How 2 Do It, Kings College London

On Saturday 9th April The Trust Map researcher Catherine Wilkinson organised a session on Participatory Budgeting at the How 2 Do It conference at Kings College London (9-10 April). The theme of the conference was ‘creating bottom up political participation’. The conference brought together people from a variety of backgrounds including academics, activists, and community organisers to learn from each other and work together on how to bring about concrete radical social change. Primarily, the conference was concerned with how to improve and increase participation. The overarching question that led the event was “how to do it?”. The conference stemmed from a belief that we are living in a time where conventional political processes have lost relevance and credibility for most people.

The event was participatory in every sense: it was the delegates who chose the conference themes and the formats of their sessions, delegates helped to promote the conference, and delegates each bought an item of food for the buffet. The conference employed a ‘safer spaces’ policy, which enabled people from differing backgrounds and levels of experience to participate equally. The day was organised with parallel sessions. I attended an interesting first session on Digital Communication and Decision Making. This was a structured mind mapping and collaborative design work session, based on a presentation delivered by Petros Polonos from FreeLab ‘Towards Liberatory Technology’. This workshop used a group discussion to develop a set of guidelines for those trying to initiative a LibTech movement in their community.

Up next was my session, Putting the Participatory into Participatory Budgeting. This session acknowledged that PB is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people describe how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. The overarching question that structured this session was “how can we create progressive and effective political participation in PB?”. I presented emerging themes from The Trust Map’s County Durham fieldwork, and Shealagh Pearce, Principal Area Action Partnership Coordinator at Durham County Council presented on Area Action Partnerships and Participatory Budgeting, and also the work of the Durham Police and a participatory budgeting project in Seaham. Dr Phil Jones, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Geography at the University of Birminham, also delivered a great presentation reflecting on community-led cultural commissioning.

I also attended an interesting session on Community Participation Globally, with presentations from Erika Lopez Franco, Thea Shahrokh, and Henrietta Cullinan, as they reflected on innovations in bottom up community organisations made by marginalised communities across the world. Other interesting sessions that I attended on Day 2 include: Organizing on the Margins: Migrants and the Urban Poor; How to Map for Justice; and Cultural Media: Community Projects. Overall, How 2 Do It was a great inclusive and participatory conference. All of the reports written up from the event (by delegates, immediately after each session) will shortly be made available on the Activistwiki site and are open for people to add comments, information, links and references.

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