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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local participation in the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys Ecomuseum : an exploration of individual participatory experiences Keyes, Janice Ann


The Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys Ecomuseum is a regional heritage demonstration project initiated by Heritage Canada, B.C. Heritage Trust and the local governments of the Cowichan Valley Regional District in 1988. This thesis used the Ecomuseum as a case study to investigate how and why people participate in public processes, specifically from the perspective of the participants themselves. The study provides a documentation and analysis of individual participatory experiences across a range of public involvement activities. The thesis has two main purposes. The research provides conclusions which may be useful in the design and implementation of the Ecomuseum's future public involvement activities and similar projects. As well, implications from the research are identified which contributes to a better understanding of public participation in context of community development. The study outlines the participatory process of the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys Ecomuseum, provides a descriptive evaluation of individuals' participatory experiences and summarizes individual reports across different types of participatory activities. The research methods included a general literature review, a review of the documents, materials and organizational files of the Ecomuseum Society, the development of a newspaper survey and personal interviews with 24 participants. A content analysis of the interviews and surveys was used to summarize the research findings. Activities of the Ecomuseum Society are guided by principles of community participation and consensus decision-making in pursuit of three recognized objectives: - To preserve and present the history and living heritage of the British Columbia forest legacy of the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys; - To increase resident and visitor awareness and appreciation of this heritage through the management of unique resources - To stimulate regional economic growth through appropriate tourism development and marketing of forest related "heritage experiences". With its emphasis on local involvement, the Ecomuseum is pioneering a new approach to community-based tourism and community development in general. Active public participation is the cornerstone of the ecomuseum concept. To date, the only formal evaluation of the Ecomuseum's progress has been a telephone survey to determine the level of resident awareness regarding the Ecomuseum. Given the critical role of public participation in the development of an ecomuseum, additional evaluation of the project was necessary to provide information about local involvement. Research on patterns of public participation suggest that different groups of people participate in different types of activities. As well, these patterns of participation may be identified and categorized by a variety of psychosocial variables perhaps more accurately than by a composition of demographic characteristics. During its five years of operation, the Ecomuseum has developed a wide range of public involvement activities to facilitate local participation. Six general categories of participation can be identified: general, passive participation, such as attending displays, lectures and tours; public forums; educational/ training programs; general volunteer work; working committees and specific Ecomuseum development projects. This study examined the usefulness of developing participant group profiles based on the descriptive experiences of individual participants. As well, the research investigated the hypothesis that different people participate in different types of activities through a comparison of participant profiles in each of the six categories of participation noted above. The research provides information about the experiences of local participants, their preferences and patterns of participation which is useful to the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys Ecomuseum Society. The findings suggest that the initial reasons for individuals partaking in a particular activity will be common for members of a particular activity, but are different across different types of participation. Regardless of the type of activity people were participating in, most people indicated a common preference for certain kinds of activities. These included activities of a general, passive nature as well as those with an educational component. Within the category of general, passive activities, participants from the entire range of activity types again showed similar preferences. Exhibits/ displays, tours and lectures/ presentations were cited as common preferences although participants gave different reasons for their preference. While the main purpose of the research was to draw out implications for future activities of the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys Ecomuseum, information from this research can be generally applied to community development public processes in general. Empowering a community to affect change requires developing the skills, capabilities and confidence of individuals to the point where they can take action. Improving the individual participatory experience is a means of increasing people's effectiveness in the collective process of community development. If the intention is to provide people with participatory opportunities which respond to their needs, information about participants' needs and desires is necessary. Research which focuses specifically on the participant's perspective should be encouraged. The development of participant profiles is suggested as a means of generating information which is useful in designing future participatory processes. Ultimately, the purpose is to facilitate the development of effective and satisfying opportunities for participation. The research findings were reviewed for their contribution to better understanding processes which facilitate increased levels of participation, project efficiency, effectiveness and self-reliance through local participation. The study does not provide a blueprint for designing public processes instead, the intention of the research is to stress certain aspects of the participants' perspectives which have implications for public participation processes in general and which should be considered in future research.

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