How We Work: Participatory Methods

CAN works for social justice and equality, based on human rights principles. The way CAN works is also based on human rights and uses processes called Participatory Methodologies, designed to place people at the heart of change. The way participatory methods work is to enable ordinary people to play an active and influential part in decisions which affect their lives. This ensures that their voices shape outcomes.

Examples of Participatory Methods

Dialogue and Structural Dynamics

Dialogue means more than a casual conversation. It is a structured process with the intention to generate new understanding through active listening, embracing silence, treating everyone as equal and suspending judgement, among other phases and levels. It is based on the idea that social change and innovation can be achieved by collaboration between the stakeholders. Dialogue works with Structural Dynamics, the idea that people talking to one another benefit from understanding the complexities of groups and to make communication work for the benefit of all.

This technique was developed by David Kantor to enable groups, teams, communities, and other agencies to work more effectively by helping people to appreciate what they themselves bring to the table, and what others also bring. The intention is to capture the collective wisdom of all involved, by changing unhelpful behaviour, building trust and breaking through obstacles. 

Dialogue has proved very effective in CAN’s work by bringing together stakeholders who may have acquired a high level of distrust and hostility from previous interactions.  

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Structural Dynamics
What is Dialogue?

World Café

World Café is a process where large groups can be divided into smaller ones around tables, to discuss questions that matter to all participants. It is a way of gathering opinions, of listening to each other and discovering new insights. These discussions link and build on each other as people move between tables and groups. World Café makes the collective intelligence of any group visible to everyone, and it increases their capacity for thought and action.

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Open Space Technology

This is a process which makes meetings, groups and teams more democratic, efficient and productive. It begins with informal groupings, like coffee breaks, where people are free to chat and move around between groups, to identify issues which are important to them. The meetings then become focused on particular issues, until all participants have contributed and listened to the full extent of their interest, then moving on to the next group. It is very energetic and dynamic and is suitable for any size of group. 

Harrison Owen is credited with developing the process.  

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Appreciative Inquiry

As its name suggests, this approach is based on positive aspects of human strength and development. It is almost the opposite of problem-based approaches, yet it is designed to address difficulties that people face, by identifying the positive attributes they bring to the process. It helps communities, organisations, agencies, and other stakeholders to create a vision for the future and to develop strategies to achieve their vision. Being facilitated through Dialogue, it works through stages or phases, which ensure participation and achievement by all concerned.  

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Change Frameworks

Change Frameworks aims to bring about sustainable change for people in the community. It takes four factors into account when working for change: personal, relational, cultural, and structural. These are the dimensions of power which must be addressed in bringing about change. CAN’s work for social justice and equality engages at these levels, to look at behaviour and attitudes at the personal level and at the connections between people, communities and organisations. It examines the ways in which the community works, with traditional conventions, spoken and unspoken; and finally, at the structural level, the overall society, including local and national government, social institutions, agencies, communities and families.

Action Learning Research and Systems Change

Action Learning Research is an approach to bringing about social change through research and learning. The first step is to identify what change is needed to bring about social justice and equality, the desired outcome. From here, research is gathered about the experience of the people most impacted by the issues. Then, people identify what they can do to bring it about, revising as they go along. Finally, they create the strategy to achieve the desired outcome, ensuring that everyone is included in the plan.

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The CAN Model Overview
What is Dialogue?
Structural Dynamics
Coaching & Mentoring
Participatory Methods
Publications: Participatory Methods