Thursday, 4 September 2014

Participate or participation or participating participants

Andrew refers us to Rick Holliman's six dimensions of engagement.  One of the six is participation, and I want to unpick that because it's an abstract noun that might be a synonym for this difficult-to-define phenomenon that is engagement.
  • Handley et al differentiate between participation and engagement that involves “hearts and minds” (Handley et al., 2007 p. 181), which they see in the context of learning situations and Wenger’s communities of practice (Wenger, 1998).
  • Wenger defines mutual engagement as a dimension of a community of practice, involving engaged diversity, doing things together, relationships, social complexity, community and maintenance. For Wenger, engagement is a process of community building, social energy and emergent knowledgeability (Wenger, 1998 p. 237). Knowledgeability is the ability to acquire and use knowledge and is a negotiation of meaning, a continual contextual process. This emergent knowledgeability may add value to a project. In fact, Wenger writes that engagement “can be a vehicle for sharing ownership and meaning” (Wenger, 1998 p. 203). He further suggests the value of communities of practice is because they are “organisational assets that represent investments in mutual engagement.”
Some contradictory perceptions of the goodness of participation exist. For instance, Axelrod (2001) writes that participation can increase bureaucracy when in a hierarchical top-down process, such as may exist in UK central government.  In that case, we don't see it as engagement, do we?  That sort of process, we don't want. 

Now there I'm implying that participation is a process, which makes participation the same as process, and not distinct from Holliman's other dimension of engagement: a process. Perhaps engagement requires a process, and that process includes people who participate, and the action of participating is different from abstract participation. Isn't engaging about action, so doesn't engagement require action?

Handley, K., Clark, T., Fincham, R. and Sturdy, A. (2007) 'Researching Situated Learning', Management Learning, Vol 38, No 2, pp. 173-191.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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