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The RSA recently had our annual civic day. Staff travelled down to Bognor help decorate a community centre (many thanks to B&Q and Dulux for their support!). This type of work sponsored activity is increasingly common.

The RSA recently had our annual civic day. Staff travelled down to Bognor help decorate a community centre (many thanks to B&Q and Dulux for their support!). This type of work sponsored activity is increasingly common.

For example, NatWest have recently launched CommunityForce “a new initiative to support local communities, by donating time, expertise and £1.9m in funding” they have also offered all of their employees a day of paid leave for local voluntary work.

These types of initiatives are becoming more common and are to be welcomed. They prompt me to consider what type of workplaces are more or less conducive to community engagement.

A couple of observations as background;

  • We know that those in work generally have more local connections and are better connected to those in power than those who are out of work
  • We know that professionals are more likely to be involved in political and civic activity than those in other social classes
  • We know that performing certain routine, automatic activities makes us less pro-social
  • We know that the quality of our work environment and our relationship with our supervisor (whether they treat us as a partner or a boss) can have dramatic effects on our levels of stress, anger and worry
  • We know that those Local Authorities that give their staff opportunities to show initiative perform better
  • We know that people value and respond to autonomy in the work place
  • We know that there are a range of factors that will mean that individual citizens will be more or less willing and able to get involved in their local community
I think this set of observations gets us quite a long way in thinking about workplaces that are more or less conducive to producing citizens that are willing and able to get involved in their local communities.

What type of workplaces are more or less conducive to community engagement?

It is worth bearing in mind that the community development movement that gain prominence in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s was explicitly linked to the trade union movement. That is to say, efforts to empower communities were linked to efforts to empower workers.

Community Development practice has changed markedly since then. For example, there is a greater emphasis on creative collaboration than previously.

Recently, proponents of so-called ‘Blue Labour’ have argued that the question of how to empower workers should be a key part of our political debate. I can’t be the only one to be a bit unimpressed by their recommendations, such as the creation of works council. However, I think they are on to something by asking the question.

Perhaps, those of us who spend our time developing innovative ways to promote greater community involvement should also be thinking about how work places can be reformed so that workers have greater autonomy, more opportunities to use their initiative and have a more equal relationship with their supervisors. This could have a far greater impact on how ability and willingness to get involved in our community than any number of work sponsored volunteer places.

 

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