A community consultation project

October 5, 2010

Two years ago, a Greek NGO organized and carried out a community consultation project that aimed to shed light on the consequences of the intense urbanization occurred in three neighboring communities in the suburbs of Athens. It was the first time that a research in Greece was based on narrative, which was collected from and processed by residents of these communities.

The consultation covered various local aspects that were assessed as critical for the local development. Yet, they remained unsolved for long, due to their high degree of complexity. The initially triggering issues referred to: a) the revitalization of neighborhood (as a place of and a means for citizens’ participation and social coherence), b) the protection of natural wealth, open spaces and public aesthetics, and c) the increased traffic and the lack of common infrastructure.

Narrative was gathered from a representative group of the population, along with drawings made from local pupils; this combination proved very meaningful. About 200 narratives were captured through pilot interviews and anecdote circles. The whole material was organized thematically, uploaded at an internet site, presented in local exhibitions and, finally, processed during a half-day workshop by its own creators and other residents who volunteered to join the event. Using a combination of Cognitive Edge methods and Open Space techniques, the participants discussed on the issues emerged, indicated their key-elements and suggested possible ways to deal with them. Some of the patterns revealed hidden attitudes and expectations that people have from their leaders and co-fellows.

The findings of the consultation were significant, as they brought into light some dominant patterns, along with hidden issues. Hopefully, the English version of the project report and video will be available soon. Moreover, the positive feedback from the participants (unusual and constructive experience, pleasant surprise, chance to express, etc) confirmed that such methods could attract stakeholders to participate in dealing with local problems. However, some of the patterns revealed through the process seem to indicate the reasons that impede such methods from apply widely.

One of these confuses dialogue with debate and listening with talking. It leads us to not listening to the others and, consequently, not being heard by them. I believe that this is due to our inexperience in processes of true dialogue. It also seems to relate to the inability of many participants to tell a story; instead, they were tending to state their opinion about what should (or shouldn’t) be done and criticize the “others” for what they have (or haven’t) done.

Another one shows that people expect (even demand) from authorities to solve all their problems. This generates disbelief for the efficiency of practices that doubt or challenge hierarchy and control. In my opinion, this generates the “messiah” syndrome, which characterizes the Greek politicians (see the post of Sunday, Sept 26). The non-participative culture is both a symptom and a cause of this social archetype. After all, if the citizens were “thinking” differently, then the politicians would act differently; for the latter are reflections of the former.

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