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Over the course of our project working with diverse communities and academics with a range of experiences working with non-academic participants, we’ve found that there are some fundamental methods that we adopt in common and that seem to be key to early success.

  • Working experimentally / Remaining open to spontaneity
  • Spending un-programmed time at the space/with the group (‘hanging out’) to establish trust, learn group dynamics.
  • Acknowledging when expert knowledge is useful and using it accountably – good co-production doesn’t co-produce everything, it works fairly with people’s strengths.
  • Arranging weekly drop-in sessions for volunteers/participants.
  • Mentoring and cascading knowledge can be more effective than systems and documents.
  • Developing short-courses and longer-term workshops as a format, if used with flexibility, can foster sustainable participation.
  • Using a mix of lowfi tools (post-its, paper, etc) and appropriate technologies can be more inclusive.
  • Paying participant expenses for travel and childcare.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of conviviality and communication!
  • Design potluck meals together so that all participants bring food. You may wish to consider building a budget into your project to ensure that the institution can cover the costs.
  • Consider collaborating on organizing a party to involve everyone from the community in an activity. The form and content of your event should be appropriate for the kind of research you’re doing. Be creative rather than falling back on tried and tested.
  • Communication can be very difficult. Even when you think that you’ve both clarified your needs and desires, there’s plenty of room for misunderstanding. Make sure you build in regular periods for ‘checking in’ to address issues quickly.
  • Working together to design exhibitions that celebrate (and question) ideas of community heritage gives people a deadline-specific goal and can help to galvanize energies.
  • Go for a walk together to share stories and sites. Consider using ‘manuals’, like those provided by artist collaboratives like Wrights and Sites.

Misguide to Milton Keynes

  • Sometimes it can be tempting to default to the workshop or focus group. If that’s by mutual consensus, that’s great. However, always consider what the questions are that you want to explore and then consider what the best settings, activities, times of day, equipment and so on are best suited to that. Perhaps your group would be interested in a day school or in skills training or in designing walks or in co-producing interpretation or in running a festival.
  • Communities and academics involved in participatory mapping and heritage might wish to consider using games and challenges as a way to involve people. Or what about prizes? Or surprises?
  • Always have a back-up plan so that you can manage arising obstacles and challenges. What will an academic do if a community organization finds it no longer has the capacity to participate? What can a community organization do if an academic moves away from her institution and city?

Developing Shared Values: Rivers Exercise

Time Required (30– 75mins)

This is common popular education tool that is used to elicit reflection by an individual or a group on where they have come from and the challenges, privileges and successes they have experienced along the way. If used by individuals, it can be a great tool for getting to know other participants if it is subsequently shared with the group. If used collectively by a group, it can be a great way of gaining a shared understanding of the trajectory of the organisation and what different members see as the key moments, challenges and successes.

For Individuals:

1. Take a piece of flip-chart paper and some coloured pens. (2 mins)

2. Think about your journey with [insert theme e.g. social change activism, community engagement, interest in maps, your discipline/field of research or practice] up to the present day. You can choose the starting point – it may be a childhood encounter, it may be a more recent career move. On your paper, with as many colours as you desire, draw that journey as a river – how was it that you got to where were are now, what were the challenges, the rapids and white waters, what tributaries fed in to this river, what did the river nourish – are their trees or marshland nearby – bridges over, did dams block the flow at any point, were there any waterfalls, and when did waters feel calm, plain sailing, how did it meander and curve in ways you didn’t expect? Play with these metaphors and draw them into your river. Be creative, but remember – it’s not an art competition. If you are the only person that can recognise that squiggle and splodge, that’s absolutely fine – it’s your river. (15 – 45mins)

3. In small groups (2 – 6) share your river with your group. Your group members may ask questions for clarification (like what’s that squiggle?) but this is you time to speak and be heard. (minimum of 5mins per person).

For Groups:

1. Facilitator places a series of flip chart sheets end to end on the wall or floor. Set of pens

2. Facilitator asks the group to collective tell the story of the organisation. Individuals come up to the wall/paper on the floor and draw on and explain key events, challenges and successes that the group has had.

3. Whole group feeds back on what it was like to do.