NSL Blog

What do we know about participatory cultures?

August 2, 2013


Up Helly Aa – The festival of light, Shetland.

Henry Jenkins interviews Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson about their new book The Participatory Cultures Handbook. This is of great interest to me because Principle 4 of No Straight Lines is Participatory Cultures and Tools in a recent article for The Guardian (Six steps to transform the way we do business) I briefly explained the principle and why I believe it is a key component to our non-linear world,

The insight is that human beings are designed to work in aggregate, there are many benefits of participatory cultures, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude towards intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace and a more empowered conception of citizenship. We need to embed sociability into everything, from the buildings we design to the software code we write, the processes we create, the business and organisational models we conceive, the governmental institutions we create and the means by which those institutions operate. The multi-dimensionality of humanity needs to be coded into the fabric of all those things.

Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson explain their findings,

We would now suggest there are three primary kinds of participatory cultures: consensus cultures, creative cultures, and discussion cultures.  While we acknowledge these are fuzzy categories, they do offer a structure for thinking about what it means to participate. We believe the nature of participatory cultures shifts just as it does in real world settings where cultures are shaped by venue, topic, participants, and interest level.

The most traditionally “productive” participatory cultures are often consensus cultures, or agreement-based.  They frequently reside in the realm of “work” where there is a goal or outcome to be met.  Something must be completed or solved or fixed.  These could easily be subdivided into expert cultures where people with specialized knowledge join together to leverage the power of collective intelligence and democratic cultures where “average citizens” do the same thing.  In the book, chapters about CERN and crisis mapping tend to the former while those about participatory budgeting tend to the latter.

This  observation relates to the story of deep systems change in the Nova Scotia healthcare system. And the participatory model for better managing chronic disease, known as Patients Know Best. Both have upgraded an entire organisation and the effectiveness of managing chronic healthcare. I was recently asked by a potential client how I would design and implement a project required to inspire employees to adopt an approach of doing more with less and explained this principle and practice – the reply was I was talking anarchy. I suspect they were looking for a more hammer like approach to employee motivation.

These comments touch on identity, belonging, co-creation and culture, all of which adds to the fabric of social life,

Creative cultures are those in which participants are encouraged to create, share, and comment all within a safe and supportive environment.  Remix cultures live in this space, as do art and writing cultures.  The creative portion of fan cultures reside here – the fan fiction and fan-art sub-sites, for example.  In these spaces, participants are passionate about their creativity and the topics that spur those passions.  They are often lifers, who join a culture and stick with it.

And of course we see this as the means by which all cultures glue the,selves together, the hidden ties that bind us for example I + We = why? Up Helly Aa answers that question, I + We = Why? Up Helly Aa answers that question [2], and a short post on tattoo’s

Discussion cultures are ones where a topic rather than an outcome is at the heart of participation.  Sports fandoms, news sites, and food blogs all fall within the realm of discussion cultures.  Here, we often see more disagreement than support with participants engaging in sometimes heated, often real-time, exchanges on topics of personal and professional interest.  Participants in discussion cultures are not always long-time residents; they often roam from site to site as they chase the topic.

The rest of the interview is well worth a read.

Journey further

MORE:         /   /   /  Comments (0)