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Before CoProWeekScot 2021 next week, Holly Hendry of the Scotland Recovery Network reflects on the impact of form on participation
Restoring the network in Scotland, collaboration and emphasis on life experience are at the core of our work. We want Scotland to be a place where people with life experience can meaningfully participate in the design and delivery of mental health strategies and support.
Recently, we have been holding events to encourage people to think about how meaningful participation spaces feel for them. As a network officer, this issue has always been the forefront of my thinking when planning activities and creating conditions for participation.
One thing I often find myself reflecting on is the influence of form on participation. As a participant, I found that formalization creates a disconnect in the self that I bring into the space. Sometimes it even feels that restrictions have been set before the participation process begins. It's like the agenda and results have been set before I arrive. I don't know you, but when I am asked to contribute my views and ideas, I want to bring my true self. Formal spaces are often not well adapted to this situation.
When people around me feel that they can contribute their humanity, I always feel more inspired. In the restoration of the network in Scotland, we often talk about the "informality of design". The term was coined as part of the "True Recovery" program, which is still bringing people together and putting them at the center of decision-making, service design, and practice development five years later.
This is a way of treating people as people and challenging the "them and us" culture that usually exists between getting help and providing support. As a host, I really like this term. It recognizes that it needs structure, but it needs flexible structure. The type that provides space for the power and value of building relationships, open dialogue, and creative thinking. Create a structure that allows people to come together as equals and explore the best way forward to create positive changes for them and their communities.
There are small things that support the informality of the design. A fun and inviting space with refreshments, colored pens and paper tablecloths-to inspire creativity and make people feel comfortable. Link activities that focus on personal health (this encourages people to play their part). Use names and delete professional indicators such as lanyards-once again support breaking the "them and us" narrative. These small but powerful changes can set the overall tone and feel of the participating space.
For me, one of the most important things we can do is celebrate the diversity of knowledge, skills and experience we can all bring and contribute. The space for participation should cultivate rather than limit this.
I know from experience that getting rid of formal traditional methods such as consulting can be frightening. This means getting out of your comfort zone. It takes time, curiosity, and the willingness to do things in different ways, usually without knowing what the result will be. But this is the beauty of it. Honest, open dialogues and connections bring new ideas and solutions that allow us to move from more of the same places to the truly positive changes that people want and need.
Participation does not necessarily mean formal, but it should definitely be meaningful.
Sign up for the newsletter of the Scottish Rehabilitation Network for more opportunities, resources and ideas to help you achieve mental health recovery in your place, or visit www.scottishrecovery.net
Third Force News (TFN) is the only daily news media in Scotland dedicated to Scottish charities and voluntary organizations. TFN is published by the Scottish Council of Volunteer Organizations. learn more
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