A book review by Lynda Thoroughgood, Freeform Arts Trust, with additional recommended resources and London contacts.
If you just glanced at Robert Chambers book, it would be easy to label it as just the latest How To Do Workshops guides.
The book is packed full of ideas to run better quality workshop: games to play, seating to organise and further sources to investigate, which makes it very good value for its price (£38.95).
But, dig deeper and you will also find real value at both a personal and a professional level, with many an entertaining, enlightening and wince-inducing insight within these pages. That Mr Chambers opening chapter starts us off with a prompt to review our own professional practices is a clue to the roller-coaster read ahead.
What is Participatory Appraisal?
This book closely follows the precepts of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) or Participatory Learning & Action (PLA). Mr Chambers explains the roots of PRA/PLA, in rural East Africa and India, and its growth as a learning tool now widely used in the West. It is known in the UK as Participatory Appraisal (PA) and is a research method currently taught as a week-long accredited course at The University of Northumbria in Newcastle.
Participatory Workshops concentrates on what to do with a captive audience, from introducing the group, to making mistakes and evaluating the process. The book divides into 21 chapters, each with 21 pointers.
Tips and pointers
Unique here are the tips to fit with individual scenarios and the pointers on what to do when situations go wrong. This is also the only workshops resource book that I have found which remarks directly on the importance of facilitators self-awareness and what an informed facilitator can bring to a workshop.
Those working in groups wishing to generate a sustainable process will find useful guidelines. In Chapter 15 (p. 130) the author asks ?261 Is this something that people can think through and work out themselves? He then proceeds to show us the various options and why facilitators should let them do so. A little later in the same chapter (p. 132), under the title Power and Process, there is an excellent summary of ways to help empowering both individuals and groups.
Another useful section is Chapter 16 (p. 146), Ways to Help Each Other Learn. Quoting from Visualisation in Participatory Programmes (we learn only 11% through hearing but 83% through seeing; we remember 20% of what we hear but 50% of what we see and hear), Mr Chambers offers a number of activities to engage with, process and retain information.
What I found difficult was the extremely dense layout of the book. Although, there were little snippets of humour and references to Mr Chambers own experiences dotted throughout for a personal touch, at times there is a need to come up for air.
One other consternation is the order of content. To take one example, Chapter 5 Point 12 gives us ideas for keeping introductions short but, reference to participants who may be lacking in confidence, feel disenfranchised or sidelined, is not given until Chapter 19 (p. 180) Tips for Dealing with Dominators and Helping the Silent Speak. Even then, the emphasis seems to be on discouraging those that talk, rather than encouraging those that do not.
Also a sourcebook
Included in the book is a comprehensive list of resources. With its outline of the content of each title, it is well beyond the usual title, author, price and web-address round up. As a finale for his 212 pages, Mr Chambers supplies a materials list to cover all eventualities, which will save you ever needing to write your own out again.
Graphic styling and non-sequential statements apart, I found Participatory Workshops a seriously recommendable read and a well-thumbed educational treat. Since Mr Chambers book did not cover outreach and planning prior to holding the workshops, this is an excellent addition and complement to the delivery strategies, formats, methods and scenarios featured in publications for community and regeneration practices such as The Community Planning Handbook.
My thought while reading Participatory Workshops was to imagine leaving an event, workshop or consultation feeling the buzz of having really participated rather than the flat drudge of another five hours wasted.
What then could be the consequence for our schools, workplace or community group if we each felt to be a part of the process, rather than that we are standing on the sidelines as it passes us by?
Robert Chambers Participatory Workshops (2002) is published by Earthscan (ISBN: 1-85383-863-2 £38.95 / 212 pages).
Lynda has been interested in identifying good practice in community participation methods since the early 1990s. She currently works with Free Form Arts Trust supporting their Building Communities programme and training post-graduate creative students on the
Cultural Enterprise Training course.
Lynda also recommends the following for participatory processes:
The Active Tenants Handbook
By Charlie Garratt for the Housing Corporation.
www.housing.corp.gov.uk/librayr/documents.htm(Community Development Foundation, ISBN: 1-901974-18-9)
The Community Planning Handbook By Nick Wates in association with The Urban Design Group, The Princes Foundation and South Bank University, London.
www.earthscan.co.uk(Earthscan, ISBN: 1-85383-654-0)
Participation Works: 21 Techniques of Community Participation for the 21st Century
By the New Economics Foundation and the UK Community Participation Network
www.neweconomics.org.(NEF, ISBN: 1-899497-17-0. £37.00)
New Economics Foundation
Contact: Richard Murray, NEF, First Floor Vine Court, 112-116 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1JE. Tel: 020 7377 5696; www.neweconomics.org.
Participatory Appraisal Training
Contact: Duncan Fuller at Division of Geography and Environmental Management (GEM), Lipman Building, University of Northumbria at Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST. Tel: 0191 227 3753; email@example.com.
Participatory Approaches Network for London
Resource Centre for Participatory Learning and Action
International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endesleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD. Tel: 020 7388 2117; www.iied.org/resource.