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This week the RSA publishes a new report suggesting that local areas would benefit strongly from identifying and better mobilising the ‘ChangeMakers’ who are already striving to improve outcomes in our communities and public services.  

A combination of financial cutbacks, unabated calls for better quality public services and rekindled ideals of a more active citizenry are creating a paradigm shift for local areas. The need to transform the landscape of place shaping and public service delivery has rarely been greater, yet there is a sense that some places remain ill-equipped to rise to the challenge. Despite significant increases in welfare spending over the past ten years, local areas have so far proven unable to wield these resources to best effect. A quarter of adults in the UK are obese; one in ten of the working-age population have no qualifications; half of all people aged 75 and over live alone; and some one in ten households report crime to be a serious problem in their area.

The scale and diversity of these problems are such that they have prompted calls for a more comprehensive, all-encompassing narrative of change that can inform the way our public services and local authorities deliver their services and achieve their aims. The 2020 Public Services Hub, for one, has been vocal in calling for places to be more ‘socially productive’, where people from all sectors are involved in ‘identifying, understanding and solving public problems dynamically using all appropriate means’. Likewise, the Big Society and Localism agendas are working towards a clear vision of a society where people shape, if not entirely run, the public services they use and the places in which they live.

These visions remain largely uncontested in principle. Yet there is a clear concern that the number of people currently working to improve their communities and public services will be insufficient to turn these visions into reality. Despite two thirds of people saying that individuals should be taking more responsibility for their own lives, over 90 per cent still believe that the state should remain primarily responsible for delivering key public services. As the RSA has argued in another recent report, initiatives like that of the Big Society demand far greater competencies than the vast majority of the population currently hold. As such, they should be seen more as 20 year projects than 2 year ones.

This is not to say that we should give up on ambitions for more people to be involved in shaping their communities, nor that we should discount the fundamentally important care-based exchanges that everyone partakes in. Rather, it is that we should temper our optimism and acknowledge that the numbers actively contributing to their communities in the ‘thick’ manner now demanded (volunteering regularly, taking part in neighbourhood groups and shaping/running public services) is frankly very small. As some well-cited research from TSRC has pointed out, a ‘civic core’ of around 8 per cent of the population contributes nearly half the recorded volunteering hours in the UK.

The challenges facing our local areas are so great, and the time that they have to tackle them so short, that it is becoming increasingly obvious to local authorities and public services that they will need to work with the grain of the assets that are already available to them. With this in mind, our attention naturally turns to the individuals who are already working to improve outcomes in local areas. These people, who we have termed ‘ChangeMakers’, can be defined as those key individuals who are, or who could be given more support, highly effective in tackling the social, economic and environmental challenges facing society, and who are spearheading positive change within their own fields of interest and work. This could be anybody from an active police officer, to a leading light in the business community, to a community activist dedicated to his or her cause.

The RSA ChangeMakers report published this week describes how we were able to map a local network of these ChangeMakers in Peterborough using an innovative new ‘social network analysis’ approach. Through piloting our method, we were able to identify over 240 of these individuals, among them social entrepreneurs, members of the clergy, artists, head teachers, police officers, businessmen, charity workers and housing officers. The results of our surveying indicate that such individuals are adept at driving positive change in their local areas. They appear rooted in their communities, have an impressive repertoire of capabilities, and are instilled with an appetite to apply these to address local issues.

As well-connected and knowledgeable individuals, ChangeMakers are a potentially highly valuable asset that local authorities and public services could draw upon to realise their ambitions, whether that is by using them as sources of expertise and local opinion, as sounding boards for feedback on new initiatives, or as conduits for spreading information and behaviours.

Our report urges local authorities and public services to acknowledge the latent power of their ChangeMakers and to develop plans that would enable them to channel the energy of such individuals to best effect. In our report, we put forward the concept of a ‘ChangeMakers’ Network’ as one means of doing so. By bringing local ChangeMakers together through structured events to share ideas and advice, to assist local bodies with their work, and to collaborate with one another on joint initiatives, Networks would play a key role in surfacing, connecting together and further developing the capacity of ChangeMakers to achieve a positive impact in their own fields.

The next stage of our project will involve developing the first ChangeMakers’ Network in Peterborough, and to begin undertaking further mapping initiatives in other parts of the country, with a view to creating a large consortium of Networks all working together.

If you would like to hear more about the findings of the ChangeMakers project or about forming a Network in your own local area, please get in touch with via email or on 020 7451 6836.


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