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Next year the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes law in Sweden, this gives each child the right to participate in all processes, including any urban development, that affects the child. Hence my colleagues and I have lately supported the municipal urban planning department here in Malmö, Sweden in connecting children’s right to its urban planning processes.

As part of this work, a preschool teacher bravely suggested at a meeting with the urban planning department: ” .. for those that say they work on behalf of the children of Malmö in planning our city but never meet children, then it is better to meet at least ONE that none at all!”

It made me think, but … what about me? What do i do to really live up to my own visions?

PLENTY OF WORDS AND IMAGES 

As a professional who works within the realm of participatory urban processes (processes where professionals and layman and possibly also other actors collaborate on more equal terms in urban planning, design and project implementation), I know that it is easy to find striking words and images to describe the intentions and outcomes of these types of processes.

Just think about how images in manuals, funding applications, blogs (as this one!),  reports etc of engaged people at community meetings or smiley faces during construction can make even the smallest gesture towards the inclusion of community members instantly more attractive … and even more convincing to us, the critical professional!

THE ORGANISATION LACKS BEHIND

My peers and I work hard at changing organisations to make them more inclusive and we know we have to continue to ‘be-at-it’. For organisations, any organisation, to be able to change, or even to understand that there is a necessity to change, there is a need for them to be continuously fed experienced-based knowledge. In other words, there is a need to learn on their own terms by doing themselves. By doing ‘real’ participatory projects, they understand the value, learn from within how to collaborate with other actors with methods and routines that are suitable for them, forming a common approach within the organisation to engage with others opinions and knowledge.

BUT YOU CAN ACT NOW!  

It is important to not only work on the organisational level but also to work on the level of the individual. I have seen over the years that many are not aware of their own agency in this.  To assure more inclusive processes in larger structures and trends will take time and this causes frustration, but it is fruitful to remind individuals within these organisations can adjust their way of working straight away!

BUT … WHAT ABOUT ME?

It is easy to describe participatory processes and to nudge others but as i more and more often ask … what about me?

I often feel like I don’t live up to my own words and feel I need more time reflecting over your own practice, my own approach to work; my position of power, my responsibility and my own room for action. Critically – it will hurt.

What do I prioritise?

I seem to keep myself very busy in front of my screen communicating with people who are similar to myself.

And I do this knowing that I would get much more out of an actual meeting with someone dissimilar to myself who my work actually impacts?

argh.

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