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Upturned Participation

Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry process­es where the rela­tion of pow­er is turned upside down

A plane seen from a yard passing over buildings

Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion is a tech­nique for ped­a­gog­i­cal plan­ning. It can be used to cre­ate par­tic­i­pa­to­ry process­es with chil­dren and youths where the rela­tion of pow­er between youths and adults is turned upside down.

Why work with Upturned Par­tic­i­pa­tion? Because upturned par­tic­i­pa­tion works from a down­ward per­spec­tive. Here the youths ini­ti­ate, plan and com­plete projects in coop­er­a­tion with ped­a­gogues who use their pro­fes­sion­al skills, meth­ods and expe­ri­ences from their own reper­toire to sup­port the youths’ ideas. The tech­nique is “upturned” because the author­i­ty is hand­ed over to those that usu­al­ly do not have it – for instance the mar­gin­al­ized voic­es in urban spaces.

When work­ing with upturned par­tic­i­pa­tion the ped­a­gogue needs to facil­i­tate the youths through three phas­es. These are ini­ti­a­tion, plan­ning, and com­ple­tion.

Form a group of youths that you know well and that you know are vis­i­tors in the insti­tu­tion (fast track). Plan two meet­ings with the youths.

In the meet­ings it is impor­tant to stress that every­thing is to be tak­en seri­ous­ly, that every­one can speak freely, and that it is for­bid­den to dis­cuss. It is a good idea to talk via bul­let points. What is being said will be not­ed in bul­let points on “wall prints” so every­body can see what is not­ed. Wall prints from the first meet­ing will be dis­played at the sec­ond meet­ing and will be used as a com­mon basis.

Find a headline/topic that occu­pies the group: “Life in the rec cen­ter”, “Rec cen­ter in the area”, “Good life for youths in the rec center”.

  1. Cri­tiquing phase: talk to the youths about what trou­bles them – cri­tique and dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the “top­ic”.

Write this on the print.

  1. Utopi­an phase: what would it look like if you (the youths) had the pow­er of decision?

Write this on the print.

  1. Real­iza­tion phase: remind them of their ideas – what would they like to real­ize and why? Use the head­lines as a start­ing point and talk to them about where they could begin. What and how would they do it?
After the sec­ond meet­ing the fol­low­ing meet­ings are planned. Here the youths will begin plan­ning on their own and com­plete the ideas for changes that they have agreed on. Keep in mind that the youths own the process, while the ped­a­gogues’ task is to sup­port the progress.
  • Orga­nize the space so it feels acces­si­ble and invites participation.
  • Arrange the space phys­i­cal­ly so it invites dia­logue. Use the phys­i­cal arrange­ment to “upturn” the space.
  • Be aware that the phys­i­cal space sup­ports pow­er in the room – who/what will dominate?
  • The space con­notes cer­tain rooms – for instance a class­room and a cre­ative work­shop. Maybe you can find a place that you usu­al­ly don’t frequent?
  • Strive to cre­ate the same space every time. Use for instance wall prints and arti­facts like flow­ers and chair arrangement.

Read more about how to work with spaces in the arti­cle “Didac­tics as participation”.

Advisory Structure – Upturned Participation

  • Cre­ate rules for meet­ings with the youths – it is their space and hence they are the ones who will make the rules. Is it for instance allowed to use mobile phones dur­ing the meet­ings, will there be breaks or can you come and go as you please?
    The rules can be adjust­ed and dis­cussed continuously.
  • Are there bar­ri­ers that can impede par­tic­i­pa­tion? If you for instance meet at 17.00h, when the youths are hun­gry, make sure that food is available.
  • Choose a style that suits you and stick to it – even when test­ing is done. How­ev­er, be flex­i­ble and adapt to the youths’ needs (15.00h or 16.00h on Mon­days or Thurs­days, two to three hours.

Read more about Advi­so­ry struc­ture in the article:

The Devil’s Advocate

A way of ask­ing difficult/challenging questions.

A tech­nique that should be viewed and per­formed as a nur­tur­ing cri­tique, in the tran­si­tion from utopia to realization.

Keep in mind that you are not neu­tral in the process. You must not dom­i­nate by assess­ing and con­clud­ing. How­ev­er, you must not allow your­self to be pushed over either.

Con­crete expres­sion: “I will be the devil’s advo­cate now…”, “what would the devil’s advo­cate say to that…?”.

Var­i­ous pleas: what would this idea mean to: you, the area, the pro­fes­sion­als, the elder­ly, the chil­dren, nature, etc.

Use the tool to chal­lenge the youths’ perspectives.

Read more about The Devil’s Advo­cate in Jung and Müller. (Ref­er­encelink her?)

On the role of the facil­i­ta­tor (action schol­ar). (Man­gler der noget her?)