Just a few hours ago I received my acceptance email from SFU to enrol for their Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement.
I am approaching the certificate from a development planning perspective. Public participation is legislated in the spatial planning policies I have encountered in South Africa and yet, I have never seen this being done particularly well. The need for participation is, not only to better inform plans that are made but also to build trust between citizens and state to achieve buy-in for the plans so that citizen support for the plans is achieved from the start.
By delving into the theory of dialogue and civic engagement I hope to learn how we can improve the way citizens engage with state institutions to create the kinds of spaces that serve them best.
Based on my experience a key component of this will be for citizens to engage with each other and come to a shared understanding of their past and present that may inform a shared vision for the future that they can work together on. Even as I type this I’m wondering if it sounds a bit naive to hope that we can “all just get along”. I am aware of conflicting interests that are constantly present but rather than sweeping the differences and disagreements under the carpet I would argue they must be communicated to fully come to terms with what is at stake.
I have some preliminary thoughts on the required courses for the certificate based on other interests. Throughout, I will have in mind that I would like to delve into some of the coursework a bit deeper for a Development Planning research report to be completed over the next year. I also hope that the people I meet and things I learn will enable me to pursue goals of becoming a practitioner and lecturer in the fields of Dialogue and Civic Engagement.
The required courses for the certificate are:
- Dialogue and Engagement: Principles and Concepts
- The Practice of Engagement
- Planning for Engagement
- Effective Group Facilitation
- Shared Spaces: Foundations for Dialogue and Engagement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples
- Hosting Powerful Conversations: Introduction to World Cafe and Open Space Technology
- Large-Scale Public Involvement Methods
- Social Media and Engagement
- Design Thinking Methods for Engagement
- Evaluating Engagement
- Dialogue and Civic Engagement Practicum
My initial thoughts on the required course centre around whether or not there would be the opportunity to explore a decolonial take on any of the theory by exploring “traditional” approaches to dialogue and engagement. Possible case-studies in this may include Shura from the Islamic tradition or Indaba/Lekgotla from Zulu and Xhosa traditions.
I am also interested in the Design Thinking process after my exposure to it at the d.school at UCT in December 2016 and at the Feb 2017 Vancouver Global Service Design Jam. The design thinking process is by nature more participatory, democratic and has the potential to bring end-users/citizens into the design process to come up with the solutions to problems planners are trying to solve. User-centred design is also a very high-demand skill within the tech industry and, as a result, there are many resources available to dig deep into this methodology. Over the next few months, before the SFU courses begin, I plan on exploring the Lynda.com learning paths towards becoming more familiar with User Experience Design, Strategy and Research. I am very curious to understand the connections between participatory planning and UX Design, and thinking about citizen-centred policies and places.
Large-Scale Public Involvement Methods intrigue me as I am yet to see engagement methods that fully utilise progress made in mobile technologies and big data but this is likely the way that engagement will head in the future. I have seen some Social Media strategies developed for engagement but these have rarely gone beyond creating Facebook pages or Twitter accounts for citizens to engage – although it would be interesting to look at how /if these have worked. Exceptions that I have encountered include the GCRO’s transportation research app, OurHood that tried to foster more neighbourly interactions in Johannesburg and PlaceSpeak based out of Vancouver. I also recall a documentary segment featuring ATM-like machines being used to gather opinions on development proposals, this was touted as being a step in the move towards a radical democracy where citizens could directly vote on every decision that might affect them. My positioning and familiarity with South Africa and Canada might make for some interesting comparative research to determine what impact access to technology and data has on the development and use of these large-scale involvement methods.
My positioning and familiarity with South Africa and Canada might make for some interesting comparative research to determine what impact access to technology and data has on the development and use of these large-scale involvement methods. Comparative research on South Africa and Canada’s TRC’s as forms of national dialogue would make an interesting paper, especially given the time that has passed in South Africa and the current frustrations of its young and dispossessed.
Based on the course names I am not sure where my interest in using art to facilitate and stimulate dialogue and engagement might fit it. The AwethuArt event we did in Mayfair, Johannesburg showed me that through the simple process of storytelling a conversation can develop that allows diverse voices to be expressed in a safe setting. Art may hold potential to safely allow a community to move from a place of unspoken tensions to “Placebreaking” and then begin the process of “Placemaking” – if the linear is to hold some truth.
Lots to think about, it’s exciting. Bismillah.