#ParticipatoryScotland is the development of a series of initiatives which are based on the Every One, Every Day model in Barking and Dagenham. They offer people living and working in Scottish towns and cities a simple and effective way to create better local places, while encouraging their passions, interests, and skills. Based from agenda-free shop front spaces and a linked workshop, they provide places for people to try out ideas and projects together, and where relevant, develop and test collaborative business ideas.
Early on in lockdown, the theme in the #ParticipatoryScotland Community of Practice was very much about crisis response. We were talking about how, to different degrees, we had been dealing with the shock of what had happened and trying to find new ways to prevent those who had already been experiencing huge pressure in their lives from being pushed further under the waves.
There was a sense of how quickly lives, livelihoods and the ways people had to live had changed. A slight disorientation about how quickly decisions had to be made and responses rolled out. There was an understanding of some things in our systems and responses that might need to be changed, some adjusted, and how some things might change forever.
We shared stories from communities and realised that the crisis had caused a flood of difficult circumstances to be made worse, but also that there were new and unexpected partnerships and activity developing.
The key reflection on this was about how to maintain, strengthen and resource these partnerships into the future – and whether this is indeed the right course. There are groups and individuals who have raised their hands to help in the current crisis, and some partnerships which may well prove to be fruitful for both communities and public services into the future.
But what about the people for whom this was a call to action in the moment – for now, during the crisis? There will be people and groups who were responding to what was in front of them with actions that felt right, but who may well baulk at being handed further responsibility as we move from response to recovery. Not all groups who stepped up to deliver food, prescriptions, wellbeing packs, and a huge range of other support and kindnesses – will necessarily want to be handed the keys to a local asset and become the centre of community activity.
How do we balance this tension – between recognising those who came forward with energy and compassion during a crisis – and what it may take to get communities towards resilience for the future?
We already know well the sense of fatigue and burnout that can be felt when a small number of people take the lead on a voluntary basis in communities. Perhaps we need to shift our thinking to encourage and support a more flexible and open-ended way of being part of community activity.
From a Participatory Scotland perspective, we are now talking about the model of well resourced, agenda-free spaces where people can set their own passions and ideas into motion without the burden of always having to be there, or a sense of continuous expectation of involvement.
Experience from Barking and Dagenham shows the benefit of allowing people to set their own boundaries, to take part in ways that are meaningful to them, and which respect individual circumstances and life changes. People become driven by a sense of buy-in and support, not just a moral responsibility.
Taking part, participating, becomes something people do because they want to, not because they feel they must, and people participate more.