Beyond participatory approaches

The pin dropped! After ten years applying the Whole Person Approach (WPA) to my work, I finally realised it goes much beyond participatory approaches. Why did it take so long? I am not sure, actually. It might be because the WPA is highly experiential and one only learns about it by practising it.

Better late than never, right? Interesting enough, I only realised how cutting-edge the approach is when I was writing an article for the European Evaluation Society (EES) explaining what the WPA was and the difference it made to the evaluation of the Global Humanitarian Partnership between C&A, C&A Foundation and Save the Children.

It is crazy to think all these years I have been applying the concepts of WPA, considering it is just “one more” approach out there. Writing about it forced me to sit down and discuss all the differences with my colleagues Chris Taylor and Nick Ellery at Oasis School of Human Relations. The more we talked, the more I appreciated how unique this approach is.

Because I believe a picture says more than a thousand words, I wanted to translate the concepts into a picture. Discussing it with my designer Paula Vinhas, who beautifully put together the figure that heads this post, it became clear to me that at the extreme end of the engagement spectrum, where the WPA lies, all stakeholders have the same power. During the many back and forth comments about the details in the picture, we came to the conclusion that the size of the circles should only be the same as the last column of the engagement spectrum. This means that the “client” who commissioned the work will “die” and the “expert” delivering the work also “dies”. Both will co-exist with other stakeholders as equal and peers.

Such is the importance of peer-working that Oasis has recently launched PEERworks: Guide to Collaborative Working, with practical information on new ways of working that help distribute power and share decision making. I have been converted! If you want to know more, you can download the PEERworks Guide and get in touch. I hope that together we can create better ways of working that value freedom, responsibility, authenticity.

Isabela Souza

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