Top down guide to bottom up

Sean Howard catches a good example of questionable thinking about participation. The International Associaton for Public Participation has put out a one pager (pdf) with a remarkably top down notion of getting bottom up involvement.

The language is very telling:

We will keep you informed… we will look to you for advice… we will implement what you decide

This strikes me as patronising and also based on a very reductionist model that seems to think decisions are ideologically separate from implementation.

This is why I think bottom-up is not the same as peer-to-peer. Bottom-up seems to embody the same underlying logic as top down whilst peer-to-peer points to something rather more interesting, complex and challenging.

2 thoughts on “Top down guide to bottom up

  1. Anne Pattillo

    hi Johnnie,

    First let me introduce myself i’m a New Zealand based facilitator and consulatant, friend and colleague of the fab Viv McWaters and I guess most relavance to this comment is I’m President of IAP2 Australasia. Now I’m up to my full height a staggering 5’4″ (I could never master the metrics of personal height) let me respond a little.

    It seems to me that your challenge on the language front around the IAP2 spectrum in terms to language is a good one although may be a little harsh. The spectrum, you are right, is written in the language of working with organisations to get them to frame their decision making with the public, communities and the people they serve. The we in the spectrum is an organisational one, the promise and the invitation, as constructed in the spectrum is theirs.

    Without having a chicken and egg debate, if decision making is to be more broadly spread as an everyday feature of how governments, and local governments, companies and not for profits work (and that is one of IAP2′ aims) what is it we would expect in terms of the role and promise of organisations how should we express that.

    To take your challenge a liitle further if the process of decision making is bottom-up and fully the practice of governments what is the language of the renewed social contract? How is it we would frame a shared sense of invitation and promise of responsibilities? How is it we would frame the invitation to decision making if the community decisions can come from any citizen?

    I think there is opportunity to grow a new promise of active citizenship and responsive government. I’ve always enjoyed the faciliative concept drawn from the experience or steering a two hulled waka (canoe). In this situation the waka is steered from the space between the two hulls of the canoe. If we us this concept how does our language change?

    Sean’s challenge in part I think is how does our community and organisation leadership and decision making process need to shift in times of complexity and chaos? It is a good challenge.

    IAP2 what to be part of taking up that challenge we like others have to think about our contribution and frameworks. its great to have your thoughts on this – it would be good to play more.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Anne, heard lots of good things about you so nice to hear from you here.

    Good questions about language. There was that old joke about Britain and America being two nations divided by a common language, and I’m fascinated how the same words can lead each of us to make different meanings.

    For me, I’m more and more drawn to the Gandhi notion of “being the change”, being more mindful of how I speak but not setting out to invent a language for other people.. I love the idea of an empowered citizenry but see lots of pitfalls in the path of anyone who sees their job as empowering people…

    Perhaps the best thing to do is be the best active citizens we can be.


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