Changing the culture of civic life

June 10, 2010 by
Filed under: Social Economy 

A government report last year on co-production showed citizen involvement in public services to be higher in the UK than in many other European countries considered to be beacons of public service innovation, including Denmark and Germany.

But this is not translating into greater numbers of people feeling able to influence community-based decision-making.

Our "age of austerity" has the potential to substantially weaken the civic health of our society

Feeling unable to make a difference locally not only limits citizen participation in community life, it also weakens civic health and the forms of innovation and attachment between people it creates.

A forthcoming RSA Citizen Power report on civic health shows that attempts to strengthen civic health, from community-asset transfer schemes to participatory budgeting, have been undermined by a narrow focus on ‘consumer power’ as the key driver of public service reform.

Our “age of austerity”, signalled by forthcoming cuts to local government, has the potential to substantially weaken the civic health and wellbeing of our society, particularly in the most deprived parts of the country where public services, from Sure Start centres to Drug Action Teams, are a matter of necessity, not choice.

But it also opens up a space for us to re-evaluate what we want from public services and the values they should embody.

This is an extract from an article published in The Guardian. Read the complete article

Comments

  • Charlie Mansell

    Absolutely agree. The problem is too narrow a focus on one type of approach. Some people’s values will be closer to consumer power, some will prefer big picture democratic involvement and there will be some whose values are more about security, safety and community and less about involvement. Communications needs to be segemented to address all these different values in order to actually speak the same language as those various groups

    • Sam Mclean

      Hi Charlie,

      I absolutely agree about the need to segment according to need and interest. Not everyone will want a personal budget and not everyone will necessarily want more 4 schools to choose from, and neither will everyone want to form community action groups. So good point.

      But I also think there needs to be a bigger shift towards more collaborative forms of action and involvement.

  • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

    The other night I tweeted a short version of my major concern, something like “Is shouting advice at the TV very different from adding comment #4617 for a total of 6392?”Of course it is, in at least one very important way: when I’m shouting at the TV I no way have the impression that I’m participating.There’s nothing new about “manufacture of consent”; the strategic consideration have remained relatively constant as have the tactics. “Invite, Involve, Inform, and Ignore” … standard operating procedure for decades, though not for centuries.And web techniques like Disqus? I call them false lights.p.s. the 80/20 rule applies to all this: 80% of “effective” can be proclaimed having invested 20% of the effort; with that ROI, who can reasonably be expected to deply a system that actually WORKS? We are social creatures. Maximizing personal disposable income by means of careerism is like a flood-tide that nobody can resist. (Or so goes received wisdom. It, of course, is not true.)

    • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

      *p.s. moved to original post*

      • Guest

        Just tested the “edit reply” function and it’s working fine this end, bentrem. It could be a browser issue at your end.

        • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

          “Appearance is reality” … I’m sure you’ve heard that.
          So if there are 6+ plus comments on a blog post (I have a specific one from Whitehouse.org in mind; I’m sure there are worse) then that appearance might be taken as evidence of participation. More: that appearance might be accepted as participation.

        • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

          That seems to be it, Mr. Shaw. The system is right responsive w/Chrome.

    • Sam Mclean

      Thanks bentrem. Interesting stuff.

      But what is your actual point?!

      When I say ‘consumer power’ I really mean choice in public services.

      • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

        Choice of what?I can pointlessly comment on a post /there/ using /that/ system, or I can pointlessly comment on some other post using some other system … is that choice?

        Choice is empty if the alternatives are empty. And that’s my point: it’s easy to create the mere appearance of participation.

        To move laterally, you write that “it also opens up a space for us to re-evaluate what we want from public services”. But having the “space” doesn’t mean that we have the means, the processes and methods. What I’m implying is that when that need (for methods and processes) is felt and recognized, most likely it will be met with “false lights”, means that are empty and ineffective but a) look good and b) justify salaries.

      • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

        Mr. McClean, let me expand a bit … in a “stream of consciousness sort of way”. ;-)

        In “‘People power means a public services lottery’… what a load of rubbish!” you write “People power is not an argument about the size of the state. It’s an argument about the nature of it.” I can re-jig that: arguments about participation should be about its nature and effect, with an ironic appreciation of its quantity and ubiquity.

        In “Progressive politics, intersubjectivity and collective action” you wrote of “find[ing] myself increasingly critical of those who speak from within a tradition of liberal political philosophy.” and how that philosophy “distorts human freedom by conceiving of freedom as the capacity to do or be what one wants as if the individual and collective can be fundamentally separated.” I’m suggesting that “participation” is being distorted and its real potential obscured when presented as though the actual activity and that activity’s effect can be existentially separated.

        I celebrate your work when I read such as “people are encouraged to come up with solutions to local problems” but wonder who (if anyone) has dedicated themselves a nuts and bolts appreciation of what it means to have “more resilient and dynamic civic spaces”. It’s important to keep in mind that “Web2.0″ is very much about mere activity; every page view and every link click is valued for itself. By my accounting a post that garnered 50+ pages of comments can’t be said to have had more effect than one with 10+ pages.

  • http://twitter.com/aloklakhansingh ALOK!

    Civil does not mean civilized, in this context it means 2 be able 2 fully be active in all part of US life such as political, education and the main culture.

  • http://twitter.com/aloklakhansingh ALOK!

    Civil does not mean civilized, in this context it means 2 be able 2 fully be active in all part of US life such as political, education and the main culture.

    • Sam Mclean

      Thanks ALOK.

      Yes, I agree, civil doesn’t necessarily mean civilised. But I would strongly argue that there is a likely link between the strength of civil society and civilised behaviour.

  • Charlie Mansell

    Absolutely agree. The problem is too narrow a focus on one type of approach. Some people's values will be closer to consumer power, some will prefer big picture democratic involvement and there will be some whose values are more about security, safety and community and less about involvement. Communications needs to be segemented to address all these different values in order to actually speak the same language as those various groups

  • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

    The other night I tweeted a short version of my major concern, something like “Is shouting advice at the TV very different from adding comment #4617 for a total of 6392?”
    Of course it is, in at least one very important way: when I'm shouting at the TV I no way have the impression that I'm participating.

    There's nothing new about “manufacture of consent”; the strategic consideration have remained relatively constant as have the tactics. “Invite, Involve, Inform, and Ignore” … standard operating procedure for decades, though not for centuries.
    And web techniques like Disqus? I call them false lights.

  • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

    NB: the “Edit” function is false. I only tried 4 times (“Just a moment” hangs there like a signal from Pavlov's assistant) and I suppose I should have tried 6, or 7, or more … *sigh*
    Here's what I wanted to add:

    p.s. the 80/20 rule applies to all this: 80% of “effective” can be proclaimed having invested 20% of the effort; with that ROI, who can reasonably be expected to deply a system that actually WORKS? We are social creatures. Maximizing personal disposable income by means of careerism is like a flood-tide that nobody can resist. (Or so goes received wisdom. It, of course, is not true.)

  • Anonymous

    test test 2

  • William_Shaw

    Just tested the “edit reply” function and it's working fine this end, bentrem. It could be a browser issue at your end.

    • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

      “Appearance is reality” … I’m sure you’ve heard that.
      So if there are 6+ plus comments on a blog post (I have a specific one from Whitehouse.org in mind; I’m sure there are worse) then that appearance might be taken as evidence of participation. More: that appearance might be accepted as participation.

  • Sam Mclean

    Thanks ALOK.

    Yes, I agree, civil doesn't necessarily mean civilised. But I would strongly argue that there is a likely link between the strength of civil society and civilised behaviour.

    • Sam Mclean

      Thanks bentrem. Interesting stuff.

      But what is your actual point?!

      When I say 'consumer power' I really mean choice in public services.

  • Sam Mclean

    Hi Charlie,

    I absolutely agree about the need to segment according to need and interest. Not everyone will want a personal budget and not everyone will necessarily want more 4 schools to choose from, and neither will everyone want to form community action groups. So good point.

    But I also think there needs to be a bigger shift towards more collaborative forms of action and involvement.

    • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

      Choice of what?

      I can pointlessly comment on a post /there/ using /that/ system, or I can pointlessly comment on some other post using some other system … is that choice?

  • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

    That seems to be it, Mr. Shaw. The system is right responsive w/Chrome.

    • http://bentrem.sycks.net bentrem

      Mr. McClean, let me expand a bit … in a “stream of consciousness sort of way”. ;-)

      In “‘People power means a public services lottery’… what a load of rubbish!” you write “People power is not an argument about the size of the state. It’s an argument about the nature of it.” I can re-jig that: arguments about participation should be about its nature and effect, with an ironic appreciation of its quantity and ubiquity.

      In “Progressive politics, intersubjectivity and collective action” you wrote of “find[ing] myself increasingly critical of those who speak from within a tradition of liberal political philosophy.” and how that philosophy “distorts human freedom by conceiving of freedom as the capacity to do or be what one wants as if the individual and collective can be fundamentally separated.” I'm suggesting that “participation” is being distorted and its real potential obscured when presented as though the actual activity and that activity's effect can be existentially separated.

      I celebrate your work when I read such as “people are encouraged to come up with solutions to local problems” but wonder who (if anyone) has dedicated themselves a nuts and bolts appreciation of what it means to have “more resilient and dynamic civic spaces”. It's important to keep in mind that “Web2.0″ is very much about mere activity; every page view and every link click is valued for itself. By my accounting a post that garnered 50+ pages of comments can't be said to have had more effect than one with 10+ pages.