How can the methods and approaches of creative practitioners be applied in civic engagement projects, to encourage more active participation and creative public engagement in the consultation process?
Creative Ireland have recently announced the 43 successful projects that will receive funding under the Creative Climate Action Fund II, including two projects that the Connect the Dots team will soon be collaborating on (keep an eye on the blog, or subscribe to our newsletter for more details on these soon!). The Creative Climate Action Fund “supports creative, cultural and artistic projects that build awareness around climate change and empowers citizens to make meaningful behavioural changes.”. The project recognises the power that arts & culture can have for engaging people from diverse backgrounds, and bringing to life complex issues in ways that can be meaningfully understood and acted upon.
The launch of the Creative Climate Action Fund II has inspired us to think about what learnings can be drawn from the artistic process and applied in the civic sphere to encourage more participatory and creative public engagement. Read on to hear our thoughts!
LESSON 1: The Importance of Storytelling
Often the public consultation projects our clients bring to us are complex. They involve intangible issues such as climate change or dealing with long-term urban planning challenges that are hard for most people to wrap their heads around. Crafting a compelling and relatable narrative around these topics is essential. This can help people place the issue within their own lives, so they can provide more thoughtful and relevant insights to feed into the project. An inspiring story can also help spark people’s imagination and get them thinking about alternative visions for the future.
‘Relatable’ is a key word here – like the creative arts, civic projects often must battle with public perceptions that the topic at hand is ‘not meant for me’. Tackle these misconceptions by considering the key message and medium of the consultation activity, making sure all audiences are actively encouraged to participate.
LESSON 2: An Invitation to Everyone
It’s important that great art is accessible to everyone. It can build connections between people of diverse backgrounds and invite those who may usually be left out of important conversations to actively participate. It also lives outside the traditional ‘white box’ gallery space, bringing exhibitions or performances into public spaces to reach people who may not otherwise engage with formal artistic spaces.
Creative public engagement processes can take inspiration from the wide variety of forms art can take – visual, audio, physical installations, performances and much more. These formats are more engaging, exciting and interactive than dense, technical written reports and blueprints. Often, they are also more inclusive of those who may struggle with traditional consultation formats, such as those with visual or hearing impairments, or where English is not a first language.
By inviting greater diversity in participants, a greater diversity of insights will be gathered through consultation.
LESSON 3: Creating Spaces for Conversation
Artists provide physical and metaphorical space for people to gather, sparking conversation and enabling the sharing of knowledge. By providing a shared experience around which people can build connections, they allow for constructive debate where differing viewpoints can be considered without the conflict and mistrust that may exist in other spaces. The conversations that happen in these spaces can be important steps in building positive, collaborative relationships between diverse communities in the wider world.
Public consultation can similarly try to create inclusive, equitable spaces and activities that facilitate open and respectful debate between participants. Consultation can encourage participants to consider the viewpoints of all in their community. Set a goal of building better community connection and collaboration into consultation programmes from the outset.
Implementing creative public engagement methods in civic projects.
Adopting the practical methods of creative practitioners, and more importantly a creative mindset, can help with crafting more impactful and engaging public consultation programmes. Civic or community actors can even consider going one step further by collaborating with a local artist, making use of their unique perspective to engage the community in a more creative way, inspiring citizens to actively participate and positively contribute to important community issues.
We’re excited to follow the progress of all the Creative Climate Action Fund II projects, and hope they succeed in supporting meaningful climate action across Ireland.