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Public Meetings – Participation Case Study Part of 2004 Report "Designing Social Capital Sensitive Participation Methodologies"

Public meetings were held in many of the villages in each project area. They were conducted in the evening for a maximum of two hours. Some seating was provided where possible, generally about 20 seats from the local school. The public meetings were open to all and generally about 70-80 people attended the public meetings and it was observed that the socially dominant people sat in the chairs and the rest sat on the ground behind. The primary purpose of the events were for information dissemination in the way of informing them of the project and collection of views. The same power and gender differentials were observed as in the focus groups with very few people participating and participation coming from those people sitting in the chairs, i.e. those with high social status.

The timing of the meetings meant that people who worked during the day could attend. It did however exclude some disadvantaged groups. Carers, who are generally women, could not attend and this is particularly significant given the high rates of HIV/AIDS in the project areas. This has similar effects on social capital building opportunities as the focus groups situation identified and discussed above. Despite the fact that the excluded people are unlikely to participate in the public meeting, their exclusion can result in carers feeling ostracized and socially isolated. Missing the formal public meeting component is not as significant as missing the informal social interactions that occur before and after the meeting. There are important opportunities for interaction with a wide variety of people, which represents an important opportunity for building and strengthening social capital. The village extension people such as health workers, teachers, etc, who would be excluded from a meeting held during the day attended the meetings held in the evening. This represents a networking opportunity for the extension people and the wider community through the strengthening of weak ties and formation of new ones as well. Particularly important is the opportunity for information sharing which is itself an outcome of social capital but also contributes to social capital through increased trust, cohesion and empathy.

Public meetings in the developed country context are very different. Usually there is seating for everyone with higher levels of participation. There is generally a much lower attendance rates as people suffer from a shortage of time and an overload of information. Attendees must have a strong reason for attendance, usually in terms of personal impact, or in terms of strong views and beliefs. This changes the patterns of participation from those observed in the developing country contexts where most people will attend a public meeting, even if they are not involved or impacted. In developed countries discussion between stakeholder groups is common and can be quite animated. In developing countries, views are expressed in a more controlled way, if expressed at all in a public meeting situation. In developed countries people will often ask questions of the project team and disagree with what is being said however this is very uncommon in developing countries. For these reasons public meetings will have a different function in developing and developed contexts. In developed countries they may be used more for the collection of views and information than for information dissemination.

Where public meetings are used for feedback in developing countries the participants will generally listen respectfully and not question the results however in developed countries this is not the case. Participants will often question or clarify the outcomes. This stems from the much higher levels of literacy and education and the social norms.

Citing this article

This report was prepared for Social Capital Research. You should reference this work as:

Claridge, T., 2004. Designing social capital sensitive participation methodologies. Report, Social Capital Research, Brisbane, Australia.

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