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Empowering communities to influence local decision making

Summary

This research, a joint project between the Local Governance Research Unit (De Montfort University) and the Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (University of Southampton), provides a systematic review of the evidence base around community engagement and empowerment.  It develops a unique and systematic approach to analysing existing evidence from both UK and international research to draw out the key policy lessons and implications. This aim indicates and acknowledges the importance given within the Department of Communities and Local Government and across Government to community empowerment as a means of improving service delivery and building good governance.

The research uses robust systematic review methodology together with the extensive and varied experience and familiarity of both the research and policy context that the team provides. The research will initially map the existing evidence and case study work around community empowerment, before providing succinct commentary and policy proposals about when, where and how government can most effectively act to facilitate and develop community empowerment.  It will also develop detailed six syntheses of the evidence around key issues in community engagement and empowerment.

This research draws together national and international evidence around an important social issue and a key government commitment.  As such, this research will be shared and disseminated amongst not only policy makers and academics, but those on the ground from both the public and third sector through a range of accessible means and consultation. 

The first stage of the project was to map the evidence base. This stage is based upon a detailed and systematic search for evidence on community engagement and empowerment, and provides an initial map of the UK and international evidence base across both policy areas and types of evidence.  It also provides succinct commentary and policy proposals about when, where and how government can most effectively act to facilitate and develop community empowerment.

The second stage of the project aims to draw out detailed analysis of specific mechanisms.  It is only by focusing on different devices that detailed lessons can be drawn from the wide evidence base identified. Six mechanisms for empowerment were focused on, reflecting the priorities in the DCLG White Paper, ‘Communities in Control: Real Power, Real People’:

Asset transfer as a mechanism for community ownership or management of resources

Citizen governance as a mechanism for allowing citizen participation and representation on partnerships, boards and forums with decision making about public services and policy

E-participation: particularly e-forums and petitions as a different but complementary mechanism for citizens to participate in discussions and decisions about public policy and public services

Participatory budgeting as a mechanism for deliberative citizen engagement in decision making about the use of devolved budgets for public services

Petitioning: as a mechanism for citizens and communities to raise issues of concern about public policy or services

Redress as a mechanism for citizens to register complaints about public services, have them investigated and receive feedback and response or as a mechanism for improving customer satisfaction and trust in public services

The third stage of the project aims to provide overarching yet succinct policy guidance for government in how to develop a cross-government strategy around empowerment; develop a common matrix for empowerment; and highlight where and by what mechanisms government can most effectively intervene to empower communities in local decision making.

Funder

Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

Timetable

February 2008 to February 2009

  • Stage 1: February to April 2008
  • Stage 2: April to November 2008
  • Stage 3: December 2008 to February 2009

Research team (LGRU)

Professor Lawrence Pratchett, Project Director

Dr Catherine Durose, Project Manager

Professor Vivien Lowndes

Dr Melvin Wingfield

Collaboration

Professors Graham Smith and Gerry Stoker and Dr Corinne Wales, Citizenship and Democracy Centre, University of Southampton

 
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