Participation Culture: as Old as Humans

Hamish Lindop
3 min readFeb 14, 2023

The Dawn of Everything” is such a remarkable, paradigm shifting book. The authors synthesise lots of emerging research which are illuminating vast stretches of time that have previously been relegated to something under a label called “prehistory”, which experts had presumed to be rather unexciting, with little in the way of human development, discovery, and experimentation. The picture that’s emerging is quite to the contrary: humans were actually more experimental, and flexible in their ability to adopt, try out, and switch between different social forms depending on which proved to be of greater utility according to the situation. An example is given of a tribal group that, during the hunting season, adopts a highly heirarchical, “control-and-command” power dynamic which is well suited to the needs of the hunt, but when the hunt is over, they adopt a very egalitarian, flat social structure where power is carefully shared.

One of the author’s key questions is “how did we get stuck?” In Western Society we’ve come to believe so greatly in heirarchy and centralisation that even our democracy is a far cry from something really participatory; for most people our most democratic moment comes every four years when we pick the leaders which usually come in two main flavours, but nowadays both flavours seem to have an underlying base of neoliberalism, and then we get back to a passive existence of providing labour, taxes, and rates, and receiving various services. And it is becoming starkly obvious how these heirarchical “one to many” ways of organising ourselves are at the root of inequity, exclusion, and environmental disaster.

The structure we are stuck in; the top dot being governments national and local, corporations, and even community groups as they become “instrumentalised” to become like corporations and conform to government regulations and requirements

But for the vast majority of human history, human interactions didn’t look like this. They tended to be in small groups, with a flat structure, and most interactions were peer to peer. And most interestingly, this way of being is starting to reinstantiate itself.

Peer to Peer interactions are multi-directional, highly collaborative, and create more value over time as everyone’s “assets” are activated in a co-production process

The Community Lover’s Guide was a research project initiated to capture many examples of emerging “participation culture”, where groups of people were getting together to create value together in highly social, peer to peer ways. This research developed into the Participatory City approach, which creates a platform to reduce barriers to ordinary people getting involved in participation culture, and grow hyperlocal, place based participatory ecosystems.

A visualisation of the “Participation Platform” and the Participatory Ecosystem that it supports to grow

See an introductory video here. The Mii’kmaw Native Friendship centre has been developing the approach in Halifax to catalyse greater Truth and Reconciliation for indigenous people, see more about their amazing work here. And lastly I’ve begun to develop this approach with the Onehunga Oranga hub in Auckland, New Zealand, here’s a post about our journey.

I’m so tired of the way of living we have been stuck in, where citizens and community members are just thought of mostly as “bundles of needs”, and government and corporations are these big, unresponsive blobs that deliver one size fits all solutions. Would you like to join us in cocreating a world where everyone (even our natural world) can participate, connect, feel valued, have their needs met, and contribute their gifts? We need it now more than ever!

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Hamish Lindop

Sharing insights from community building and social innovation, and reflections on ways of (well) being