Strand VI: Seeking cooperative solutions

How can citizen networks and organisations work together with local government  to shape and deliver the local agenda for transformative change?

In every local area there is an elected local authority with responsibility for ‘place shaping’ to promote the well-being of the whole community, as well as other public bodies (e.g. relating to health and emergency services) with more specific mandates. There may also be sectoral bodies (e.g. the Chamber of Commerce) outside public control but representing significant local interests. Likewise there will typically be a much larger number of citizen networks and organisations, often seeking to advance a particular vision (e.g. sustainability initiatives like Transition Town Brixton), represent the interests of particular groups of citizens (e.g. Disabled Persons Organisations like Disability Action in Islington) or indeed bring together people in a neighbourhood to improve local amenities (where I live, it is the Highbury Community Association).

Our focus in this series of blogs has been on both sides of this equation: on how citizen groups and local government leadership can together create the civic partnerships required to build sustainable and inclusive communities.

We have emphasised that this is a complex agency system seeking to engage with multiple challenges and identified five inter-related strands in the strategies required to address these challenges effectively. In this sixth strand we revisit the previous five to produce a design guide for both ‘sides’ in civic partnership development. In the interests of clarity, the check list of key questions is written with a focus on the local authority leadership (LA) on the left-hand side and a civil society organisation (CSO) on the right-hand side. (I have particularly had in mind Disabled People’s Organisations and citizen networks like the red inclusiva of Bucaramanga, discussed in the first series of these blogs.) Clearly reality is considerably more complex and every locality is different: the checklist is intended as a stimulus to critical and creative deliberation both within each side and across local initiatives as alliances and partnerships are developed.

Defining valued outcomes

1.     How well has the LA articulated its responsibility to meet the ‘triple bottom line’ of environmental protection, sustainable economic development and greater social justice?

2.     How well has the LA created processes for wide participation in agreeing and acting on local strategic goals?

3.     Are these clearly expressed as valued outcomes to guide and evaluate a wide range of local actions?

I.    How well has the CSO articulated its goals in terms of valued outcomes (e.g. making a positive difference in people’s lives)?

II.       How well is the CSO exploring how these goals might contribute to progress on wider local priorities (e.g. how greater inclusion could strengthen local resilience)?

III.     How well is the CSO exploring how its interests might be reflected in action on other priorities (e.g. by making inclusion a key dimension of  economic development)?

 

Engaging whole systems

4.     How well is the LA leadership creating opportunities for relevant stakeholders to come together to make sense of local challenges?

5.     How well is the LA working with its partners to analyse the potential contributions of different departments and agencies to achieving the strategic outcomes?

6.     How well is this joint working reflected in delivering effective action?

IV.    How well is the CSO actively contributing its perspectives and experiences to local sense-making?

V.     How well is the CSO exploring potential connections with other CSOs which might facilitate action on related or complementary objectives?

VI.    How well is the CSO playing its part in local initiatives (e.g. as a vehicle for outreach to interested citizens or as a partner in delivery)?

 

Co-producing the future

7.     How well is the LA inviting partnership with local communities and civic associations in shaping and delivering action on local priorities?

8.     How well are public services devolving leadership to the neighbourhood level and ensuring delivery staff have the autonomy required for personalized engagement with citizens?

9.     Are there good arrangements to ensure that policy-making properly reflects the interests of future generations?

VII.   How well is the CSO investing in developing the capacity of its members (e.g. through community organizing) to be empowered partners with public agencies?

VIII.  How well is the CSO working to strengthen peer support (e.g. for mutual information, advice and advocacy) among interested citizens?

IX.    How well is the CSO helping its members explore what will be required to secure a better future?

 

Strengthening resilience

10.  How well is the LA strengthening democratic control over local responses to uncertain conditions?

11.  How well is the LA helping to foster economic self-reliance and responsible stewardship over local resources?

12.  How well is the LA helping to strengthen local communities as places of social cohesion and mutual support?

X.     How well is the CSO supporting its members to play their part in a pluralist local democracy?

XI.    How well is the CSO aligning its interests with sustainable economic development (e.g. through participating in ‘green’ initiatives)?

XII.   How well is the CSO helping to connect people through local social networks which promote everyone’s well-being?

 

Working inclusively

13.  How well is the LA providing a welcome for diverse participation and attending to the voices of people at risk of marginalisation?

14.  How well is the LA fostering a listening culture which seeks to learn from different perspectives?

15.  How well is the LA making use of social technologies (e.g. World Café) which promote shared understanding and encourage the will to act on significant challenges?

XIII.  How well is the CSO welcoming diverse participation and reaching out to people on the margins?

XIV. How well is the CSO helping its members to listen carefully to different perspectives?

XV.How well is the CSO supporting its members in becoming active participants in many local opportunities for conversations which matter?

 

Clearly these fifteen pairs of points are framed as questions not answers. Each ‘side’ separately but hopefully also each side together will need to deliberate on these questions and reflect on experience so as to ensure the widest possible mobilization of people and agencies in shaping a better future. Equally these points provide an agenda for capacity building so that both local authorities and civil society organizations are better able to play their parts in effective civic partnerships.