Published on February 26, 2013

From theory to reality

Participation Compass

Bridge

Metin Parlak reflects on his 8 months as Involve’s Communications Intern, the projects he’s worked on and the field of engagement. 

My transition from academic to working life was fast, and life hasn’t slowed down much since. I joined Involve in July of last year a week before my graduation, as their Communications Intern – initially for a period of 3 months. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work on some significant projects that I’m proud to be a contributor to. I’ve also had the pleasure of working alongside specialists in public engagement whose passion for the field and convictions in its merits I found inspiring.

My first project was the overhaul of Involve’s dated practitioner site, PeopleandParticipation.net. One of the perks of editing, researching and writing methods and case studies of engagement for ParticipationCompass.org (the new and much improved replacement for People and Participation), was that I received a crash course on Involve and its ethos. What I discovered was a strong practical focus on citizen inclusion as opposed to the more abstract themes in philosophy that I was accustomed to.  The launch of ParticipationCompass.org was highly satisfying and I believe that it is a fantastic resource for civil servants and citizens alike. The site dispels claims by those who consider citizen engagement a nice ideal but one that cannot be exercised in political reality.

Once the site had been launched, my focus turned to Involve’s collaborative publication with the RSA, ‘From Fairy Tale to Reality: Dispelling the Myths around Citizen Engagement’. I believe this pamphlet fills an important hole in the literature on engagement. It is a well executed rebuttal of the common myths that are cited when rejecting the case for engagement. I have encountered these myths myself when explaining the ethos of Involve to sceptical friends. “So you would like to see the death penalty reinstated?” is one response I received; which is an example of a common myth identified in the pamphlet, namely the fear that citizen power is a floodgate that should be avoided at all costs. There cannot be a proper debate on any issue as long as baseless arguments that live through repetition and not reason persist. I believe the pamphlet will go some way to alter such thinking. In some ways we have no choice -the drivers of change identified in the pamphlet necessitate an alternative to top-down decision making. The pamphlet’s case studies demonstrate how this innovation in policy making can take place.

Prior to my internship at Involve my knowledge of engagement was limited to academic debates and the philosophical arguments of the likes of Habermas – limited in the sense that, whilst reading these heavy texts I had little hope and no idea about its practical implementation.  Working at Involve has enriched my practical understanding a great deal, which I hope will be useful in the future. I’m also pleased to leave Participation Compass and ‘From Fairy tale to Reality’ as my legacy.

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