One of the things we are trying to achieve with the project is a truely shared webspace that has been defined by allof the users and not just by the host organisation. When you try and create this kind of event with local government you end up talking about stakeholder meetings. This really is a phrase that chills the heart and a actuality which talks about institutionalised engagement rather than true particiaption. I was reading a piece of research by the Joseph Rowntree foundation called “Community participation: Who benefits?” (http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/details.asp?pubID=838) which talks about the way in which organisations create elites of participants and over use ‘the usual suspects’ within a community to the exclusion of a wider particpation. The use of the phrase stakeholder meeting speaks to exactly this pitfall and I am currently thinking about how to avoid this for our inital project meetings.
As a first step I am trying to avoid a formal agenda and instead putting together an offer as to what a participant might both gain from and also contribute to the project. What I want to achieve is the idea of the meeting as the starting point for a social exchange rather than a formal process.