I was reading Sherry Arnstein's 1969 paper "A Ladder of Citizen
Participation" (JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July 1969, pp. 216-224)
or at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01944366908977225 and found it remarkably
relevant to the issue of the engagement beween the volunteer community and
the formal structures of the WMF (Board and executive).
The analysis proposes eight stages or rungs to the ladder:
7. Delegated Power
8. Citizen Control
They are grouped as 1-2: Non-participation; 3-5: Tokenism; 6-8: Citizen
Reading "volunteer" for "citizen" throughout, I thought it instructive to
map some of the WMF activities onto the scale, with quotes from the
1. Manipulation "In the name of citizen participation, people are placed on
rubberstamp advisory committees or advisory boards for the express purpose
of "educating" them or engineering their support. Instead of genuine
citizen participation, the bottom rung of the ladder signifies the
distortion of participation into a public relations vehicle by
2. Therapy "under a masquerade of involving citizens in planning, the
experts subject the citizens to clinical group therapy."
3. Informing. "the emphasis is placed on a one-way flow of information -
from officials to citizens - with no channel provided for feedback and no
power for negotiation"
4. Consultation. "People are primarily perceived as statistical
abstractions, and participation is measured by how many come to meetings,
take brochures home, or answer a questionnaire. What citizens achieve in
all this activity is that they have 'participated in participation.' And
what powerholders achieve is the evidence that they have gone through the
5. Placation. "An example of placation strategy is to place a few
hand-picked 'worthy' poor on boards [...] If they are not accountable to a
constituency in the community and if the traditional power elite hold the
majority of seats, the have-nots can be easily outvoted and outfoxed."
6. Partnership. "At this rung of the ladder, power is in fact redistributed
through negotiation between citizens and powerholders."
Can there be aby doubt that the majority of WMF group meetings world-wide
falls under the heading of 1 and 2? Or that the communications strategy
and product development strategy of the WMF falls under 3? Or that 4 is a
desciption of the WMF approach to community consultation? Or that 5 is an
uncannily exact description of the way the community nominates (under the
guise of "electing") a minority of board members who may be removed if they
ask impertinant questions? Or that there is precisely zero substantiative
activitity that has risen to level 6?
It is clear that on this analysis the WMF/Community engagement is still at
best "Tokenism" -- discussion is invited.
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