KET 7 Civil Society: Mobilising Communities to Take-Up Localism Rights, Department of Communities and Local Government, London, 19.2.14

Knowledge Exchange Trials 7

I was invited to a government policy forum where the workshop was run under the Chatham House Rule where comments cannot be attributed to any individual or their affiliation.

These workshops were really useful for gaining a valuable insight into how government policies are made. It was also very good to share the workings of academia with the civil servants. These workshops were designed to explore how civil servants could work more closely with academics. We discussed the government’s agenda of empowering people to run their own services in order to effect government cost savings. We discussed how the government  uses incentives to encourage behavioural modification through schemes such as the Community Rights to Bid, Our Place and Community shares.

We discussed how policy is informed by academic research and as researchers we need to know who to go to within government. We discussed the need for community action to be multi dimensional and how collective action was the most efficient way of making changes. We discussed how social delivery and a behavioural approach could positively affect community behaviour. We explored the tools of behavioural economics where top down approaches were “too strong” and often disempowering whilst bottom up approaches were often “too weak” as effect sizes were too small to make any real differences. We concluded that we needed to develop approaches that linked government and community agendas more closely.

We discussed how the government attempts to convince communities that development in their area is a good thing by offering a Community Infrastructure Levy

We explored how the Internet can be used as an effective research tool that allowed policy makers to collect large amounts of data in so doing constructing larger sample sizes which would better inform the policy making process in terms of more cases of statistical significance (i.e. more confident policy making as a result of larger data sets).

Finally, we discussed work with communities from the Mozart Estate in Westminster where they were empowered  to set up their own Parish Council to deliver their own services around Early years and play and child care. We looked at  a series of workshops that were designed to up-skill the residents in the skills of power brokering and sharing, skills needed to successfully communicate with the multiple stakeholders in the borough.

My Reflections

I thought that it was really important that localism was not just used as a means of “control” over communities and that communities could really have the chance to set the own agendas. Fabian’s project proved that that was possible. I thought that universities could prove instrumental in being the “broker” between the various stakeholders in communities – the communities themselves, third sector organisations and local and national governments. As academics who already work on the ground in a multi-agency way, our input as a vital link or connector should be used in a more focussed manner. There are issues around funding and academic priorities within the academy that makes this a challenge. However, specific government requests for assistance in these areas would make it easier for our institutions to prioritise this work, especially as work of this sort will be important for the 2020 REF Impact measures. If we consider that almost every town or city has a local university or degree-awarding college and that most of England’s universities are signed up to the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) charter and have ambassadors representing them who already work on the ground, then there is already an existing network of community/public focussed academics with their own academic and community networks that the government can tap into. The best people for academics to work with in government would appear to be the analysts who put together the available research and data that will inform policy making in the first place.

I would like to see clearer mechanisms that enabled communities to co-design government policy that affect their lives. Having a co-productive approach to policy making would ensure that both the communities’ and government agendas were met within a single policy. A combination of the model presented by Mary Webb and Fabian Sharp with the assistance of the Internet models of data capture mentioned by Tom Steinberg would make a very good start towards devising a type of effective “collaborative consultation”.

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