Why Participatory Processes Matter

on July 9 | in Community Engagement, Trust | by | with No Comments

Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece concerning what I consider to be the importance of individual and collective ownership of local “resources” (or, to use another word, “capital”) to long-term sustainability and self-sufficiency.    In that piece I had mentioned that it is not enough to know how to fish, one must also have access to the ponds, where fish may be caught.   The ponds are an example of capital.  There are various forms of capital in any community — human, financial, cultural, natural, and social capital, to name a few — all of which should be “owned” by community residents, individually and collectively, and used for the benefit of the entire community.

“Social capital,” specifically, is a concept that has gained considerable attention in the social sciences during the past few decades.   Defined variously as (a) generalized trust, (b) general reciprocity, (c) information, trust, and norms of reciprocity found in people’s social networks, and (d) norms and networks that facilitate collective action, social capital is an important, but historically overlooked, form of capital necessary for positive societal outcomes.   Studies have shown a positive relationship between social capital and economic development, happiness, democratic/political stability, safety and health, and educational outcomes.

Scholars and development practitioners have noted a variety of means by which social capital can be enhanced in a community, including resident participation in and ownership of local program development, and utilization of public, deliberative processes for social transformation.  Importantly, social capital is enhanced most-effectively in face-to-face interactions.

Given the connection between social capital enhancement and positive community outcomes, CDF has announced an initiative it calls a “community trust” in which community residents may enhance social capital in the Clarkston community by participating in and owning a very public, very participatory, very deliberative process of allocating financial capital to initiatives, programs or projects community residents determine to be of benefit to the entire community. The “community trust” idea borrows from various direct, participatory, and/or consensus-based democracy initiatives occurring internationally, such as “participatory budgeting” now done in over a thousand communities around the globe and a few large cities here in the United States, including New York City and Chicago.  However, the community trust CDF proposes modifies these models a bit by separating the fund and the decision-making process from government institutions (who usually direct the participatory budget process), by utilizing a more consensus-based orientation (as opposed to a more traditional majority voting process used in this country), and by providing an opportunity for community members and businesses to contribute directly to the fund.

If you are a resident, defined to be anyone living in the Clarkston 30021 zip code, we hope you will join us on August 15th for our initial Community Trust event.  If you would like more information about the trust process, you may attend one of several information sessions to be held on July 11th, July 25th, and August 4th.




Cites and references can be provided upon request





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