03 September 2010

Carin Smuts workshop at Habitare fair

I will write this post in English, as all my notes from the workshop are in English and I do believe these methods will be very useful for us with the KOMITU project in Cambodia.

On thursday 2.9.2010 two KOMITU members, Inari and Maiju, had a very exclusive opportunity to attend a workshop on participative design methods run by architect Carin Smuts from South-Africa. Among with only two other participants we had a fruitful two-hour discussion with Caren. Below are some methods she has used in her work with different communities.

First of all, how to get the people to participate? You will need to set up
A community meeting/gathering/workshop
where you will invite the people from the community/ future user group.
You are advised to use creativity in the forms of getting the people to come, you can for example drive around with a megaphone. It's also a good idea to offer the people something fun at first; theater, bands, football, games, circus etc. Other ways of gathering information from the people include e.g. household interviews which are very practical especially if the people are illiterate.

When you have gathered a group of people, how to run a workshop successfully?

Most of the time you will be working with people who come from a completely different culture from your own. It is important to try to learn as much as possible about the culture you're working in. This way you will also know e.g. how to dress correctly, and communication will go smoother. If you need to use an interpreter do so but keep in mind that the message you're getting might be different from the original one. It is always usefull to learn at least a little bit of the language of the the people you're working with.

Work towards an attitude of equality, you are neither superior nor inferior to the people you're working with.

STAGE 1 - Getting started

1. Get everybody to introduce themeselves, who they are, what they do, and also to name an animal that they see themselves to be (usually this animal really represents the person quite correctly).

2.Ask the attending people why are they there. This way you''ll find out who is already committed to the project and who you especially have to work with.

3. Setting the right mood for interaction. The people you are working with might be living in very hard reality so it is a good idea to first do something to lift the spirits of the group up. You can for example show the people beautiful and interesting pictures of something inspiring and somehow linked to the theme. This stage will prepare them to give the situation a chance.

4. Games will help in the beginning to set the mood and break the ice. Carin introduced a ´please, climb through this piece of paper ´excercise where you literally ask the people to climb through a 1/2 of an A4 sheet. Sounds impossible at first, just as the project you're trying to realize, but can be done (with some tricks you need to learn) and shows that nothing really is impossible!

5. Before the actual tasks of the workshop you should set up working groups. If people have clearly formed groups that might be opposing each other, get them to form a row of birthdays without talking. Then divide the row by 5 or 6 and you'll get mixed working groups. Groups of seven are already too big for working.

STAGE 2 - Then comes the part where you actually gather information from the community.

6. Identify the project.

7. Helicopter excercise. Ask people to draw a bird's eye view of what the site will look like in 10 years. "If you would fly above the site on a helicopter, how would it look like?"

8. Draw networks. Ask people to draw all the people, organisations, municipalities etc. related to the project. Good relationships with a straight line and complicated ones with a curvy one.

9. Draw resources. Ask people to draw all the resources that could benefit the project.

Now go trough the drawings with the people, try to get different group memebers to explain so it's not only one person talking all the time. Fill in the information the people tell you "Can you write/draw this too or Can I fill it in for you?"

STAGE 3 Then with the information the community has given you

10.Make a strategic plan. What will happen time-wise in 6 months? What has been accomplished in a year? Make a time-plan.

11. Make a real business plan of the project.

General goals to keep in mind:

Empowerment. Make your customers so strong that they can really have a dialogue with you and the funders, and later on take care of their own building.

How are the gender roles in the current society and culture? What kind of events are ok for both sexes to attend? For example a lecture or film about bambu could be enough neutral.

Time-management. If a meeting is supposed to start at 18, start sharply and close the doors after you start.

Drawing. In societies where people are often illeterate, they can always draw. If you don't have paper, draw to the sand. You can't lie in pictures and drawings. Ask for example the children to draw their dreams and you'll get to see and understand the related emotions. Drawing big is also a means of empowering. Draw so big that everyone in the meeting can follow your presentation.

What do the stakeholders really need and want in their community? Listen to the cleaner and the cook, they might know a buildings functions better than the official spokesperson. Funders can also be bullies. Security and cleaning are often fundamental in the success of a project.

Secure the land. According to internetional law you should either have a lease or an "entitled deed(?)" Never, ever build anything if the land is not secured!

Total accountability. Always if you pay someone a salary, get then to sign that they have recieved it. Keep alist of everybody involved, also for the funder to see. Have a community liaison officer that you pay a regular salary. He/she can save you a lot of time by finding the right people, workers, materials, officials etc.

Nabeel Hamdie
(Oxford Brookes University) has written a good book about participatory excercises.


  1. Some more additions:

    -A financial workshop might be useful.

    Be aware that the beneficiaries and the benefactors may have conflicting priorities that may ruin the project. You may have to find a path of smaller first-priority improvements that are necessary before going to the actual target of the project.

    -In the network/resource plan: write down persons' names. They'll prove to be useful in a concrete business plan & communication with the funders.

    -It might be worthwhile to recruit a community liaison officer who does the networking to the local resources. Allocate funds to the liaison's post in the business plan.

    -Be strict with disturbing visitors in the meetings. Have a bouncer so that you don't have to take a police role yourself.

    -A pre-event on the construction site might be a good idea for advertising and for fun. After all, people must have fun in order to have a successful participatory process.

    (Sit sanakirjasta: Title deed: s oik saantokirja)

  2. Kiitos. Loistava systeemi. Helena