A VISION FOR THE HUMAN CITY #2: Radical Inclusion | Embrace the periphery
#2: Radical Inclusion: Embrace the periphery
Community engagement and forging a “bottom up” process has become a checkbox, a sort of chore that practitioners must pay lip service to without truly understanding what it means to do so or how to practice community engagement ethically. They may claim to collaborate with existing communities for reasons of self-interest: to avoid potential legal action, gain support for their project, or claim amnesty when someone accuses them later of technocratic impulses. This is not community engagement.
When done correctly, community engagement can be a real game changer. When the term becomes so abused as to dilute its real power and recognize processes that are not participatory, or perhaps detrimental to the community, it becomes most unfortunate that this term is poisoned for everyone.
We can do better than community engagement; instead, we suggest that we aim to achieve radical inclusion. We should engage people not because we have to, but because you want to and because we genuinely believe that we will have better outcomes as a result. Radical inclusion is not about giving in or abandoning a strong vision. However, it is about having the foresight and humility to be adaptable to views and methods that you may not have considered, being open to new ways to inform the project, and learning to involve different people in a meaningful manner beyond what you initially envisioned.
Radical inclusion is about removing yourself from the center, or better yet, recognizing that there is no center. What is seen as belonging in the center in one context may actually lie in periphery; what is seen as marginal in another context may perhaps be quite central. Therefore, it all depends on the position where you choose to stand.
As the project initiator, it can be seductive to believe that the world will fall apart without your efforts, drive, and ambition. It can be humbling to admit that even if you walked away, the world will continue to sustain itself with the collective efforts of many other people who have called their communities their home long before you took an interest. That is just the way it is. A project is simply not about you— it has never been— and if you believe otherwise, then you are not practicing radical inclusion.
Radical inclusion takes on a role of facilitation to amass resources and support a process of self-actualization in those are invested in improving their community. The golden rule is to give more than you take and to leave a place better off than what you entered it. If you take away people’s time and capacity to care for themselves so that they can accommodate you, then you are taking more than you are giving. If you are in the limelight more than the people who live in the community, re-consider your intention for this work. To practice radical inclusion, you can introduce new skills and possibilities for doing things that the community can later adapt and use for themselves. You could work on providing the community with a wider platform to disseminate their work so that they will benefit from a continuous stream of resources when you leave. The point is, it was never about you and will never be. The sooner you remove yourself from the center, the faster you will achieve radical inclusion.