(PL) Warsaw and Mazovia – Participant Research: Organization of a meeting space and behavior of participants during encounters with local activists

1.     Introduction

This written assignment results from the research conducted after the Localise project, which took place in Warsaw and its vicinity between 27th November and 4th December, 2011. The paper aims to summarise, in some way, my reflections on the arrangement of the space in which we were greeted by appointed organizations. I strongly believe that the decisions made during the preparation had an impact on the behaviour of the participants – their interaction and engagement in discussions. What is more, it has occurred to me that there are two important issues related to planning these arrangements.

The first matter concerns the attitude of the host of each meeting. It seems that, apart from the decision where the meeting would take place, all the preparatory work on the venues reflected the attitude of each host, observed also in self-narration, which is to be understood as the way they spoke about their community work.

The second problem involves different styles of self-presentation and their influence on the team member interaction at the meetings. In other words, may preparation of a meeting space affect the activity level of the participants?

I would like to present a few communication attitudes noticed during the trip as well as their influence on working and interacting in the space.

 

2.   The listener

The first specified communication attitude is oriented towards the development of listening skills. Considering all community activities, which were introduced to us during the trip, it is to this category that I would assign CAL (The Local Activity Support Centre) and Tarczyńska 11.

 

2.1 CAL

Communication attitude of CAL suggests that they see themselves as a protective unit, a skeleton or a strong spine supporting and linking all kinds of organisations. However, taking these organisations under theirs wings, CAL leaves room for independence and creativity. They create a link, acting as a transmitter.

 CAL meeting model [1]

Space Arrangement

The leader of the meeting – a CAL representative – divided participants into a few international groups to create a situation of a workshop, during which all the groups discussed an appointed example of a governmental or non-governmental form of social and cultural activism.

Despite the fact that it took place at a café, the meeting did not entirely lose its formal aspect. The leader of the meeting allowed for conversation, never interrupting team discussions. The host created the link and the room for sharing thoughts, as CAL used to do while cooperating with local cultural and social activists. Namely, the workshop model did contribute to breaking the ice between the trip participants, but – at the same time – did not bridge the gap between the organiser and the participant.

Participants’ Behaviour in the Space

Taking part in a workshop naturally increases the level of interaction. As a result, the participants’ attention is less distracted.

 

2.2 Tarczyńska 11

In this case, I noticed a preference (stronger than in the case of CAL) for an open listener model. The host greeted the members of the Localise project as equal partners in discussion. There was no sign of a sender-recipient communication model during this meeting.


Tarczyńska 11 meeting model

Space Arrangement

All the people who took part in the meeting sat in one circle. This structure enabled the organiser to blend in with the other participants in the space of a café. The invitation to take a walk between the discussions made the meeting even less formal.

Participants’ Behaviour in the Space

This sociable gathering at the café with informal discussions was devoid of the sender-recipient communication model, in which the participant is passive. The participants spoke out willingly, eager to share their ideas.

 

3.   The Orator

In some cases, the meeting host manifested his or her primary position, standing out as an orator. What is more interesting, if there was more than one organiser, the hierarchy appeared. Differences between their position and importance were expressed by their location in the space. The most important person took place in the centre, where he or she was presented respectfully.

To describe this hierarchical structure, I will apply the typology used in astronomy to arrange stars by their luminosity. This stellar arrangement is called ‘the main sequence’. Stars on this band are known as ‘dwarfs’ or ‘main-sequence’ stars. I will bring into play two categories of stars, such as ‘a yellow dwarf’ (significant brightness) and ‘a red dwarf’ (not as visible as ‘the yellow dwarf’), and additionally a ‘satellite’ (an object that orbits a planet or other body larger than itself).

The orator category includes, in my opinion, Ochocianie, OMDO and the Culture and Civic Initiatives Centre in Podkowa Leśna.

 

3.1 Ochocianie and OMDO

More or less aware of being orators at the meeting, they distinguished themselves by self-confidence and faith in their beliefs. It was an attitude of people to whom one should listen.


Meeting model in Kolonia Café

Space Arrangement

Although this meeting took place at a café, it maintained a high level of formality. The space arrangement looked more or less like a stage to me. The meeting hosts sat opposite the trip participants. The tables between these two groups made the space even less approachable or interactive.

Noteworthy shifts in the organiser structure began when Barbara Lewenstein, the main person, left the meeting. At the beginning, Ms Lewenstein sat at the central axis. Like ‘a yellow dwarf’ in the main sequence, she stood out because of her brightness. Two ‘red dwarfs’ sat on both sides of her, privileged as vice-chairpersons. Further from the centre, that is the leading orator, sat volunteers – satellites. An interesting thing about this hierarchy was the fact that after Ms Lewenstein left, the central place was not taken by the satellites, but by the people with higher importance in the community movement at the Ochota district.

Participants’ Behaviour in the Space

This space arrangement did not smooth the path for a casual conversation, in which participants could openly share their thoughts. What is more, the Localise participants were scattered, some distracted and perhaps absent-minded because of late hours or, maybe, the space arrangement and the attitude of the organisers.

 

3.2 The Culture and Civic Initiatives Centre in Podkowa Leśna

I saw a few communication arrangements during the Localise trip, out of which the Culture and Civic Initiatives Centre was the most consistent with applying the orator category. In this case, self-narration was highly developed and well thought-out. Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to break the monologue of these hosts and start a casual discussion because of self-rapture and passion.

 Meeting in Podkowa Leśna

Space Arrangement

Arranged in a formal way, the space again looked like a stage. This time, the group was clearly divided into the stars and the audience, the latter being allowed to ask questions only when the self-narration was finished.

Two other elements strengthened the high level of formality. First, it was an attempt to force the trip members to use a microphone while introducing an international team of the Localise project and asking questions. Second, it was the form in which the organisers were speaking. They were standing while the guests were sitting, which emphasised the actor-audience relation.

Participants’ Behaviour in the Space

The stage arrangement left little space for interaction. Frankly speaking, the fact that the meeting was turned into a formal event did not open the participants for discussion. The interaction seemed very poor, considering the restrictive and locked sender-recipient communication model.

 

 4. Other Categories


Walk with REBLOK                                                                      Walk with GPAS

 The guide

Sometimes it may be a good idea to use the space itself as a tool for self-presentation. Experiencing directly the effects of one’s work could easily focus people’s attention. Going outside did work in the case of Re-blok and GPAS.

However, preparing the walk is not an easy thing to do. It is hard to keep the group consistent, which was clearly visible in the case of REBLOK. GPAS was leading the group through the narrow streets of the Old Praga; REBLOK presented a vast space of the Sculpture Park in the Bródno district. For REBLOK, it was inescapable to confront the fact that the group was distracted by the park’s space and all its attractions. The role of the host and the guide at the same time was much harder to take for REBLOK.

To sum up, the space may help to keep the attention undivided but, at the same time, it may become the distraction itself.

Meeting with seniors from Old Praga

The Companion

In fact, among all the local communities mentioned in this work, one group deserves special attention. This community succeeded in creating a situation of full integration achieved naturally and spontaneously. Seniors from the Old Praga reached the point in interaction in which age and nationality had no importance. It was amazing to see all those people singing, talking and dancing as part of the intergenerational integration.

The element that united all the participants of the meeting (and even a few passers-by) was the music. The main axis in the space was the central point of the room where the musicians were standing. People simply poured in to that part of the coffee bar.

 

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to emphasise that my aim is not to estimate which personality or method of self-presentation was the best and the most effective. I do not want to prove superiority of one self-narration over another. However, this assignment is a subjective statement. It may be, to a certain degree, the valuation of different forms of relations developing between three elements: the attitude of the host, his/her decisions how to organise the space, and the advancement of the host-guest interaction during the visits.

Some of the hosts seemed happier with constructing rather than reconstructing stiff and fossilized models learned in the past. In my opinion, the less conservative way of thinking about the space dynamics often results in the better connection with the group – the connection, which is so important in cultural animation. That is why I find the listener model the most appealing.

Aleksandra Gajda 


[1] Green colour – The Localice participants. Pink colour – host of the meeting.

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