Ian Burbidge argues that building strong foundations for the future requires collective effort, with the public and private sectors both playing a part.
We attend to challenges in the places where they manifest: in the neighbourhoods, parks, estates and town centres where we go about our daily lives. Our ability to succeed depends on the range of collective resources and assets available. Yet, in many western countries, our responses have been fatally undermined. In the UK, Covid-19 has exposed the extent to which our society is riven by structural faultlines, exacerbated by a policy of austerity that has undermined the resilience of people, communities and institutions to effectively absorb the shock of a crisis.
In January 2021, with funding from the National Lottery’s Emerging Futures Fund, the RSA held a series of community listening events in Birmingham, Norfolk, Lothian and the North West region of England to hear about how people are taking action. This work forms part of our exploration of how communities are coping with Covid-19 and how this may lay the foundations of the future that local citizens want. What can we learn from this endeavour if we are to put in place some firm foundations for the future?
Making social innovation a reality
According to figures from UnLtd, a foundation for social entrepreneurs, one in four people who want to start a business want to create a social enterprise. Operating in the space between the state and the private sector, social entrepreneurs are critical agents in local change processes. Their perspective, unique set of skills and competencies allow them to see new ways of responding to societal problems. Close to the ground, they have skin in the game, living in the communities in which they operate and having a deep and direct understanding of local problems. The social innovation processes that they draw upon are typically powered by community goodwill and social capital, as well as more traditional assets and resources. They are able to test new ideas, actively involving citizens throughout the innovation process to ensure they respond to needs, while creating a sense of communal ownership of new products, services and processes.
Foundations for the future
The RSA has been at the forefront of societal change for over 250 years – our proven Living Change Approach, and global network of 30,000 problem-solvers enables us to unite people and ideas to understand the challenges of our time and realise lasting change.
Some places are becoming recognised for their transformational locally-led change programmes. They have had bold leadership that has seen the value of working closely with and trusting residents in their neighbourhoods to decide what they want the place they live to be like. But what about the rest?
Hans Asenbaum Selen A. Ercan Ricardo F. Mendonça
Hans Asenbaum, Selen A. Ercan, Ricardo F. Mendonça explore how different modes of communication could be included in deliberative democracy.