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Innovative Solutions to the Collective Action Problem: Participedia

Naniette Coleman's picture

Citizen participation, access to information and action usher in much needed reforms. The process to engage citizens is easy to describe but hard to achieve. So how do you grab and keep the attention of community stakeholders and keep them informed? This week’s answer is “Participedia.”

"Participedia is a wiki-based platform with an ambitious goal: strengthening democracy around the world. The website consists of a user-generated library of examples and methods of participatory governance, public deliberation, and collaborative public action. From citizen involvement in budgeting to oversight groups that ensure better health care and social service delivery, government initiatives that encourage democratic participation demonstrate powerful results." Launched in 2009, Participedia is a project of Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of British Columbia. Participedia uses the same wiki platform as Wikipedia except they use it to tell democratic reform stories.

Although Participedia’s “wiki” approach to reform is creative, at less than a year old, its potential is largely unrealized.  The actual area of innovation I found the most intriguing on the site is an entry in the glossary, “communication mode.”  Rather unexpected and easily glossed over without careful attention. It’s difficult to ascertain whether it is the brainchild of the organizers of Participedia or the musings of some well meaning wiki participant. Whoever put together the glossary where the item, noted the importance things like “influence,” “goods,” and being mindful of the “participants” a leader selects and these are all important topics that regularly appear in our blog. What grabbed and kept my attention though, was the inclusion of “communication mode” as a measurable dimension in Participedia’s 4-term glossary.

Participedia’s approach to communication is unique. Less how to get what you want and more know your audience and collaborators well. Participedia lists “communication mode” as a measurable dimension of participatory design that specifies how participants will interact with one another within a venue of public discussion or decision.” According to our author(s) you can gauge participation through six measurable elements of communication mode. Leaders should be cognizant of whether or not participants can listen as a spectator; express preferences; develop preferences; engage in aggregation and bargaining; deliberate and negotiate; or, be guided by technical expertise as well as to what degree they can do these things.

One of the drawbacks of a wiki approach is we do not know who added this intensely valuable piece of information to Participedia. We may never know, but the content is worth noting and considering when you initiate a citizen focused event. Do not just bring together a group of well meaning citizens and bid them adieu at the end hoping things will go well. Plan before hand, pay careful attention during and analyze their participation afterwards. Note the depth of their participation. Note their mode of communication and then plan your interventions accordingly to achieve a more cohesive coalition.

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