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Barbara Chappell: Adelaide’s Culture of Alternatives

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Since Becky invited me to do a guest blog I have been reflecting on my personal experiences with community engagement of late. I am a bit conflicted at the moment but I know it has to do with the shifting space around community engagement and the direction it may be heading. So in keeping with Becky’s 5 – 10 themes approach here are THREE themes and the rest will have to wait for another blog:

  1. At a local level I sense the Adelaide culture of alternatives in response to exclusion is guiding community engagement in a direction that may increase public access. The right to participate and the right to chose what to participate in is what seems to be capturing people’s attention. Adelaide is famous for its “Fringe” events and although the Adelaide Fringe Festival is now funded by State Government, it was originally set up by people who believed in what they did and wanted everyone to have access to it. In another first for fringe events, Adelaide is hosting an “Engagement Party” to provide access to the engagement space for whoever chooses to enter it .  This speaks volumes about our culture and the need to respect the values that shape the way we participate.
  2. Community engagement in Adelaide is expanding beyond the realm of participation in decision making and community development. There is a growing expectation for participation in decision making because of the work being done in local government and more recently at a state government level. There is still a lot of work to do to increase access to decision making processes, but in the meantime the public are finding their own ways to determine how they want to live in Adelaide. People who have a deep connection to the practice of public participation are opening up access to whoever chooses to participate. Check out CoCreate Adelaide or Engage to Act or any of the community groups exploring participation in anything from community gardening and knitting to creating access for newly arrived migrants.
  3. While reflecting on the people who are driving this alternative access I was reminded of a paper written by Elena Faggota and Archon Fung titled “Sustaining Public Engagement, Embedding Deliberation in Public Engagement.  The paper describes the role of “Deliberative Entrepreneurs (DE)”, i.e. people who have the skills and knowledge to plant the seeds of community engagement practice to increase participation. The Deliberative Entrepreneurs described in the paper generally do this work as part of their mainline activities and that is what a number of Adelaide people are already doing. The challenge now is to maintain the promotion of public participation as a practice for the good of society rather than as a “business enterprise” or a new branch of bureaucracy for governments.

Now if that all sounds a bit too deep, maybe it’s because it is. With public participation comes the responsibility of really understanding what we are doing so we make better decisions.

Barbara Chappell is an experienced community engagement practitioner living and working in South Australia with an International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) license to train participants in public participation and emotion and outrage management. She holds a Masters of Conflict Management, a Diploma of Human Resource Management and a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment.  Barbara has a background in the development and implementation of community engagement framework models in local government.  

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