Last week I attended the participatory governance in culture conference in Rijeka, Croatia.
The conference brought together cultural practitioners, researchers, activists, artists, policy makers and others to address “…the challenges, limitations, paradoxes and perspectives that cultural research, practices and policies are increasingly facing around the concept of participatory governance in culture. In order to understand the meaning and role of participatory governance in culture, it is important to explore: changes in the socio-political context, cultural and social effects of new models of governance, modes and levels of involvement of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making processes and the (re)organization and relevance of their roles. Consequently, the Conference aims to explore the domain of participatory governance in culture from various angles, involving topics such as: 1) the implications of participation for democratic values in public (cultural) policies; 2) the complexities of power relations and authority devolution between different stakeholders; 3) differences among private, public and common interests of all relevant stakeholders; 4) ethics of participation; and 5) institutional and policies change and innovation.”
I was there to present on “Generative participatory governance: from organizational culture to inclusive citizenship” as a part of my work with Percolab and in collaboration with Nadine Jouanen. You can read my presentation in full here.
I wasn’t able to go to many sessions in the end but you share notes of those I went to here.
For me the key takeaways from the whole thing are:
“Participation” needs to be defined clearly anytime it is engaged as a technique or put forward as a strategy. There are too many types and it is too ambiguous to simply espouse it for the sake of its presence.
Every context calls for different kinds of participation and a significant review of the cultural, social and political sensitivities of participation. For example, in Croatia, the history of former Yugoslavia means that participatory methods can be a reminder and trigger of the many forms of former communist control. Initiatives in Croatia and other former Eastern Bloc countries are walking a tricky but opportune line when it comes to incorporating participatory governance practices into their cultural initiatives. Situation specific approaches are necessary.
For participatory governance to be truly effective it needs to be activated across the spectrum of partners and collaborators involved in a project. Many manifestations of participatory governance are still top-down, particularly in the case of the European Capitals of Culture, where responsibility is still held in the hands of government departments. There is a sound opportunity and need for models of participatory projects to engage horizontal formats of decision-making and accountability.