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On April 23-27, the Rule of Law Initiative, in conjunction with the China Association for NGO Cooperation (CANGO), held a national training session on methods for fostering community dialogue regarding the integration of rural migrant workers into China’s urban areas. This issue has attracted growing attention and concern as record numbers of workers – 120,000,000 in the last year – are leaving the countryside to find jobs in urban areas. This mass migration has created urgent needs to address issues ranging from migrant workers’ labor rights and access to education and health care, to ensuring equal treatment of migrant workers by police and raising consciousness about discriminatory attitudes toward migrants by urban residents, employers, and service professionals. The novelty and complexity of these problems has made it difficult to engage relevant stakeholders in a meaningful dialogue on what kinds of initiatives and policy changes are needed, and how to move toward these changes.
The Rule of Law Initiative's training introduced Open Space Technology as a new tool for engaging community actors in a participatory and action-oriented dialogue on these issues. Ludwig Weitz from the German organization Vision was the expert facilitator and trainer for the event. The Open Space methodology, first developed in the U.S. and now in use worldwide, is particularly suited to enabling diverse stakeholders to address complicated, multi-faceted problems and to work together to develop concrete action plans. One of the foundational principles of this methodology is that all participants are on equal footing with an equal right to speak and to determine what is discussed, thus situating government officials and citizens as co-equal members of the communities in which they work and creating a space in which citizens’ voices can be heard. Following this training, the Rule of Law Initiative and CANGO issued a call for proposals and will be supporting a follow-on Open Space activity in the Three Gorges Dam area focusing on the integration of migrant workers as well as communities evacuated as a result of dam construction and other development.