymen (or 75%) watched the world cup finals against Spain. The country was completely painted orange. It’s hard to believe there were people not participating in one of the biggest parties I have ever witnessed. What did those other 25% of the people do?

There will always be people you can hardly reach with your projects. Have something planned for them as well. They are people too.

What’s in it for me?

I’ve seen kids in Tanzania walk for hours to school because Right to Play hosted sports events at the end of the day in their “local” school. These kids sat through hours of classes to play football (and learned a thing or two).

Make sure you offer something good in return when you ask for participation: fun, a community feeling, food and drinks. What you offer in return might be the main reason for people to participate.

The energy you give…

I used to go to hardcore shows and still sometimes do. Hatebreed is one of the bands I still appreciate. Among the things I’ve learned from them is that if you pack a show with energy, give everything you have, the audience will respond. The energy you give is the energy returned to you.

When you host a participatory event, make sure you give everything you have to the participants. Enthusiasm, energy, passion, optimism, joy… Even if there’s only 2 people. It will be returned to you.

When was the last time you participated?

For years now I’ve tried to participate in as many events hosted by others as my timetable permits. Because of that, 1) I had so much special experiences, 2) I learned quite a lot about a wide variety of things and 3) I built a vast network of people I can call upon when the time comes I might need some participants. I’m not alone in this; I’m surrounded by people living their lives in this way. They are usually successful and happy.

If you want 20 people to participate in your event, be prepared to participate in 20 events yourself. Before you know, everybody is participating.

A good place to start participating is this blog: add the things you’ve learned about participation. Thanks! (Again, I apologize. After shameless and cliché, this adds some really cheap pleading to this post…)

Completely off-topic: If anybody knows of affordable housing in London, please drop a note. It’s highly appreciated by Suzan and me!

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  • Cristina

    I’ll write to a couple of friends I have living in London at the moment and see if they know of any good house/room to let there for Suzan.

  • Mia

    Perhaps point 2 shows that you should make a virtue out of different types or levels of participation. Sport bores me so I was not a World Cup watcher, but I eventually learned that match time was the perfect time to run errands or go to the supermarket.

  • Thanks Cristina, that’s wonderful! Take care:-)

  • Exactly! I think it’s a missed opportunity to focus only on the group that is willing to participate. I think it might even be a more pleasant experience to go shopping while everybody else is watching football, so even though you don’t participate, the participatory project benefits you as well. (I’m saying “you” where I try to mean something more in general.) Thanks!