Slightly more conversation

This is my final post on lectures from last week.

I wanted to showcase two projects that Dr. Marc Spooner presented at the creative conversations meeting a week ago.  The first is a video, Community Voices featuring homeless people in Regina.

In the context of last Monday’s presentations the video provides those who are homeless with a forum to speak about their needs.  This video is a response to top down programing that examines concerns like poverty without the opinions of those suffering.  Instead, this video gathers ideas from those who use programing which gives a need and a problem to solve in order to fill it.  Dr. Spooner mentioned that some of the comments from this video have been well received by those who provide services, prompting some changes.

During the lecture Dr. Spooner asked a very telling question before he presented copies of the Survival Guide to the audience: ‘ask yourself, is this your Regina?’  The Survival Guide is a map which features places in Regina where one can find food, clothing, shelters and needle exchanges to name a few (The Leader-Post has a version on their website in PDF).  This project again emphasizes action, providing a useful product for the people who need these services.

I actually found this map over the summer at the Cornwall Centre.  I had not heard of it but I have always liked maps, and found this one intriguing.  The theme of the Survival Guide was fascinating to me because, as Dr. Spooner suggested, this was not my Regina.  I spent a lot of my summer exploring the city and trying to find unfamiliar spaces.  So for me the Survival Guide was a look into the movements, places and communities associated with Regina’s needy.

I think Dr. Spooner’s work is very practical while also quite revealing of homeless and marginalized people’s lives.  It is important to see people, to hear them and be aware of other stories in Regina. Prosperity in Saskatchewan may rise in some corners but there are fundamental inequities in Regina occurring without resolution and we should not forget it.

Finally, this past Friday I attended a lecture at the University of Regina titled: Green Leviathan Reborn? Authoritarianism and the Contradictions of Ecological Crisis presented by Dr. Simon Enoch.  The discussion was largely about in what ways the environmental crisis is creating political stress which fosters authoritarian regimes.  The piece I felt was interesting, in the context of this blog, was his discussion of consultation processes.  Dr. Enoch argues that the design of these consultations seem to subdue doubts, by providing numerous experts, with many reports in hand. Saying ‘no’ to the preselections put before the group is not an option you can choose. Speaking against the consultation is set up as a strike to the group because the consulting experts have done research and understand what the people (audience/community) want.  Through the process facilitators can divide groups into acceptable pragmatic and sensible people and marginalize ‘extreme’ view points.

I have become increasingly aware of how the consultation process shapes opinion rather than takes opinions.  There have been several such meetings in Regina of late and I would say people should take care and know what is important to you.  Not all consultations are bad, rather scrutinize each on its process, openness and egalitarianism.

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Slightly more conversation

2 thoughts on “Slightly more conversation

  1. Trish Elliott says:

    “Beware of research that uses the facilitator and the community members as puppets.”

    – Rebecca S. Hagey. 1997. “The Use and Abuse of Participatory Action Research.” Chronic Diseases in Canada. Vol. 18, No. 1.

    I was interested in Dr. Enoch’s comments because I just finished writing a paper about participatory action research that includes a section on the problem of co-optation. There is a growing fleet of chequebook consultants and facilitators out there who seem to have no problem peeling participatory methods away their theoretical base, which should be all about challenging power structures and placing control in the hands of the community.

    Hagey goes on to state:

    “In such cases, the principal investigator can passively be an agent for powers interested in managing the community. A close reading of their reports sometimes reveals an infantalization of community leaders or belittling of the community’s problem-solving abilities and political institutions.” (Hagey 1997, 4 -5).

    Wow! That’s a familiar scene to anyone who has been roped into community consultations lately.

    Facilitators and consultants, if you are going to use what you believe are participatory methods, first learn to see the difference between ‘community control’ and ‘controlling the community.’ Setting out limited options within a pre-determined format is not a good start toward participatory decision-making, and assuming total control over the final report and its recommendations is not a good end. This weekend, pour yourself a cup of tea, read a little Orlando Fals Borda, do some thinking about how things could be done differently : )

    1. wourliem says:

      Thank you for your response Trish.

      I enjoyed your question at the creative conversations meeting regarding when programming developed largely by individuals is co-opted to deflect criticism of the sponsor or source of funding. I meant to include some of that discussion in my posts but unfortunately it didn’t seem to jump in.

      I wish I had mentioned Dr. Enoch’s lecture on the blog but I didn’t realize it would concern local issues from the abstract. It was a good discussion in general of how elites, governments and corporations are slowly putting the building blocks in place for a more authoritarian response to environmental crisis. Part of that process is using community consultations to mimic an open democratic process yet be totally controlled. Dr. Enoch’s conclusion was essentially, there is a choice between authoritarian responses and a socialist grass roots democracy because the environmental crisis will destroy modern capitalism. It was pretty stark, however part of his hopes for the future require genuine community control and self determination.

      This does seem like one of the most prescient problems for people trying to be engaged in community issues. The downtown plan consultations from 2 years ago were my introduction to consultation and I’ll admit I was really won over.

      In light of that process and some of the results that have come down my goal right now is to try and be more critical and understand what I want to see happen. I don’t feel like I’ll be the one to dream up a response to the manipulation in the near term rather just being aware of the manipulation as it occurs.

      Thanks for the comments and the Orlando Fals Borda reference, now I know where to go for more thought on the subject. Of course it would be great to hear more about your thoughts on the Creative Conversations discussion or on community engaged research in general, so, if you like, comment again.

      Thanks,
      Martin

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