Helping citizens to develop the skills, knowledge, networks and confidence to tackle social challenges could save money, generate more innovative responses to problems, relieve demand on public services and enable more people to take part in the ‘Big Society’, according to a report published by the RSA.
Civic Commons: a model for social action concludes that whilst people want to contribute to their communities and to society at large, they are not currently given the right opportunities. Until now the main opportunities citizens have are to take part in consultations, which give them a voice but fail to provide chances for them to use their skills, knowledge, time or ideas for ‘social action’.
By combining ‘old’ models of consultation with training and knowledge-building sessions, citizens are able to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to put their ideas into action.
This idea is currently being put into practice in Peterborough, as part of the RSA's Citizen Power programme. Twenty-five residents have joined the Civic Commons initiative, through which they’ve received advocacy training and have taken part in a policy forum with local police chiefs and high profile thinkers. Now they are designing four citizen-led interventions that aim to tackle anti-social behaviour in their communities.
The Civic Commons has received high-profile backing from Irene Lucas (Acting Permanent Secretary Department for Communities and Local Government) who spoke at the Civic Commons in Peterborough and David Lammy MP who spoke at a citizen training session:
Commenting on the report Irene Lucas said:
'I found the Civic Commons to be wonderfully engaging. It is those local people closest to the problem that can often generate that one 'pearl' idea... and it is to them that policymakers must be prepared to listen.'
Commenting on the report, co-author Emma Norris said:
‘We hope that this report will highlight the positive contributions citizens can make to their communities when given the right opportunities and support. As the Big Society agenda moves forward, it is crucial that we support all citizens – making sure that no-one is left behind and that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and have their skills, ideas and needs acknowledged.’
The RSA’s Citizen Power programme is run in partnership with Peterborough City Council and Arts Council England.