Training Module 4

Participation and active Citizenship. Participatory Processes


TM4: Participation and active Citizenship. Participatory Processes




Module Description/Presentation

An ecomuseum is an experience with an aim to generate social engagement among the inhabitants of a community through participation strategies and processes activation. FArom the point of view of ecomuseology, participation consists on providing individuals and communities the opportunity to take part in decision-making processes without intermediaries, fundamentally in local policies and in those issues affecting their lives. In this sense, participation is the citizen’s assumption of his political power, not its replacement, but the creation of structures of direct (cultural) democracy.

Nevertheless, the concept of participation is as fragile as powerful, as resilient as manipulable and permeable and as unique as ethereal. It is as polyphonic a concept just as community or citizenship concepts are. Communites are diverse and so are the ways of understanding participation, its levels and the methodologies for applying it.

The main objective of this training module is to understand the meaning of participation in the creation and management of ecomuseums. For this purpose, the module is structured around four essential questions:

  1. What is participation?
  2. What types and levels of participation exist?
  3. Who are those agents involved in participation?
  4. What is the process of participation?

The aim is to develop and deepen the mechanisms that allow communities to be one of the main agents in the decision-making for development towards the future. To this end, emphasis will be placed on concepts such as citizenship, community and participation from the point of view of the New Museology and sociomuseology, on the forms of organisation of civil society, the scales of participation and the methodological possibilities for implementing it.

Module Learning Outcomes

Competences students should acquire:

  1. Possess and understand knowledge of participation and citizenship.
  2. Understand the different types and levels of participation.
  3. To be able to know and handle the main methodologies of community participation.
  4. Develop the capacity to innovate in the strategies and methodologies of community work.
  5. Apply the knowledge acquired, as well as participatory processes.
  6. Capacity to monitor and evaluate the community engagement strategy.
Learning Unit 1

Participation and Ecomuseology

Short Description

This unit corresponds to the question of what participation is. The aim of this unit is to understand and analyse the idea of community and participation in ecomuseums. To do so, we will look in depth at how ecomuseology understands the idea of participation and community processes.

Participation from an ecomuseum point of view

Citizen participation in the field of heritage, museums and culture can be understood in different ways and with different scales depending on the scope that one population can have in cultural actions and planning. In our case, we will understand it as the involvement of citizens and civil society in the design and development of policies and in the empowerment of decision-making.

The involvement of citizens and civil society in policy-making has grown over the last decades. This is not a new phenomenon. Since the end of the Second World War and the democratisation of culture, unilateral policies have been disappearing. Today, every individual expresses himself or herself through participation, its essential pillars are:

  • Participation is not open to question. Its model, scope and processes can be questioned, but participation has become a “right” derived directly from a democratic state.
  • Participation is a social fact. To participate is to build society and this leads to cultural construction. Participation, in relation to the first point, is a democratic act.
  • To speak about participation means speaking about multiculturalism. Our societies are not watertight or closed homogeneous human groups – and they have never been- but a tangle of social and cultural interconnections in continuous movement.
  • Culture management is participation management. Cultural management (where museums come in) is the management of people, of citizenship.

In order to assume these premises, we must bear in mind that the concept of culture today and from which ecomuseology is based: (1) is a complex, social process that depends on numerous factors, in some cases random; (2) is immersed within neoliberal and market dynamics, which means that it is directly or indirectly commodified; (3) is a contradictory territory that is in continuous tension between the new and the old, national identity versus group identity, intellectualism versus the popular, what is lost and what is preserved, etc.., that is to say, culture does not stop; (4) and it is a contaminated concept and sector, since it is closely related to the immersions of economic, educational, political factors, etc. (Based on López de Aguileta, 2000: 23-24).

Participation as a citizen’s right

Citizen participation in the elaboration, implementation and evaluation of political decisions is therefore no longer a mere option, but a feature of today’s democracies. Indeed, citizens take on public responsibilities voluntarily with the aim of improving their social, cultural and economic situation. Beyond theory, however, the reality is somehow more diffuse. As shpwn in one of the latest studies on participation in Europe (BBVA Foundation’s European Mindset Study for 2010), the level of political and social participation in Europe is relatively low as a whole, although there are important differences between countries. In 2010, 34% of Europeans carried out some form of political and social participation activity, such as signing petitions, taking part in demonstrations, mobilisations, etc.). Sweden and Denmark achieved the highest levels of civic participation, over 55%, while Bulgaria and Portugal, with less than 20%, were at the bottom of this ranking. The data are similar if we look at membership of associations. Danish and Swedish societies reach figures of 70% in terms of participation in civic groups and associations. The countries with the lowest participation rates were Bulgaria, Poland, Turkey and Greece (with less than 20%).

These data leaves us with a gap between a theoretical part of what democratic and participatory societies are or should be, and a part of reality where people’s awareness of the right to participation and its processes is negligible. Post-industrial societies still face the challenge of truly internalising participation in order to maintain – if not build – a welfare society, one involved in public affairs. One of the main examples of the actual use of the right of participation and a demonstration of an assumption of the social role of citizens in public affairs is the “Icelandic revolution” of 2008-2011, where a society that forced the resignation of a government, put those responsible for the crisis in the dock and decided by itself to refuse in a referendum to accept the conditions imposed on them for the payment of the debt accumulated by their banking companies.

As mentioned at the beginning of this unit, participation is not “questionable”, but its definition, implications, develop and impact on the reality of a territory and its social, cultural and economic conditions is wide and diverse. Nor can we blame the lack of participation on an administrative and governmental system that impedes this right. It is not that the administrative and legal frameworks do not allow participation, but rather that citizens do not demand it, which leads to a delegation of these functions to the administration. This dynamic constrains administrations in standardised and bureaucratic processes, for which breaking out of them means introducing innovative measures and “risky” political decisions.

Participation from the point of view of ecomuseums will strengthen innovation processes within the established dynamics of governance, recovering spaces for citizen involvement and, of course, for dialogue with political representatives and public administrations.

Learning Unit 2

Types of Participation

Short Description

This unit corresponds to the question of what levels and types of participation exist. The unit is aimed at analysing the different types and levels of participation that can be developed with citizens and communities.

Objective and goals of participation

We have seen that the concept of participation is polysemic and malleable. We talk about social, cultural, political, community participation, etc., without being exactly clear about the limits between one and the other, and without being able, therefore, to define them beyond the pretensions and interests of those who have decided to make one or the other taxonomy.

In our case, we will always refer to participation in the field of culture, which obviously  has social and political implications. As we saw in Unit 1, our sense of participation is ultimately aimed at empowerment, the breaking down of hierarchies and decision-making by the civilian population.

Illustration 1. Objectives of participatory approaches. Source: own elaboration based on Delargue, 2018: 162-163.

All participation means should aim to generate processes that help ecomuseum organisations to address the needs and issues of their communities and territories, and to be able to adapt and face the challenges of today’s societies: social justice, gender equality, social inclusion, coloniality, etc. We understand that participatory processes aim to build audiences of citizens capable of thinking and acting (Delargue, 2018: 162-163).

Types of participation

In the history of ecomuseums, participation has always been one of their defining banners and proclamations, together with concepts of ‘community’, ‘territory’ or ‘heritage’. However, this has not meant that all ecomuseum and ecomuseum professionals understand participation in the same way. We could divide the understanding of participation in ecomuseological processes into ‘participation to legitimise‘ and ‘participation to transform‘.

Illustration 2. Types and levels of participation. Source: own elaboration based on Rowan, 2016; Varine, 1991; and Ventosa, 2002.

Participation for legitimisation is based on directed processes where there is an entity guiding the participatory actions and the population is the recipient of these actions. This category can be divided into:

  • Information. This is the most basic level of participation. The community is informed about the project and the actions to be carried out.
  • Analysis. The community studies and evaluates the projects, actions and activities. Not only is information provided on what is to be carried out, but also qualitative and quantitative primary sources are generated in order to ascertain the population’s opinion.
  • Initiative. The community proposes ideas and actions. At this level of targeted participation, the population is invited to meetings and workshops (focus groups) to get their opinion in situ and to take their opinions and comments into account when planning and implementing the final project.
  • Support. The community collaborates in some actions. In the last link of targeted and legitimising participation, the aim is to actively involve groups and associations in the implementation of activities and actions.

Transformative participation is based on the protagonism of the population and its social organisations in the planning, execution and management of the different actions. This type of participation can be subdivided into:

  • Cooperation. The community is co-responsible for some actions. In this case the community is involved for cooperation in the different tasks under the technical advice of specialists.
  • Delegated management. The community manages under supervision. One of the ways of raising awareness among the population and involving them in decision-making and heritage and territorial management is through co-management or delegated management of community spaces. At this level, collectives, associations, agents and/or the community have full freedom of action.
  • Self-management. The community is the leader. This is the ultimate level of community participatory management. At this level, the community leads the processes, planning and management of actions and activities. It is considered the level of democratic pact and horizontal dialogue between the actors (public and private) and the community.

In managing the participation of ecomuseums, we will always assume that the ultimate goal is to achieve a status of autarky, i.e. the level of participation of “self-management” or, failing that, that of “delegated management”.

Learning Unit 3

Social organisation and Spaces for Participation

Short Description

This unit corresponds to the question of who participates. The aim is to analyse and understand the spaces of representation and the power of civil society. If ecomuseums were framed in a specific global context: the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century; the drift of postmodernity has caused social dynamics to evolve and transform. Thus, we will deal, among other aspects, with the agents involved and the collective organisations, the spaces of co-management or the commons.

Citizen participation and accountability

Up to this unit we have talked about what participation is, its typologies, levels and what is considered participation for ecomuseums, but: can we participate, and what implications can and/or should this participation have?

The existence of a solid civil society, which is actually the backbone of democracy, marked by a concern for human solidarity, is a must for the participation of the tye we have been previously developing. This means participation in local cultural spheres through participatory techniques, restricting the role of experts and inviting the population and citizens directly affected by the issues to be addressed (Mayrand, 2004; Varine, 1989, 1991 and 2017).

Participation has always both a reason and an objective. It is up to the members of the community to identify the needs and problems of their environment and society and to take the lead in addressing them. To this end, we understand participation as an act of citizen responsibility and an act of direct democracy as opposed to delegation. Hugues de Varine explained it as follows:

“Everything that happens in our daily lives is as if we had abdicated our social responsibilities to specialists trained for this purpose (…). It follows that all fundamental decisions are taken outside of us, while their implementation is the subject of rules that are imposed on each other (…) for our own good. They tell us how to live and die, how to conduct our relations with others or with the environment, how to consume, how to work, how to use our free time. They protect us from ourselves and from others, from environmental risks, and even from the unexpected”
(Varine-Bohan, 1991: 17-18).

Participation in the management of public affairs is a right of citizens beyond their participation as voters of political representatives. The social role of an individual – the social time that this individual consecrates – depends on the degree of consciousness in the sense, as understood by Paulo Freire which refers to the capacity to exercise a consciousness of mastery of oneself, of one’s present and future, of no longer being an object, but the subject of one’s development and of one’s human condition (Varine-Bohan, 1991: 75). This participation understanding as a way of self-managing personal time is directly linked to the right to culture and cultural freedom of the Universal Rights (UNESCO, 1948). Cultural freedom is achieved in an individual through a process that links emotion with critical knowledge, and each individual with his or her territory. We would even dare to say that an individual responsibility is undoubtedly necessary to conquer these freedoms.

Spaces for participation

Where can citizens exercise their right to cultural freedom? Where can citizen participation be exercised? In ecomuseology, participation is realised by considering heritage spaces as communal. Communal spaces belong to the theories of the commons:

“When we say that everything that belongs to everyone and to no one at the same time belongs to the commons, we are thinking of a good that is taken out of the market and that, consequently, is not governed by its rules. The commons cannot be assimilated to the notion of merchandise. This is also what happens with heritage, made up of all those goods (paintings, books, archaeological remains, and also rocks or plants) that we preserve in museums, libraries or botanical gardens”
(Lafuente, 2007: 15).

Collective property is still alive and well in current legislation. For example, article 132 of the Spanish Constitution states that the law shall regulate the legal regime of communal property, inspired by the principles of inalienability, imprescriptibility and non-seizability. Why can’t cultural heritage be regulated as a common good? This could contribute to the creation of horizontal and democratic political decision-making bodies, supported in their management by different social agents and institutions: heritage technicians, jurists, the Church, citizens, etc.

One solution is to facilitate the shared management of this heritage with civil organisations pursuing social goals and with companies in the social economy sector. A change in the definition of heritage, not as a public good, but as a collective, common good, could help to facilitate this process. The difference is that the former belongs to the state and the responsibility for its management lies exclusively in the administrations. The second belongs to a “community” that takes care and makes use of it; it is not only public (shared), but also common, and this makes it necessary to establish consensual management formulas, opening up participation to more actors: the citizenry, through associations, neighbourhood councils, foundations, cooperatives, etc. This heritage is inalienable, as were, for example, the communal forests. In this way, any income generated will always be reinvested for social and non-profit purposes. If there is any use, it will be by some kind of organisation, foundation or local community, which we can group together under the name of “social enterprises of culture and knowledge”. In contrast, the privatisation of the public sphere, which is the solution proposed by the current neoliberal agenda in the face of the state debt crisis, results in the exploitation of collective resources for purely profit-making purposes, in which local communities do not usually participate as active subjects. We are talking here about the so-called “cultural industries”, in which culture is treated as a mere object of consumption.

For all these reasons, we believe that it is essential to set in motion experimentation and social innovation processes configured as “social enterprises of knowledge“. This means that we understand the spaces in three dimensions: (1) as “enterprises”, because they are managed following an economic rationality, as a development for the community; (2) “social”, because they are based on a community management model and do not pursue profit-making ends; and “knowledge” because science and technology are central to the research process, and as Rivard and Mayrand pointed out, it is a process of Critical Culture, in which technical and academic knowledge converge with community knowledge. All this provides us with a propitious scenario to consider community participation in ecomuseums as a “laboratory”, “conceived, implemented and led by a civil organisation. We are therefore talking about technology and innovation, but not of a “technological base”, but of a “social base”, civic, locally anchored and open. The aim is to make heritage the central argument around which all these processes of social innovation are set in motion” (Fernández, Alonso and Navajas, 2015: 118).

Learning Unit 4

Participatory Process

Short Description

This unit corresponds to the question of how participation is done. The different steps to develop a participatory process will be explained.

Participatory planning

We define all participatory planning processes as a strategy aimed at promoting or enhancing the impact and involvement of citizens in public policies. We must bear in mind that the starting point of citizen participation is not methodological (how to carry it out) but political (what it is to be promoted for) and that it entails values (political aims) generating an educational process for society. Let us recall at this point that from an ecomuseological point of view, participation is not an option, but the raison d’être.

The purpose of a participatory planning process is to establish communication links between the different community agents (public and private) and the community itself, to establish a space for democratic decision-making that serves to build a common future, and to generate awareness and co-responsibility between the agents and the community for territorial and community management and development. It is about a process of community autarchy and that it is the community that is part of the decision-making process that involves future policies.

One of the ways to carry out the process of participation planning is through the following five phases

Phase 1: Why and for what purpose do we carry out the participatory process?

In community management, and specifically in the creation of ecomuseums, it is essential to ask ourselves the reason why we wish to generate a process of community participation. Community ecomuseums are entities that start from the idea of transforming the social reality in which they are inserted, alleviating the needs and problems that are diagnosed in the territory. Hence, the “what for” becomes a transcendental question in the ecomuseological project. A long-term project, whose goal is territorial and community development and which involves a community in all aspects of it, should not be limited to a short-term vision or to goals aimed at the traditional atomisation of the management of heritage assets.

In this first phase, a promoter group should be created, composed of those members of the community and agents who promoted the eco-museum initiative and also of those who wish to establish the main objective and the goal to be achieved in the participatory process.

Phase 2: Who will (and who will not) participate in the process?

Once we have objectified and focused on the final goal of the participatory process, it is necessary to establish the actors who will intervene. Since its beginnings, ecomuseological theory has established that ecomuseums are a pact between the different public and private agents and the population itself (Maggi, 2004 and 2006), which means that the population must form part, together with the technicians, of the different working groups of the ecomuseum, from the planning of the activities to the execution, management and evaluation (Mayrand, 2004, Varine: 1991 and 2017).

Of course, we must move away from utopian assumptions that the whole population will participate. When we talk about community we are really talking about communities, just as when we talk about participatory process we are really referring to a multiplicity of processes that can either involve the whole population or different groups within the community (youth, adults, women, etc.).

Depending on the purpose established in Phase 1, informative meetings, discussion groups, collaborative workshops should be set up in order to detect the agents and members of the population who wish and will participate, as well as the characteristics of their participation: knowledge, time of dedication and commitment, etc. It is important to remember that these active members will also be the final recipients of the actions developed.

Finally, “non-participation” must be taken into account. The actors and members of the population who are reluctant to participate in the project or to participate are a crucial sector to consider the parameters of the participatory project and what are the circumstances that lead them to non-participation.

Phase 3: How are we going to do it?

The participatory planning process can concern the whole ecomuseum project (see module 3), or specific actions and activities. Depending on the different actions to be carried out, a different methodology will be established. The methodologies to be used are developed in unit 5 of this module.

Phase 4. When and where are we going to carry out the participatory process?

The methodology established in Phase 3 of the process will indicate the times and spaces necessary to develop the participatory process. For time planning, it is recommended that a chronogram of actions, objectives and agents in charge of carrying them out be drawn up. This will allow us to control the actions and the execution process. Tools such as the Canvas are favourable for having a global vision of the planning.

In terms of spaces, we must consider those locations in the territory that are favourable for the development of the actions and that in some way are linked to the identity of the population. Likewise, dialogue and collaboration with public and private agents is key in order to have access to a wide range of spaces. The choice of the physical spaces where the participatory process will take place is of enormous importance in the response and dynamics of the people who participate, as they will be spaces of identity and collective memory in the future.

Phase 5: What resources will we use?

Any participatory process results in the use of a specific methodology of community action, which ultimately implies the allocation of resources to carry it out. Access to or availability of different resources will condition the participatory process itself, but not its essence or the purpose set out in Phase 1.

We need to define quantitatively the following aspects:

  • Personnel. Technical staff needed to advise and monitor the participatory process.
  • Financial resources. Establish possible sources of funding and/or alternatives for the implementation of the project if it is non-existent or insufficient.
  • Technologies. Technological elements and devices, as well as digital actions necessary according to the methodology to be used.
  • Material resources. Plan all consumable and inventoriable materials necessary for the implementation of the participatory process.
Learning Unit 5

Participatory Methodologies

Short Description

The last learning unit follows the line of the previous one and focuses on developing and explaining the various participatory methodologies: Participatory workshops, Citizen Labs, etc.

Participatory and collaborative workshops

Workshops are spaces for contrast and debate and are also frameworks for the construction of collective identity, especially thanks to the older members of the community. Conceived as a spaces for sharing knowledge through the experience of the components of the community, these workshops will serve to recover and enhance, from a participatory perspective, the direct knowledge of the members of the community group. Workshops are spaces for contrast and debate and also frameworks for the construction of collective identity through the exercise of oral memory, especially thanks to the elders of the community.


Exhibition is an essential instrument to present heritage and investigate new languages and museum techniques. With a view to the further development of an ecomuseum, the exhibition is positioned as one of the most useful methods of heritage appropriation and dialogue between the community and the technical-specialists. Exhibition initiates the process of community action that leads to heritage awareness and the construction of an identity through which the community becomes involved in making decisions about its future and that of its territory. In conclusion, the (community) museum space becomes a social and cultural laboratory. In short, an exhibition is a knowledge and communication strategy which, from a community point of view, is a method for sharing, collaborating and participating with the members of the community. It should, therefore, generate more questions, interrogations and dialogues than answers and closed narratives.

Participatory Diagnosis

Participatory diagnosis is one of the tools assumed as essential by most ecomuseologists (Pierre Mayrad, Raul Méndez, Hugues de Varine, etc.), but it is also more complex. Diagnosis should be one of the initial phases in the creation of an ecomuseum, since it involves researching, analysing and reflecting on: the territory, heritage, cultural identity, problems and needs of the territory and the community. In administrative and business terms, we would be faced with a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats and Strengths) and a PEST analysis (Policy, Economy, Society, Technology); however, in the case of ecomuseums, this must be done in a collaborative and horizontal way. Technicians and specialists must interact with the population and involve them in order to carry out a truly effective diagnosis.

Community Maps / Parish Map

The direct antecedent of community maps can be found in the Parish Maps. The Anglo-Saxon version was exploited by ecomuseums following the ideas of heritage for life of Hugues de Varine (2017) and Pierre Mayrand (2009). Community mapping or, if preferred, community inventory is the main tool for local communities to become aware of their own territory and their heritage. It is also one of the preliminary steps for the interpretation of the heritage of the territory of the future ecomuseum.

Participatory – Action – Research

Participatory – Action – Research (PAR) is a tool that aims to enhance the participation and collaboration of community members in actions aimed at transforming the community. This implies that people should be an active part of all intervention processes, as well as in decision-making. This type of research aims to take into account social needs and problems, but whose actions are carried out by citizen initiative. Its methodological and theoretical roots are to be found in the pedagogical processes of Paulo Freire, in the militant sociology of Orlando Fals Borda, in community development and in the Critical Culture of the New Museology and Sociomuseology presuppositions.


Co-creation is a form of shared project management. Its purpose is based on collaborative innovation. This concept is based on sharing ideas with local collectives and associations with the intention of generating shared and inclusive projects.

Educational and social action laboratories

Spaces for collaborative work, developed by technicians, professionals and social and community entities. The main objective is to generate pedagogical material with a vision of social inclusion, responsibility and commitment to the most vulnerable or the least represented, especially in the activities developed by the museum. To this end, cooperation with (local) social agents is essential.

Citizen’s Lab

A citizen laboratory is a collaborative space for the production, research and dissemination of cultural projects. These laboratories explore forms of communal learning, innovation and experimentation. The aim is to start from an idea that can be developed in a communal way and that has a direct impact on the social reality.

Citizen labs are based on generating proposals from citizens, with the addition of collaborators; this generates prototypes and learning communities. The entire process of a citizen laboratory is documented (with an open licence) so that it can be used by other communities: researchers, producers, other citizen initiatives, administrations, etc.



Participatory and collaborative workshops
  • Cooperation
  • Support
  • Initiative
Community museography
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Cooperation
Participatory Diagnosis
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Cooperation
  • Support
Community Maps / Parish Map
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Cooperation
  • Support
Participatory - Action - Research
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Cooperation
  • Support
Educational and social action laboratories
  • Cooperation
  • Support
  • Initiative
  • Analysis
  • Information
Citizen's Laboratory
  • Self-management
  • Delegated management
  • Give everyone a voice.
  • Building citizens who are able to engage, think and act.
  • New themes and diversify the sources of knowledge, listening to and taking into account all citizens, in their great diversity.
  • Create dynamics of action around heritage.
  • Build strong social relationships within communities.
  • To constitute communities of thought, i.e. “forming a society”.


Source: own elaboration.


Páginas web con proyectos

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