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What is the Civic Commons and why is it needed? This short paper outlines the need and principles of operation for a participation initiative that encourages and supports citizens to be more active at a local level. It is intended to provoke discussion about what forms of citizen participation are most valuable in the current social, political and economic con text. It also makes the case for the Civic Commons initiative in Peterborough.

The aim of the Civic Commons is to support citizens to have greater impact on social problems in their communities. This will involve developing the capacity, knowledge and relationships necessary amongst citizens to improve their area’s prospects.

The aim is not to abandon the wide range of successful participation techniques that have been used and refined over the last twenty years or more, but to build on the growing trend of citizens having a more direct impact on the places they live.

Why participation needs to change

The capacity of citizens to contribute to tackling social challenges and problems is mostly untapped. Current models for encouraging citizens to participate in civic life are geared around citizens influencing decisionmaking or service delivery, rather than individually or collectively making change themselves. But this needs to change; participation must enable citizens to take action rather than just have conversations.

Approaching participation in this way could support social policy interventions: there is a growing evidence base that shows interventions are more likely to be successful when they actively involve local people. The need for citizens to make more active contributions — to become more ‘socially productive’ — is particularly acute in light of spending cuts and demand on public services. Initiatives that can help tackle costly social problems are in demand.


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