Active Citizens; Cooperative Learning goes Community

Thank you to Inspector Noeleen Murrin and her entire team for today’s #ActiveCitizens event to introduce the new funding process, and especially to all the delegates from the four wards of Perry Barr.

With Cooperative Learning, the true resources are the participants, regardless of age or objectives. This event marks a new way of staging complex citizen meetings, securing equal participation and accountability – with a lot of challenging engagement.

(This event is unrelated to the event with Small Heath neighbourhood team and the local community organisation Maandeeq at Birmingham Football Club last month, described in elsewhere in Not Black & White: Bridging the citizen/authority gap.)

The following is a brief outline of this 3-hour workshop/citizens meeting at James Watt College, mapped out in close collaboration with the Perry Barr neighbourhood team under Inspector Murrin.

Jakob and Noeleen AC
Inspector Noeleen Murrin and myself (Photo by @RobAbdul)


The main objective today was to present the context and concept of the Participatory Budgeting funding process and tie this to the narratives of shared future, democracy in action, community building and empowerment, equal participation, citizen responsibility/accountability and choice.

In brief, the PB process goes: “Citizen X, get an idea, present it to your peers as a project, get them to vote for you to get the funds.” No more asking police and authorities  – projects are proposed and picked by communities themselves.

Using Cooperative Learning, this workshop-format citizens meeting set out to simulate some of this in mini-format, including the pitfalls of disengagement.

The presentation was  interspersed with icebreaker / “processing” activities to ensure the personal relevance of the PB programme was properly understood; a practical introduction to “be active or lose out.”

AC PAper X

Enquiry – Picking the problem?

Simulating the process, first, delegates were asked to come up with an actual problem to be dealt with. It was important that participants not jump to the solution/project phase before identifying the issue they are looking to solve, as this could potentially blind them to other, better solutions, or create “solutions” that do not actually benefit the community by missing the mark.

It was also an important objective that citizens coming in with ready-made concepts did not swamp or over-run their less well-prepared peers.

Active Citizens voting on issues

Each team member then had a couple of minutes to present their case in turns, explaining their particular issue should be given priority and the table voted for one of the issues as the most important. (And one cannot vote for one’s own idea, Kinaka!! Bless you!)


Collaboration – Solidifying solutions

Each team then worked together to make a small presentation of the issue they had picked, through drawing, writing, mindmapping, etc. The below message was key:

18 June PB slideshow

Finally, each team  presented their issue and solution to representatives from tables outside of their wards. Here they compared their issues, commented and advised on possible solutions – and networked of course – only to return and share knowledge, ideas and reflections with their home teams.

The individual accountability here was very high and not paying attention or disengaging from one’s responsibility had instant negative impact on the home team. Fortunately, the format of Cooperative Learning gives a loop-hole to save this situation – but not before making delegates aware that problems here were entirely their responsibility. The pressure of the workshop to deliver tangible results within a set deadline is no different from the funding process in real life.

The brief project outlines  were then hung on the wall.


Matching resources

After the coffee break, where people circulated and got a chance to chat and eat branded cake, the experienced community builders  set up shop at various tables.

AC cake
Cooperative Learning? Have your cake and eat it!

Initially I had teams loosely group around each of these tables, and listen to specialists present their skill sets in 2 minutes shifts. Then these groups rotated from one specialist to the next, but after a couple of rotations, I let delegates freely rove , confident each person had seen all or most of the representatives.

“Inspector Noeleen Murrin’s team hosted a well thought-out very first Active Citizens event for the Perry Barr District. The attention to detail for active participation was innovative.”

– Rob Abdul, author & ecommerce expert, PR, Lecturer, photographer, and general active citizen…

Will be more on this as feedback and professional photos from @RobAbdul comes filtering – in so follow on twitter for updates.

For delegates asking about the educational aspect of my work, and Cooperative Learning and Community Building, please visit


Articles of interest: Not Black & White: Bridging the citizen/authority gap.

More posts on community building.


Simon Wade from Handsworth Community.GIF
Simon Wade from Handsworth Community (@B20-B21) discusses active citizenship in a Catch1Partner (Photo by @RobAbdul)



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