Civic Commons had two core objectives:
(a) Build the capacity and confidence of citizens to contribute to civic society
(b) Inspire local civic innovation by bringing leading thinkers to Peterborough and provide participants with ideas and resources to develop local solutions to social problems.
It was hoped that the inspiration gain from the Civic Commons would spread amongst other citizens.
Civic Commons members participated in various capacity-building and networking events, including advocacy training and a visit to the House of Commons.
At the first Civic Commons session, held on 26 January 2011, Irene Lucas (former Director General of Local Government and Regeneration in the Department of Communities and Local Government) and Ben Rogers (formerly of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and author of a recent RSA pamphlet on anti-social behaviour) worked with participants on tackling anti-social behaviour in Peterborough.
Subsequent meetings focused on a specific area of Peterborough, Century Square, which experienced high levels of anti-social behaviour. Civic Commons developed three interventions:
1. Community guardians: this involves members of the local community having a positive and visible presence on the streets. It builds on the work of schemes such as Streetwatch but focuses on reinvigorating a sense of community in neighbourhoods rather than directly tackling crime.
2. The Woolwich Model: this idea was developed by an RSA Fellow, Ben Rogers, and citizens in Peterborough were keen to trial it. This involved training key local figures and citizens with basic conflict resolution skills, enabling them (where appropriate) to defuse difficult situations in a confident and safe manner.
3. Police/youth events: the final idea involved bringing police and young people together in informal settings to build understanding and find areas of common ground on anti-social behaviour issues.
After a good start, this project faltered largely due to a lack of capacity in the local authority to support the Civic Commons members, indeed a small group of local councillors were opposed to the Commons.
During the project the Neighbourhoods and Community department was managing major cuts and its capacity for community development became reduced.
There was some limited impact, other local authorities became interested in the work, and it raised the profile of Peterborough to central government as a place for localism and citizen participation.
Early evaluation showed that three quarters of the Civic Commons group reported increased confidence and that the project had increased their capacity to be civically active 'a great deal'. A core group of 5 went on to become part of the ChangeMakers network.
These former members of RSA staff worked on the Civic Commons project:
Emma Norris, Former Associate Director
Sam McLean, Former Director of Public Participation and Head of Citizen Power