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The PCS Model

For this activity we are indebted to Margaret Ledwith and Jane Springett for inspiration; their book Participatory Practice: Community-based Action, used Neil Thompson’s PCS Model to explore the concept of ‘participation as social justice’ (2010: 26-27).


The PCS Model can be used as a tool to analyze power and the context in which we operate. It’s a device to highlight discrimination, acknowledge anti-oppressive practice and construct effective challenges that creates inclusive and respectful alternative narratives. WARNING: This is an intense process and should not be used on the first day of a training course nor as a stand-alone activity.



This activity is very intense and may generate significant emotional engagement by the participants; for this reason we recommend that this activity can be the focus of a whole day on a training course (approximately 5 hours). It will be important to structure the day so that there is sufficient time for participants to effectively evaluate their involvement at the end of the day.



The Model enables participants to examine themselves, their communities, and wider society from three levels – P (personal) C (cultural) and S (structural) and engages participants in an exercise to identify, label, and challenge discrimination and anti-oppressive practice:

Personal Level (P)

The Personal seeks to begin with an exploration of those views we hold individually about self and others. For example, if you are working with a group of young people, you could ask them “What do you think of politicians?” Similarly, with a resident’s group you might ask “What do you think about young people?” Starting with the Personal enables the participants to locate themselves and their views and begin to understand how those opinions are supported within the cultural and structural contexts; sharing words with others enables the participants to reference their views with those of others – this phase can be challenging. Additionally, this Personal phase can reveal much about the participants themselves and so should be handled with sensitivity. Because a participation project will inevitably involve relationships with other individuals and groups, it may be useful to get the group to identify all the other potential parties, both allies and protagonists, and explore the Personal views and experiences involved.

Cultural Level (C)

Building on the work undertaken at the Personal Level, this next phase, the Cultural Level, requires the participants to explore those cultural influences that may impact on effective participation. Initially, participants should identify what constitutes ‘culture’ in their realities: examples might be sex, age, colour, race, disability, sexuality, social or economic status, lifestyle, culture, religion or beliefs. This list is not exhaustive and the participants should be able to identify further characteristics. These cultural constructs should be examined with respect for diversity and the different cultures and values involved; and identify any potential threats to equality. This could then lead to ACTION PLANS to overcome inequality and ensure that everyone involved in a project feels valued and respected and in turn treats everyone else with dignity. Some cultural values may present challenges to some participants and it is important to seek consensus where possible; for example, ideas about right and wrong, or good and bad, should be explored because they are value judgements that come from somewhere; they represent shared ways of seeing, of thinking, and of doing. If unchallenged, these shared practices become a norm and thus acceptable and accepted.

Structural (S) Level

Without getting too heavy, the Structural Level offers participants the opportunity to examine their societies and identify where they can see divisions and how these are reinforced through the continuance of cultural norms and the support of personal beliefs. There are some easily identified targets, certain sections of the media, particular political organisations, powerful commercial interests, social institutions, and sections of government. By naming these the participants are then able to explore how and why they operate to create and maintain division. Then they can develop strategies to begin to challenge the distribution of power and resources. But be aware that at this level the dynamics of the political are at play; the social and the political combine to magnify agents of power and spheres of influence.

Thompson’s use of concentric circles is purposive: the Personal Level (P), involving personal feelings, relationships with others, attitudes and conceptions of self, is itself embedded within the Cultural Level (C) since we are surrounded by norms, rules, the attitudes of others, and inter-personal interactions, to some of which we contribute, and some we try to escape. Similarly, (P) and (C) are components located within the Structural Level (S) because we are all part of wider society; with varying degrees of connectedness, subject to rules and conventions, and often challenged by those with power and control.
Although embedded, the three elements are still discrete; they are inter-related, reinforcing each other, but still powerful alone. As an individual we can have greatest influence at the Personal Level; this decreases when we try to engage at the (C) and (S) Levels – often the solution is to collectivise, to collaborate, and use each other’s complementary skills to achieve change.



A flipchart sheet with the three concentric circles PCS, as above.
Flipchart sheets
Marker pens.
Sticky notes.
Sheets of A4 paper.



1. Split into small groups of 4 -5 participants and give each group 3 sheets of flipchart paper and ask them to identify it as P.

2. The Facilitator asks everyone to take 3 sticky notes and silently reflect on “What I think or assume about politicians?” and write key words on the sticky notes. (3 minutes)

3. Ensuring that everyone has a turn, groups then post the sticky notes on their P sheet headed ‘Politicians’ whilst explaining what they have written. This sheet goes on a wall. (about 12 minutes)

4. Repeat No. 2 but this time the Facilitator says “What I think or assume about civil servants?”

5. Repeat No. 3. on another P sheet titled ‘Civil Servants’.

6. Repeat No. 2 but this time the Facilitator says “What I think or assume about young people?”

7. Repeat No. 3. on another P sheet titled ‘Young People’.

8. The Facilitator invites the whole group to nominate further categories, examples might be: residents groups, business people, the Police, workers in NGOs. This list will depend on the potential partner agencies that may be involved in a project. The group votes and the top two form two additional rounds using Stages No. 2 and No. 3.

9. By this stage there should be a whole wall that represents the collective Personal Level.

10. The Facilitator invites the groups to walk around and read the contributions. (10 minutes)

11. The Facilitator asks the participants to form one large group and encourages discussion. (20 minutes)

12. Back in their small groups, participants are asked to mark a new flipchart sheet C. The Facilitator explains that they should create a collection of words that defines ‘culture’ (some examples are given at Cultural Level above). (15 minutes)

13. The groups are now asked to identify those words/phrases that may be perceived to exclude, that may be discriminatory, and that may be considered as oppressive to some in the community. (10 minutes)

14. The group transfers each word/phrase on to a separate sheet of A4 paper. Everyone in the group then uses 3 sticky notes to record Actions that would contribute to a strategy to combat the issue on the A4. (15 minutes)

15. The Facilitator brings everyone back together in a plenary setting and invites each group by turn to step forward, post their Cultural Level flipchart sheet on the wall together with their A4 sheets and sticky notes, and present their work to the others. Allow 5 minutes of discussion at the end of each presentation. (approximately 45 minutes)

16. The Facilitator concludes this stage by inviting any further comments. (10 minutes)

17. The Facilitator introduces the Structural Level stage.

18. The Facilitator marks a flipchart sheet S. As a whole group, the participants are invited to identify those elements of their society that have influence, power, and access to, and control of, resources (for example, media, politicians, organised religion, there will be others). Encourage examples of what that power, influence, and resource controls looks like. (20 minutes – there will be discussion!)

19. On a separate flipchart sheet the Facilitator writes Actions and invites the participants to contribute suggestions for how divisions, control of resources, and blocks to genuine participation, may be successfully challenged. The group should take responsibility for ensuring that every participant has an opportunity to speak and prevent any one person dominating – the Facilitator intervenes if this does not happen. (20 minutes)


DISCUSSION (30 minutes)

1. “What 3 things did you learn?” (use sticky notes for posting on wall)

2. “What 3 things will you commit to doing after this ACTIVITY?” (use sticky notes for posting on another part of the wall)

3. Get group to walk around and look at the posts on the walls for 10 minutes.

4. PLENARY: Discuss their impressions based on what they have read on the walls. (20 minutes)


EVALUATION (30 minutes)

The Facilitator invites the group to share their experiences. Example questions could include:

1. “How do you feel?” (Encourage everyone to speak if they wish to)
(This question may release strong emotions – be prepared)

2. “Do you feel that you know yourselves better?”

3. “Do you feel that you know your society better?”

4.It is important to finish the day on a positive note. Consider doing an Energiser to send everyone away feeling good.



How would the group use this ACTIVITY in the future and would they make changes? Capture, record, circulate.

For example, this could be one element of a more comprehensive course exploring issues of discrimination and anti-oppressive practice (which is where it is usually used).



Ledwith, M. and Springett, J. (2010) Participatory Practice: Community-based Action, Bristol: Policy Press.

Thompson, N. (2006) Anti-discriminatory Practice (4th edn), London: Palgrave Macmillan.


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