FROM ENGAGEMENT TO EMPOWERMENT
Citizens as Co-creators of Community Services
New forms of community initiative are emerging as people take charge of social services once expected of government.
What are the opportunities arising in the increasing distance between community needs and what governments can provide? How might we design and organize to befriend this trend?
Governments as we know them are transforming, budgets and infrastructures are tapped out while citizens demand more than agencies can support. Social contracts are breaking down across North America as governments go broke, outsource and privatize. Citizens will need to organize to compensate and get their community needs met.
How will we close the gap between what governments can provide and the social services that vibrant citizens and communities require? We can learn from the many small-scale community-led projects around the world where people are leading the way – to make, plant, harvest, heal, build, and teach collectively. At some point these collective actions become organized services that serve more needs across the community.
What tools or infrastructure can governments provide to empower citizens to take leadership of the services they need? What role can citizens play in improving the services we use? What community-led initiatives are emerging in our dense urban enclaves? How might this practice unfold in Ontario or Toronto?
About 27 people participated in the session, convened as a series of dialogues from an opening circle to small group idea design sessions. Thanks to Patricia Kambitsch of playthink again for the visual reflection, sketched live during the whole group dialogues.
Five sets of proposals were generated by the small groups, each with a sketch or scenario mapped to the following questions:
- What personal or community need does this service address?
- How might this service involve the community to deliver maximum value at minimum cost?
- What, tools, resources or incentives would community members need to help them initiate and implement this service?
- What support could government provide to kickstart or sustain this service?
The five concepts generated by the groups were cooperative service led by community participants:
- Community skill library exchange
- Senior citizen buddy system (a kind of circle of care concept)
- The community wiki garden (This one is actually happening now)
- Community time bank
- Incentives for community participation
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Peter Jones is a professor in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation MDes program at OCAD University and senior fellow of the Strategic Innovation Lab. Peter is founder of Redesign, a strategic innovation research company. Redesign conducts ethnographic and design research to guide innovations for professional practice, clinical and healthcare services, and information work. His research explores emerging social and service practices in publishing, science, and healthcare – his Rosenfeld Media book on healthcare service design, Design for Care is expected early 2013. Peter blogs at Design Dialogues and tweets @redesign.
Greg Judelman is a co-founder of Design with Dialogue and is a facilitator, designer and innovation consultant based in Toronto. Through his firm The Moment, he works with the conceptualization and facilitation of collaborative design workshops and innovation processes for organizational and community transformation. From 2006-2011 he was a senior designer at the globally recognized Bruce Mau Design, where he led creative teams on identity, web, experience and strategy projects for clients ranging from not-for-profits to universities to public associations to multinational corporations.
We invited Occupy Toronto to kick off a DwD session, and continued with the dialogue engagement live at the camp, after it came down mid-week following the session.
Grad students and even president Sara Diamond from OCAD University were involved with sponsorship from the Design Exchange. Two major community events were held, located (ironically enough) in the deco-era original Toronto Stock Exchange used by the DX.
The goals of these sessions were to evolve a common framing and voice for (meaning “with”) the diffuse and diverse core members of the movement.
What we seem to be missing are the connections between similar events in other Occupy communities. Pay attention to the shift of medium here – Occupy is an emerging and embodied social medium for civil change. It is not like the Arab Spring or other social media narratives. This is embodied (situated in place) and broadcasted (livecast) and not tweeted and FB’d to organize.
People are working things out F2F – not online – its a classic McLuhan media transformation in the making.
Across continents, people in the developed nations have declared a time-out from the economic ravages dealt to Main Street citizens and working families by merely placing their bodies and minds in visible public spaces. Whether or not you have spent time at St. James or Zuccotti park, the message of this new medium of dissent is clear – people of all ages and walks of life have had enough. The mechanisms given to us to exert democratic change have proven insufficient to the extraordinary problems of the time. Politicians and their entrenched financial sponsors have perfected a parallel fantasy world where CEOs tell governments what to do.
This Occupy “movement of the people,” though started without a designed plan, represents possibly the most obvious call to systemic action we have seen in our lifetimes. Without presenting the media fodder of demands or talking points, a clear and common vision for creating a responsible political and economic system has taken shape.
For November 2011, DwD invited the emerging and expanding Occupy movement with global and local citizens to a dialogue on the future of responsive democratic governance. The call was to help frame the emerging democratic engagement, not as activism or problem solving, but as visioning and caring for a shared future.
(Video) Presenting the purposes of Occupy as visions for the long-term expression of the values, goals, and actions of the movement. (Below) Collaboratively constructing a field of purposes in a hierarchy from personal to the transcendent.
The purpose of this session was inspired by George Lakoff’s call for the Occupy movement to clarify its purpose through its shared morality:
“If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands…”
In a series of 4 fast cycles (circle, cafe, purpose tree, and circle) we explored the shared territory of several questions:
- How might an Occupy moral vision inspire everyone?
- What underlying forces do we all share as the 99%?
- What are we really asking for?
- How can Occupy lead with their story, so that all might hear?
- Where might the movement go next?
A special Design with Dialogue event was held in conjunction with the 2011 McLuhan Centenary and U of Toronto’s KMDI, as a panel and participatory workshop in which the public is invited to engage the questions:
- How are ecological changes moving us toward planning for urban resilience?
- How might we make the transition to resilience as a community and not as competing resource users?
- How is the city a medium, a media system? Can McLuhan’s notion of media ecology help guide historic changes in resource ecologies?
- What are the risks if we don’t act, or we fail to cooperate in “transilience?”
Video by Gregory Greene, ResilientPLANET
Although starting from different perspectives and communities, both movements are coordinated, advance responses to near-future impacts to urban planning, transport, food and water supply, energy, ecology, and habitation. The big question remains for citizens and communities, that, if foresight is true, what ought we to do – today?
Two global movements have emerged in the last few years as a civil societal response to foreseeable constraints and societal shocks resulting from changes in climate and energy resources – Resiliency and the Transition Town.
Peter Jones (DwD, OCADU) hosted the session and workshop. Peter Rose moderated a one-hour panel discussion with three leading thinkers and planners. (Presentations are now available)
Many thanks to Patricia Kambitsch, whose live sketches provided visual reflection. And to documentary videographers Greg Greene (ResilientCITY, End of Suburbia) and Dexter Ico for their coverage and photos (all photo credits, Greg and Dexter).
Over 70 people from around the GTA joined us for an engaging, creative, hands-on thinking and doing workshop. Participants left the session wanting to know and do more. We planned this session with the hope that we might help our communities change values, habits, and communication to create and adapt to a more resilient future.