Active citizens make stronger places

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    Thursday04Apr 2019
    Opinions

    Guest Blog: Mark Cridge, Chief Executive, mySociety as part of our #PlaceBasedInnovation campaign week.

Greater participation with democracy at a local level is essential for creating stronger more resilient places and communities

Greater participation with democracy at a local level and the embrace of neighbourhood plans co-developed within communities are essential for creating stronger, more resilient places. In response, new forms of engagement supported by online participation are becoming increasingly popular.

For most people their participation in local democracy is limited at best to casting a vote in local elections every four or five years. With low turnouts at election time, and few other opportunities for residents to make their views known outside of elections, most people won’t understand how their local councils can help improve their quality of life.

Democracy relies on people taking part, yet local government and citizens don’t always manage to work together effectively.

Research carried out by the New Citizenship Project shows that “when we think of ourselves as citizens, we’re more likely to participate, volunteer and come together to make our society stronger and more effective.”

Greater participation leads to stronger, more resilient communities, with more opportunities for people to flourish and succeed – local councils have many ways that they can enable this participation.

The first step is to be open for participatory methods in involving local communities in decision making. Many councils in the UK are trialing participatory methods of consultation, budgeting and using citizen juries to involve local people.They may help decide spending priorities for investment in local places or help shape priorities for local plans over the next five to ten years.

mySociety are collaborating with the Democratic Society on a new action research programme, called The Public Square where we are working with four very different local authorities to decide upon what forms of participatory democracy are right for them. Understanding the role that technology can play within these programmes is a really important way of involving more people and ensuring we reach beyond the usual suspects.

Open source platforms like CONSUL, developed by Madrid City Council, are freely used by over 200 local governments around the world, providing cost effective ways to explore how online participation can complement in-person meetings to validate decisions, generate consensus, and aid understanding of how best to deliver meaningful participation by active citizens.

For participation to be meaningful it needs to lead to real action and change. Wider citizen participation can help build consensus around difficult decisions, but the results of these discussions need to be baked into actual policies and plans.

Hundreds of neighbourhood plans have been co-developed within communities, making use of statutory powers to shape how their places should be develop. Setting out planning policies to ensure the community gets the right types of development, in the right place.

Better outcomes for places and communities, need people to consider themselves as citizens, for local councils to adopt a culture of openness and participation, and for people to actively work together to make use of the legislation available to them.

Wider understanding of how participatory democracy can lead to meaningful engagement should give local councils the confidence they need to be more open; and with lots of exciting new open-source technology platforms available to extend the reach of this participation more people can become active citizens.

Join the discussion on #PlaceBasedInnovation To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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