Trojan horse methodologies: a participatory nightmare

Dr Brian Cook1, Dr Maria de Lourdes MeloZurita, Ms Isabel Cornes, Dr Paula Satizabal

1The University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


Much is made of speaking truth to power, but little attention has been given to when power does not, can not, or will not listen. Further complicating participatory governance, research on the effectiveness of the deficit model suggests that experts, like publics, should not be expected to alter their behaviours as a result of ‘awareness raising’. This presents those advancing participation with a paradox: how to contribute without, themselves, reverting to practices that resuscitate the deficit model?


Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR) explores whether risk reduction can be achieved while limiting expert power. The research highlights the dangerous potential of a methodology that simultaneously complies with Neoliberal risk management (i.e., quantitative data, public behaviour change, and economic accounting) while intentionally limiting the ability to oversee and influence public contributions, autonomy, and behaviours. In effect, CEDRR leverages government expectations to advance public empowerment. Furthermore, mavericks within the emergency services appear to be intentionally using CEDRR to advance public empowerment while the research team, itself, seeks to promote a method that limits expert control. While successfully prompting behaviour change and limiting expert control, the method represents an ethical nightmare for researchers struggling to affect change via participation.


Brian is originally from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. He has a BA (Honours) in Geography from the University of Victoria, Canada, an MA in Geography from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and a PhD from the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience (part of the Geography Department) at Durham University, UK. He is presently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne.

Reimagining the city as a commons: local stakeholders’ visions and practices for creating Sydney as a Sharing City

Mrs Inka Santala1

1University Of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia


In recent years, the ‘Sharing City’ has emerged as a new urban imaginary for socially just and environmentally sustainable future cities. Although the vision entails considerable promise around solidarity, equity and greater citizen empowerment through collaboration and co-creation, no common definition or agenda has yet been identified. This paper arises from a research project that aims to unpack the meanings and practices of this global trend, through a case study of the City of Sydney: how are local stakeholders co-creating a Sharing City? Drawing on participant observation and semi-structured research interviews with sharing advocates, practitioners, and local administrators, this paper explores how different stakeholders frame and perceive sharing in the city, and reveals the diversity of logics and practices through which sharing is being realised in the urban domain. Particularly, the paper addresses the following questions: how does ‘the commons’ come to matter in the governance of sharing; whose visions and interests are taken into account in the strategic process of creating sharing; and how are these being enacted through sharing initiatives? The paper concludes by reflecting on the promise of the Sharing City concept for more just and sustainable urban futures.


Inka Santala is a PhD Candidate in human geography at the University of Wollongong. Her research explores the visions and practices associated with emergent Sharing Cities, with an empirical focus on community-based sharing initiatives in the City of Sydney.

Volunteer Participation in Development: How Organisational Power and Structure Interact to Exclude or Include

Ms Stephanie Houghton1

1La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia


The development sector has long engaged voluntary workers in NGOs across the globe. However, organisations can struggle to incorporate short-term, international volunteers into their organisations in inclusive, appropriate and effective ways. Existing literature is yet to thoroughly address issues of power and relationships when it comes to short-term volunteers within development. This ethnographically grounded research explored experiences of staff, volunteers and stakeholders of a local organisation in Ghana. Volunteers were expected to participate according to organisational goals, vision and activities. However, many factors influenced volunteer ability, willingness and capacity to participate. Conflict arose between organisational discourse and structure, and the interests and agency of individual volunteers, staff and stakeholders. Tensions included miscommunications surrounding the purpose and goals of the organisation; differing understandings of the role of volunteers; issues with the governance of volunteers; and the limitations of inclusivity in the organisation. These issues directly affected the potential for mutual benefit for both volunteers and the organisation. Conclusions include reflections on how the organisation can address power relations through a more inclusive structure. These changes could increase volunteer participation, mitigate inequalities and promote inclusivity to the mutual benefit of stakeholders.


Steph Houghton (BA Hons) is a current PhD candidate in Social Inquiry, exploring how organisations engage and interact with volunteers within development in Ghana.  She is interested in themes of power, participation and agency within organisations.

Remaining optimistic: Curative ways to embrace loss by engaging with place from within

Prof. Petra Tschakert1

1University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia


A situated and socially engaged science of loss arising from climate change takes people’s lived experiences with risk and harm as its fundamental starting point. It foregrounds what losses occur, where and how, which of these losses matter most to people and why, and whether or not such losses are considered acceptable and potentially reversible. It regards participation front and centre, to engage with place ‘from within’ and to create the needed space to collectively examine and combat damages while exploring curative ways to embrace and cope with unavoidable loss. As Veland and colleagues (2018) argue, engaging people through their own narratives, deliberations, and visions allows protagonists to make sense of observations while also “story[ing] safe and desirable pathways away from dangerous and unjust outcomes, and toward dignified futures”. As part of our ARC Discovery project “Locating loss from climate change in everyday places’, we reflect on participatory mapping and walking journeys with ~100 engaged citizens across eight communities in WA. Such grounded engagements constitute ‘slow research’ (Adams et al., 2014), resisting policy makers’ requests for rapid risk analysis tool-kits while fostering situated agency, gently working through the erosion of life certainties and people’s curtailed sense of control.


Professor Tschakert is trained as a human-environment geographer and conducts research at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, social-ecological resilience, environmental justice, livelihood security, and participatory action research and learning, often within a development context. Her work explores structural drivers of vulnerability and marginalisation, anticipatory learning, and intangible losses in the context of climate change.

Current role: Professor in Human Geography and Planning, UWA


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