Public Policy Collage brings together participatory art and pop-up democracy methods to offer participants creative and spontaneous ways to engage with public policy issues.
Problems and Purpose
Public Policy Collage brings together participatory art and pop-up democracy methods to offer participants creative and spontaneous ways to engage with public policy issues. Participants are provided with collaging materials and pages of thematic icons representing the different federal public policy areas. The method is designed to spark dialogue among participants, encourage them to vote, demonstrate that political engagement can be fun and create space for individuals to reflect on the connection between important issues in their everyday life (food, shelter, health, education, etc.) and public policies.
Over the past two decades, voter turnout among young people has been steadily declining at all levels of government within Western democracies. The National Roundtable on Youth Voter Engagement, reported that there is a strong need to “reinvigorate civic life by finding ways to make politics more relevant”.
This tool offers a more appealing and accessible invitation into challenging discussions using art for social change (ASC) processes. ASC processes are designed to create insight and new connections between individuals and communities as they exchange stories, perspectives, knowledge and understanding through the creation of art. For example, by facilitating public art-making inspired by the election, Creative Publics Lab aimed to open up new spaces for political expression where ideas and perspectives could be explored through a creative, tactile activity. Targeted at the demographic of young Canadians notoriously disengaged from the formal electoral process, this method was used in an effort to provide young people new reflective spaces to express their perspectives on election issues and to engage the public in the election beyond just casting a vote at the ballot box.
- Stimulate personal reflection on how public policy intersects with everyday life;
- Facilitate interpersonal listening;
- Generate political dialogue among strangers;
- Address the lack of avenues for creative participation public policy discourse;
- Allow for abstract ideas about policy to become more concrete through the art-making process;
- Offer a non-formal and non-discursive forum for political expression;
- Motivate political engagement in elections and other policy processes.
Origins and Development
The method was first invented and used by the Creative Publics Lab in the Fall 2015 to engage voters in policy issues leading up to the Canadian federal election. The method was developed in reaction to declining voter turnout — particularly among youth — within Western democracies. Canada is one such example where the retreat of young people from engagement with formal political institutions has been attributed to many factors — negative or cynical attitudes toward the performance of the politicians, time constraints, lack of interest or knowledge and inequitable values between young people and news outlets, to name a few. The National Roundtable on Youth Voter Engagement, reported that there is a strong need to “reinvigorate civic life by finding ways to make politics more relevant”. Based on this theory of change, this tool offered a more appealing and accessible invitation into challenging discussions using art for social change (ASC) processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The public policy collage interventions typically take place in busy public areas and as a result, attract a wide diversity of people who interact with each other as they make their collages. Significant effort is made to create an appealing atmosphere in an effort to attract a wide diversity of people. For instance, numerous chalkboard signs can be made inviting people to participate, artist facilitators can make themselves available for spontaneous conversations, and potential participants can be offered free coffee as they pass by the sites. This spontaneous interventionist approach of this tool serves to both bridge and bond social capital. It bridges social capital by bringing together people who otherwise may not encounter each other. The tool bonds social capital by attracting and reinforcing existing social ties within artist, academic, and activist communities who participate in the process.
How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making
The objective of using this method is to engage participants with public policy issues in a fun, creative and spontaneous way. This method draws on participatory art  and pop-up democracy — it facilitates the creation of artwork through temporary, site-specific practices that provide opportunities for increased local political participation. The act of art-making is used as a way to spark reflexive political dialogue among participants and public exhibit functions as a collective expression of creative political engagement.
The procedure includes recruiting participants as they pass through a busy public place by asking them if they would like to make a collage. Once they agree, participants are provided with collaging materials (a 4X6 piece of durable cardstock, scissors, glue, markers) and pages of thematic icons representing the applicable public policy areas (e.g. democratic reform, education, health care, human rights, national security).
The intended outcomes are to spark dialogue and interpersonal reflection among participants on political issues, encourage voting and political participation, and demonstrate that political engagement can be a creative activity.
Decisions regarding the focus areas and the aesthetic approach of the collages should be made in consultation with community residents prior to the execution of the process.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The collages made by participants need to culminate in a public art installation exhibited in high traffic public spaces, ideally before a major political decision is being made (like an election). The installation functions both as an interactive exhibit — mirroring back how participants felt about political issues — and a bold reminder to participate in political institutions and processes.
- Number of direct face-to-face interactions (via community consultations, the activations, the public talks and installations);
- Number of people who engaged through website and social media promotion;
- Coverage in media outlets to grow awareness of the tool as a alternative to more formal political engagement processes;
- Number of collages made;
- Number of community partnership established through the course of the process;
- Photo and video documentation of the activations;
- Production of publications documenting and analyzing the method;
- Research data (field notes, interviews, and written reflections from participants) that show if and how the process interrupted the patterns of everyday life and engage participants in political issues.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Mobility: The collaging sites need to be able to move around the city, activating a variety of public spaces in different communities. The mobility of the collaging sites also work to increased connection across communities by linking neighbourhoods and creating partnerships with community organizations. Furthermore, being able to move the collaging sites to different locations provides a diversity of material to work with in the analysis phase.
Accessibility and Inclusion: In order to create the conditions for dialogue amongst random members of the public the collaging site must be an inviting, relaxed and friendly environment. As such, the collaging must be low-barrier, only requiring that people know how to cut and glue paper and not requiring extensive knowledge of either art-making or politics. In this regard, the collaging iconography should be clear and help to clarify the values and issues that are most important to the participants.
Adaptability: The collaging site should offer multiple entry points for engagement, allowing participants to choose their desired level of participation. For example, participants should be able to chose an alterntive to making a collage that requires less time (like writing or drawing a mesage to a decision-maker on a chalkboard).
 Elections Canada. (2012). National Roundtable on Youth Voter Engagement. Retrieved on March 1, 2017 from: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/civic&docu...
 Finkelpearl, T. (2014). Participatory Art. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Oxford University Press.
 Howe, P. (2011). Citizens adrift: The democratic disengagement of young Canadians. UBC Press.
 The Economist (2017). Millennials across the rich world are failing to vote. https://www.economist.com/international/2017/02/04/millennials-across-the-rich-world-are-failing-to-vote