Question Quilt meets Whistler '95

Recording the first-ever hanging of the Question Quilt for posterity was far from anyone’s mind. The Sunday pre-conference workshop lunch break had been chosen based on installation team member availability, and most of the group’s efforts were focused on obtaining proper tools and fastening implements. Their other concern was how to hang a banner-like object from the carpet covered walls of the Whistler Conference Centre atrium. So, the atmosphere of what may have been an installation ceremony, felt more like ‘let’s get the cows to Abilene.

Then, an eight-foot tall man wearing rainbow tie-died pants and t-shirt happened along. Photo from left to right, Stuart Adams, Barb Boyde (past President), John Shires. The guy on the stilts helped them to hang the quilt as there was no ladder available. 

He caught everyone’s attention, and one of the team members noticed the similarities between the rainbow man’s clothing and the colorful motif of the Question Quilt. A connection was made. A request was made. A call for a camera went out, and, as luck would have it, a Whistler ‘95 organizer was in the area. He recorded the event, and, among other things, we now know the rainbow man’s height because the photo shows his head even with the top of the eight-foot high Question Quilt.

Thus, posterity was served, more by serendipity than intention -- but in a way that reflects how a number of dissimilar elements and events have come together to produce the Question Quilt.

So, with posterity served, a number of questions are raised. What happened to the Question Quilt? What is the purpose of the Question Quilt? And, perhaps, are there any Questions?

The purpose deserves initial consideration, with the Quilt and the Questions to come later. You need only look at the name, ‘Question Quilt’, as a combination of incongruous elements to recognize that the Question Quilt is also a multi-purpose project.

The ‘Question’ component relates to the development of Guiding Principles for public participation practitioners and stems from a discussion which arose at the Washington conference. The question ‘How do you develop Guiding Principles which allow for the individual cultures and traditions in which our members live and work?’ was raised and discussed with no real conclusion.

A solution was devised by a Wild Rose IAP3 member in which a series of questions will be used to produce individualized Guiding Principles. The process is based on a simple consideration: by answering the questions practitioners will produce a set of Guiding Principles reflecting the environment in which the public consultation is to be set.

For example, a practitioner in Africa responding to the Question Quilt questions may come up with different answers than a practitioner asking the same questions in North America or Asia. However, each set of answers will serve as Guiding Principles which are also indigenous to the local social environment.

And the Questions make the Guiding Principles transportable. By using questions, practitioners overcome the practical limitation of trying to establish a set of global principles that must apply to all cultures. 

Additional benefits of using questions include the interactive nature of the exercise -- responding to questions ensures active reflection about the subject. Also, a questioning format is more easily revised in response to future changes in the practice of public participation; and the process of developing questions requires a method which demands a new approach to considering the public’s role.

From a more intrinsic standpoint, the ‘Quilt’ itself performs a dual role. Firstly, the stylized ‘Quilt’ was especially commissioned by the Wild Rose IAP3 from an Edmonton, Alberta fabric artist as a repository for the Questions.    The Whistler ‘95 Questions, and all future Questions, will be embroidered and then sewn onto the 8-foot high by 7-foot wide Quilt.

The Quilt contains a number of symbolic images relating to IAP3 and public consultation. The fabric of the central background has been hand-dyed to create an organic ‘feel’. The cool blue and green colours resemble a flat, or satellite view of the earth -- thus representing the international nature of IAP3. The border contains coloured overlapping triangles -- the three sides representing the ‘3' in IAP3; and the variety of triangles acknowledges the many people who make up the organization.

At the same time, the Quilt is also intended to physically symbolize the Question sessions at future conferences. The first series of Questions were developed at Whistler ‘95 (come to Denver and see the Quilt with the mounted Whistler ‘95 Questions installed), but a new Question will be developed at each future conference.

New Questions (most probably a single Question per conference) will be added each year. As progenitors of the Quilt, the Wild Rose Chapter serves as its keepers and will lead sessions at future conferences to develop those new Questions. Such ‘new’ Questions could reflect the theme of the conference, or simply address new developments in the practice of public consultation. In keeping with the spirit of consultation, the direction and content will be up to the participants, with the overall mandate being that the Question Quilt will provide a reflective, progressive forum about public consultation.

But back to the installation. Once the Quilt was hung and posterity duly served, what happened to the Quilt, and particularly, what happened to the Questions?

Two days later, the Question Quilt was introduced in the Open Spaces session, and over the course of the day, Wild Rose Chapter members solicited input from conference members passing by the Quilt. The approach was basic: conference participants were asked to frame their key concerns regarding the principles surrounding public consultation in the form of a question.

The process was productive, to say the least. The concept of using questions required explanations and a number of questions ensued, lengthy discussions took place, and in the end, some 57 Questions were put forth.

The next step involved ‘herding’ the Questions into five categories and further reduction of overall number to a more manageable 11 Questions. From those 11 Questions, the final set of the first five Questions was produced, which are:

  1. What is the goal of the public involvement process in the proposed project?
  2. How will the participants benefit from the public involvement process?
  3. What role does the public play in the decision-making process?
  4. How will the effectiveness of the public involvement process be monitored and evaluated?
  5. What measures will be taken to ensure that newly developed public involvement methods are considered for the project?

The entire body of 57 submissions was published in the Open Spaces document, along with the second set of 11 condensed Questions. Final editing of the 11 Questions to the final set of five was made by the Wild Rose Chapter. Those five Questions will now be installed on the Question Quilt and identified as having originated at Whistler ‘95.

The Question Quilt has been invited to Denver 1996, where the rest of the membership will be able to view the Quilt with the first set of Questions. Wild Rose IAP3 will also conduct a session to develop a new Question representing the Denver conference for installation as the 1996 contribution.

Funding for the Question Quilt project was carried out by the Wild Rose Chapter which received $1000 U.S. funding under the IAP3 Chapter Incentive Grant Program. The Chapter also received additional contributions of $1500 Canadian. To cover design and fabrication costs. Wild Rose IAP3 greatly appreciates the founding sponsors of the Question Quilt: ED TEL Communications Inc., Canadian Utilities Limited, and IAP3 International.