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Since a year Veronique and I are involved in SALT processes within the City of Vilvoorde in Belgium, next to Brussels (Vilvoorde has 44.000 habitants, it is the fastest growing city in Flanders, with 51% of the population with a migration background, 108 nationalities in total, 25% of the population is younger than 18).

So far we have been starting SALT processes in the different communities (7 in total) with a lot of success. We had about 15-20 sessions. Every community succeeded to agree upon a common dream and make their first steps, to learn from their actions through the SALT CLPC process. BUT … despite the early successes our next challenge will be to make these early seeds grow, build resilience and make them sustainable.  

Our challenges concretely are:

·        Forming the core team within each community (rooted leadership)

·        Grow the maturity of the collectives that emerge (group dynamics, diversity, personal transformation)

·        Bring the different individual communities together (transversal best practices)

·        Redefine the relationship with the City Council and create a new space for collaboration between the system and the collective and let it mature (democracy).

Last November there were elections here which makes that a new city council is in place since Jan 2019 for the next 6 years. And we are invited by the policy makers to support them in defining their Participation Policy for this period. Although there is a clear intention, it is also clear that they do not know how to navigate this. And the political system can be quite opportunistic. ;-) 

Veronique and I both feel that we need to work with a maturity model and a roadmap. Mutual trust is something that grows. Both ends have to make their steps to be able to climb higher. Intermediate anchoring will be necessary. We intend to take a blended approach that  is rooted in the SALT cycle but makes use of a more extensive toolkit. Our aim is to build a case out of our experience which can be applied to other citizen participation tracks. No guarantees for now, but it is in the experience that we learn and that the next steps will emerge.

In the meantime, we do want to tap into the collective wisdom of this community. So this is a call for:  

1.       Similar cases, their learnings and best practices. You can also share articles you might have read. (We are in contact with Grez-Doiceau but we do not have a Jean-Louis who lives in Vilvoorde ;-))

2.       Anyone interested in this initiative and who thinks he/she could contribute to the development of best practices around citizen participation is more than welcome to reach out to us. The focus will be on implementation as we are working hand’s on. We tend to do some collective intelligence work around this.   

With gratitude for any input!

Warmly, Tom

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All links to academic resources that can support our case/path forward are more than welcome! :-) 

Great to see and read about the Vilvoorde project taking its next steps. In fact the auto-evaluation approach with its 5 levels is a maturity model on its own. So why not co-facilitate a participation dream with the city council and let the auto-evaluation proces become the maturity model applied? The can describe the 5 levels when being asked how to find proof of the different levels . 

Jan Somers 

He Jan, we hope to get there BUT the challenges are still big, and we do work within some constraints:

The first neighborhood – Faubourg (this was the pilot project as you know) - has evolved from a resident participation group to an association. They dropped SALT. This triggers the question of sustainability. Where is a citizen participation group different to an association? What makes a citizen participation group relevant? What does it need to stay viable and sustain itself?

In 2018 we had only 5000 Euro to address the 7 other neighborhoods. So we could only spent 8h per neighborhood (4h dream session, 2h dream to action, 2h integration & learning). This was a balancing act. With promising results but very premature.

In 2019 we hope to use the remaining budget to shift some things:

*We suggested the city to focus on transversal best practices between neighborhoods, so that they can reinforce themselves. And to give us the ability to work with the emerging teams on group dynamics, conflict handling, leadership which were not in the original scope of the contract.

*We decided to invest in an alliance with the CitizenLab Platform which is deployed by the city but not properly used. Our only chance to grow further is if we can anchor the early seeds. Based upon our research of the CitizenLab platform we see an opportunity here. But the City still needs to follow our recommendation. If they agree this could build more visibility about fruits of our efforts in 2018 and it could be used to leverage the potential towards the City.

*We will aim to open up the conversation with the City to go beyond the fragmentation and agree upon an approach for the next years. This will have to include the discussion about a new budget as well.

We are still convinced of the emerging potential, but we will have to change our approach to navigate the complexity of the eco-system (they sometimes make it more complicated than necessary). We do hope we can get different stakeholders together for a collective intelligence session. So yes, we might dream with the City Council and bring the auto-evaluation in.  Vilvoorde talks about the participation ladder. They based themselves upon the book of Dr. Eric Lancksweerdt Handboek burgerparticipatie (2009).

We go step by step. A challenging but beautiful learning journey. I hope we can continue it and further prototype ((re)invent) citizen participation. 

We had a collective intelligence call last Saturday. Thanks to those that joined us in the council!  

I want to share some reflections that came out of the call for me.  

  • The importance of SALT visits got emphasized to further bond different key players within the community. Where the City hired The Constellation to facilitate participation, the contract did not foresee any SALT visits in the scope of the project. There was no field study while I do think a field study or stakeholder analysis (with defined SALT visits) is important to identify more of the potential upfront. This is a big learning for the scoping of future projects.  
  • The question was asked whether a Citizen Participation initiative does need to be representative or that its primary aim is to build more connection within the community which allows them to take ownership of their environment. This is a very relevant question. I tend to agree that community building comes first. Still I do think they should aim for diversity and active participation to differentiate them from any other kind of sports or theatre association. The city of Vilvoorde has the aim to recognize one Citizen Participation group per neighborhood.
  • The question was asked how we measure our success? The answer for us here is the quality of relationships and the ability for the collective that gathers to take a next step on their journey. We are only planting seeds for now. Our first steps have been successful and promising, but this is no guarantee at all that these initiatives will be sustainable. We notice that it will take time for these initiatives to become sustainable as the groups still need to form (science of group dynamics), they need to learn to deal with conflicts, explore self-leadership etc. This does ask time. There is no existing context for these people to meet. They are not part of the same organization, they do not live in a village where they meet each other regularly. They need to create a new context. And key will be that they find their own place to meet regularly to build these connections. It is important that the measures of success are defined upfront within the projects we do. There is no alignment on this today with the City Council. We are getting into this discussion however. We are learning together.
  • The question was asked whether a rigor in the SALT CLCP cycle could support us to anchor our results. It could for sure help if we had more time and more resources to anchor the method more. But we have to work within strong constraints. Where we put the SALT CLCP and Attitude at the heart of what we do we had only 3 sessions with each community which makes 8h in total (4h dream cycle, 2h dream to action, 2h integration and learning). Despite these constraints we do touch upon the potential of these initiatives and we do see a way forward, but we also see that we will need to open up the contract to walk this path so we will need to convince the City Council to take the next steps. We hope to be able to go to the next level by working more transversal and by connecting the dots between certain initiatives that currently run in parallel. This will allow us – hopefully – to make the potential more visible for the policy makers.

The contract of The Constellation with the City of Vilvoorde ends this year.  We hope that the harvest of the last months can allow us to open up the conversation with the city council to realign with their intentions and see how we can support them in a more coherent participation policy.  

Thank you Tom for that meeting! 

I want to share the video of our conversation for those who couldn't join this saturday! Please don't hesitate to share your experiences and ideas to support Veronique and Tom!

Thank you Laurie for organizing this call and for sharing the video! I have appreciated the openness and collective spirit a lot! This network has such a potential to share experiences across the globe. 

Listening back to the call I want to add two things Rituu emphasized from her experience:
- You need time to grow the community spirit. Our experience is that groups jump too fast too the action and forget to work on this until they get stuck in their collaboration. Within the constraints we have in Vilvoorde we do orient the groups to focus upon this.
- It is important to ask yourself 'Who is missing?'

I also want to share these resources (shared by Rituu) (I m in a conversation with them, I love their view on transformation, we are exploring maturity model approaches)

I want to add one element of complexity. On the integral map of consciousness the citizen participation groups are at early Green while the City Council is at Orange. We as facilitators try to navigate this and reconcile this from a Teal perspective.

Btw The Constellation as a collective is at level Green.  Most of our clients are probably Green as well. Do we want to grow to Teal to enable complex living systems and systemic change?  One of the challenges in systemic change is the ability to include (appreciate) and transcend all the colors below.


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