During the past few months at CoLab we have been talking about knowledge co-creation and collaborative innovation in communities. Because of that, I’d like to share some reflections about my experience planning with small cities and communities in Latin America. It was fifteen years of intense work with many dozens of cases, working with restricted financial and professional resources.
In each case, a precondition for planning was the creation of a civic space, where representatives of all social and economic sectors could talk on a leveled ground, as equal citizens despite their different positions in wealth and power. The functioning of those civic spaces required shared interests, rules of mutual respect and common language.
My contribution as a planner was in three aspects:
1. To help local people to retrieve their knowledge about history, problems, resources, economy, and actors, making the asset of local knowledge explicit to local actors. My premise was that local knowledge was their most important resource.
2. To help local people to access external knowledge about the national and regional environment of the city, or community, such as economic and market trends, spatial specialization, and public policies, making the systemic conditions clearly visible to local actors.
3. To offer a method for moving their minds from the past to the future, to re-interpret their situation from that new perspective and explore new ways of thinking about their possibilities. My method was based more on aspirations and opportunities than on problems or conflicts.
In my work, instead of being a technical adviser, my effort was to use all my technical knowledge and methodological skills to help local actors to become informed and make decisions by themselves; aware of the possibilities they were creating and risks they were taking.
In many aspects, this is the approach I continue using as part of CoLab team.
Sebastiao Mendonca Ferreira is a Visiting Scholar at CoLab.