Recently posted on my Linked In Site.

These are very rough thoughts on a recent anti-racism conference held in Winnipeg.  How can we make discussions of any large scale social policy more accessible?

Reading recent analysis of anti-racism conference, and especially its alleged failings has got me thinking that in this (and realistically many other discussions) around larger social issues (poverty, missing and murdered aboriginal women, racism, inequality) we may not only be asking the wrong questions, but we might be asking them in the wrong way, and of the wrong people. One commentator at a recent conference on Racism asked why the racists (who rarely acknowledge that they are racists) weren't at the conference, and another noted that the event turned into a series of lectures (presumably academic if not in nature, than in presentation) at the exclusion of many segments of the population. That medium, no matter how wide you extend the invitation to attend, is arguably a restrictive medium; the lecture format, though widely disseminated throughout the world, is a strangely contemporary (and possible Western European) form of discussion with roots, some where in the scholastic traditions of the post-reformation / counter-reformation era (and place), that while perhaps slightly less elitist than the earlier notion of actually memorising lectures verbatim, remains truly accessible to only a handful of people who had gone through a current university level education system. I am, to that end reminded of several ground breaking thoughts.

1) Ask the children. Too many years ago to count, in an urban planning publication, I read a piece about a revolutionary playground design. The design itself wasn't revolutionary, but in this case the main stakeholder that was pressed on what a good design should be was the children that would be using it. And using techniques that were honed in the court systems so as not to be leading questions, some interesting responses were gathered. So too, using systems other than lectures, we could illicit some invaluable discussions about a variety of issues. The challenge (and this is where I run out of suggestions) is how to switch up the medium

2) Identified a few generations ago now, but remaining relevant is the idea the 'medium is [indeed] the message'. Putting a group of people in suits and expecting them to come up with persuasive solutions that will speak to other stakeholders in this discussion is missing a larger segment of those stakeholders

3) Some 30 or 40 years ago now, an enquiry into Aboriginal affairs in Australia (I don't recall the details) broke with tradition, and rather than holding countless hearings in sterile chambers in the colonial centres, the enquirers (in this case 1 lone supreme court judge) went into the communities armed with a tape recorder, and tried to meet the people locally in their favoured story telling medium.

and 4) finally through all of this, I'm reminded of a satire of the entire conference process written in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd world war by Erich Kästner (originally entitled Die Konferenz der Thiere) (it appeared in 1949) in which some animals, frustrated at various global summits that the humans of the world had held through which they tried to solve the world's problems which had failed, sought to take on the problems themselves. One solution (an abject failure) was for the animals to have their own conference. You'd have to read the book to learn how they did succeed in the end.

So to sum, let's consider other ways to gather other voices in our larger discussions of greater social problems.