Event Name: Our Social Europe – Local Seminar 3

Invitation:

At first, I talked to all participants in person in order to explain aims and content of the seminar. In the following, I sent out the following invitation (English translation):

Dear all,

I am coming back to you concerning our group discussion that I am organizing for the project “Our Social Europe through local civic participation” I have been talking to you recently.
Please fill in the days you are available on in the following doodle in order to fix a date: http://doodle.com/poll/biad85deid2darqe .

The first part of our meeting will be dedicated to the discussion of participation and participation practices at Groupe Terre, the second part to the evaluation of the project’s online portal.
Once all of you have completed the doodle, I will inform you about the date and provide further information.

Thanks a lot for your collaboration,
Please do not hesitate to contact me for any questions,

Best regards,
Ruth

Location of Event: Rue de Milmort 690 – 4040 Herstal, Belgium

Names of main organisations that attended:

  • Groupe Terre
  • RES (Réseau d’Entreprises Sociales)- Network of Work Integration Social Enterprises in the Walloon region
  • Union des Scop Wallonie- Bruxelles- Union of Participative Companies and Cooperatives in the Walloon and Brussels regions

Number of participants: 6

Aim of the Event:

The seminar pursued two main objectives: First, to discuss how workers’ participation takes place in the Terre group, a group of work integration social enterprises active in the Walloon region. Furthermore, we also discussed which are the main challenges of workers’ participation in management decisions and how participation and civic engagement are related. Second, the seminar served for the collection of the participants’ feedback on the draft version of the OSE web portal.

Guest Speakers/Facilitators:

Facilitator Ruth Kasper (ENSIE): project presentation, moderator of the discussion on participation, presentation of the OSE web portal

Xavier Roberti (Terre group): Presentation of the “Guide to Participatory Government” at the Terre group

Agenda for the Event:

9.30 – 10 Presentation of the “Guide to Participative Government“, used in the Terre group  (Xavier Roberti, Terre group)
10 – 12 Group discussion on participation and participative government in the Terre group
12 – 12.10 Project presentation “Our Social Europe”
12.10 – 12.45 Presentation of the OSE web portal, discussion and feedback from the participants

Photos:

Sorry, we cannot provide any photos or videos from the event.

General Summary:

Please see below for a brief summary of the event.

The discussion had two main aims: First, to discuss the participation practices of the Terre group, a group of work integration social enterprises, all of them being active in the Walloon region, Belgium. The second objective was to ask participants to share their opinion on the current version of the OSE online portal.

A. Participation

The discussion on participation was organized around three central questions:

  • How does participation work and how is it “lived” at the Terre group?
  • What are the challenges regarding participation processes in the Terre group?
  • How is participation as a worker related to participation as a citizen (to civic participation)?

Within the Terre group, participation is strongly linked to the concept of social economy, fostering social integration through work, by establishing companies which are based on the principles of solidarity, participative management, and empowerment to citizenship. This also means that employees are not only “mere workers” who have to fulfill tasks and meet certain goals, but defining their development as persons and citizens as an explicit aim. The participation process starts from the idea that all workers are able to manage the company and that they will acquire the necessary skills to participate in an ongoing way, also developing a certain “spirit“of participation. Participation or “participative government“, the term used for participative management in the Terre group, has two aspects: To support workers developing their participative skills (knowing how to participate) on the one hand and keep them informed about everything going on in the company on the other hand (information aspect).

Within the Terre group, great value is being attached to complete transparency. “Participative government“is seen as a way to create social added value, be more resilient in times of economic crises and develop the workers’ civic skills.

In terms of challenges, participants referred to the fact that many workers have never heard of participation, respectively “participatory government“, before joining Groupe Terre. As the group’s recruitment is not based on the criterion of motivation or willingness to participate, the group has sooner or later to deal with non-participation. Anyhow, the “policy” is to accept non-participation. To make real participation happen, non-participation has to be an option too, if not, participation becomes only a phrase. The Terre group has also made the experience that a certain amount of non-participation does not hinder the social enterprises’ functioning.

At individual level, it was pointed us out that “learning participation” means balancing individual and collective goals and preferences as well as to accept decisions that one does not agree with. This also implies dealing with frustration. The fact that people of different professions, ages, and cultural backgrounds are free to participate in all Terre group meetings is seen as an asset for taking decisions which are based on the group’s collective intelligence. Having workers supporting each other, e.g. by explaining and translating, renforces the solidarity and team spirit and supports the teams’ self regulation (i.e. how to deal with difficult situations, problems, conflicts etc.).

Another crucial challenge is to integrate (and keep integrating) persons who would rather not participate actively (e.g. because they do not like to speak up in front of others). Here again, support and positive feedback by other team members is very supportive.

According to the participants, it is the notion of empowerment through continuous training on participation that connects participation in an organisation or work integration social enterprise to civic engagement. Anyhow, as the functioning of the Terre group, in terms of strategical and operational decisions, entirely depends on the workers’ participation, there is no alternative to workers’ participation. With most workers, some kind of transmission of the habit and practice of participation from the work space to the civic sphere takes place, simply by participating in an on-going way.

It should also be mentioned that some workers volunteer at particular events organized by Groupe Terre’s NGO “Autre Terre” during their spare time, some even volunteer in a continuous way at different activities of the group. This clearly is an indicator of civic engagement.

B. Evaluation of the OSE online portal

In general, participants felt that it is too early to evaluate the portal as its current (pilot) version is still very simple and rather rudimentary. It was also stated that disadvantaged persons would encounter difficulties using the online tool as they often have very limited IT skills (in the sense that they use the internet in a very limited way, for very few activities).

More concretely, the following feedback was provided in terms of design:

  • If we want to convey the idea of a ‘bus ride’ on the OSE project, this should also be depicted (e.g. by depicting a bus).
  • The current version is not “attractive” enough. Participants doubt that people would feel like getting active on it (imagining somebody already being frustrated or annoyed, the portal looks too much like something “more work to do”).

The question was raised if the idea of numbered “stops” is very useful and that it would be better to have less “stops”. Also, users might ask themselves why they have to go to the forth “stop” to, for example, report a concern after already being asked about their ideas for their neighbourhood at the first stop.

The participants’ feedback in terms of content:

  • Participants stressed the need to ensure that somebody supports and supervises the portal (what happens with “problematic” suggestions such as racist comments).

One participant suggested organizing “Citizens’ Cafés” in chosen areas which would give people the possibility to interact, share, and develop their ideas (on what to change in their area etc.).

PowerPoint Presentations:
Please see below for any PowerPoint Presentations from the event.

ENSIE PPTs_local seminar 3

Presentation Ruth Kasper

Remark: It is not possible to make the presentation “Guide to Participatory Government” of the Terre group available as it is still part of an ongoing working process.