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Latest, November 20 2005, see Community Action 2020 development workshop, November 24 2005
Comment, December 2005 Do our top sustainability organisations get active citizenship?

If it were possible to influence the design of Community Action 2020, a UK government programme to revitalise local action for sustainability, to be launched in 2006, how would we like it to turn out? What would we (people involved in local sustainability networks) say to those designing the programme to make sure the design reflected our concerns and aspirations?
Reference Delivering sustainable development at community level on the government's sustainable development website. See also Together we can secure the future, Securing the future, Sustainability networks, Community involvement, Comment, October 2005: How can Community Strategies be turned into Sustainable Community Strategies?, This article's discussion page

Some example questions Edit

  • How would we ensure that the programme led to genuine and effective community involvement?
  • How would we like the effectiveness of the whole programme to be judged?
  • How do we ensure the programme connects with the more diverse community groups (not only in terms of ethnicity, but also people suffering social and economic deprivation) and people who are generally not part of any formalised group?
  • How do we ensure that concerns over environmental justice are tackled by how the programme works?
  • How would the programme work best alongside existing initiatives?
  • What is needed in terms of resources (both directly and indirectly) for community action?
  • How can we ensure that the programme avoids a top down approach which puts a lot of people off, yet provides enough support to isolated individuals?
  • How do we ensure that the programme builds on the best of Local Agenda 21 (or helps to strengthen and support LA21 processes where they still exist), bearing in mind that a lot of useful experience from LA21 seems to have been lost or wasted and how do we ensure that doesn't happen again this time?
  • What research that has already been done, (or current) can we point to in support of our case?

Beginnings of some draft answers Edit

  1. So is there a need to talk about direct support to community projects as distinct from any discussion about involvement by local government and other institutions?
  2. Direct support must involve support to joined up projects not just ones which happen to fit into bureaucratic boxes.
  3. Direct support must include support for the strategic not just local community action. Community action can not only be self-managing, but also self-networking.
  4. Support for networking must include support for face to face networking, not just electronic networking. Face to face or real world networking is important in developing trust and important for peer to peer learning (academic study ref?) Real world networking could take place in cities and across regions perhaps centred on cities.
  5. There are two elements to this whole question - designing the whole program, the strategic or national aspects, and secondly what the programme would be like at the level of local communities.
  6. It is vital that evaluation is built into both of these and vital that it is built in at the start.
  7. Its should be possible to learn from (and so not repeat the mistakes of) previous similar programmes, see for example - Guardian article re support to Patient Forums
  8. How can we ensure that community involvement via 'Community Action 2020' is genuine and effective? Shouldn't there be some standards for Community Involvement, that are in the public domain, open to all, the ordinary public not just the bureaucrats, so we can all check and properly assess community involvement? see also Community_involvement

Another way of looking at this Edit to imagine you're giving a talk to your local community about the new programme. If this were to happen, what would you like to be able to say? For example:

  • "It'll be a bit like Local Agenda 21, only this time followed through with some real action, which you can play a part in."

"It is a term the UK Government has had to come up with, because they stopped talking about local agenda 21 a few years back and inadvertantly helped kill many promising networks and processes that offered a route for ordinary people to get active on sustainable development. Community Action 2020 is supposed to build on and take forward Local Agenda 21, although in many places LA21 never went away"

  • "It's not going to be just a short term, one-off programme, but this time something more on-going, with sustained back-up and support from all levels of government."
  • "We'll have a strong voice on the local strategic partnership, we'll be able to play a leading part in setting its agenda. and there'll be regular checks by government to ensure that this happens this time."
  • "LSP's and local government will be compelled to have regular checks on how they're doing, and how effective they're being in delivering the Sustainability Agenda, and we'll have a leading role in holding them to account."
  • "This time the programme will be backed up with some real resources and funding for projects. Not only will we be able to put in our own bids for funds for projects, but we'll also be able to have an influence on how the funds are spent, locally, regionally and nationally. We'll also get a say on how funding streams are built up (from sources other than government) and how we can maintain and increase innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial aspects of the programme."
  • "Apart from the funding side of things, there'll be a national and regional support organisation to provide direct (non-financial) help and assistance to community groups. Not something top-down, but an organisation drawn from, created by, for and about community sustainability action groups themselves."

More specific ideas to build community involvement in Community Action 2020 Edit

1. Build opportunties for learning for much wider audiences
Although it is fair enough to provide for those who are in it for career reasons, if we are to spread involvement widely we need to go way beyond this group, such that the majority are not in it for career reasons. There must be learning opportunities for this majority too. Elitist and top-down aproaches will deter this majority. Instead there needs to be recognition of the value of less top down methods such as skill sharing and peer to peer learning via networks.

2. Recognise the centrality of networks and networking
Again if we are to spread involvement widely we must be realistic about how this can be done. It cannot be done via more traditional forms of organisation, but is perfectly possible via properly supported networks. (It's easier to move on to discussion of how to support networks if their importance is explicitly recognised). This links in with the next concern.

3. Recognise the contribution that IT can make
There seems to be very little discussion about a role for IT. Because it's about networks, IT and e-networks must have a role, but this should be alongside face to face networking (not at its expense) so that both are mutually supporting and reinforcing. (Other sectors do not neglect face to face networking just because they also use IT)

4. Realise the potential of open source methods
This is not just in relation to the technology (1).

5. Move toward open publishing
Open publishing with less restrictive forms of copyright is necessary for the full and proper spread of information across networks. (For example the Sustainable Development Commission has moved to using a Creative Commons type license)

6. Be explicit that Community Action 2020 in not just a collection of projects but is about the joined-up and the strategic
There is a worrying lack of recognition that Commununity Involvement must also be about the joined-up and the strategic. The joined-up comes naturally to citizens (who are not involved in the same way as empire building bureaucrats). There must be a co-ordinating role for community involvement in CA2020. For example there are possibilities for more co-ordination with health initiatives and development education initiatives. Community Involvement must also be included in the strategic. Of course there's a need for support but this can be done without patronising.

7. Tackle the remoteness of Local Strategic Partnerships
There is plenty of evidence that community groups feel frustrated at the lack of opportunities to be properly involved in LSPs. Ensure that LSPs are influenced by the citizens and the communities agenda, and don't just pursue the agenda of the bureaucrats. Don't just request LSP's to evaluate what they do, it should be obligatory (and on an annual basis), as part of responsible accountability to their communities.

8. Rename Local Strategic Partnerships to Local Strategic and Sustainability Partnerships
It's not the bits of paper: 'Sustainable Community Strategies', as much as the people - the ongoing, underlying partnerships - that matter.

9. Do a proper baseline study (of local quality of life and local sustainability action) so everyone knows where we are and gives a proper basis for monitoring future action
Encourage all local authorities within LSPs to report on progress made over the last five years (approx since the time of LA21 processes and against the Local Agenda 21- as an agenda), and in particular to recognise the value of LA21 and community involvement in progress. (Generosity in recognising and giving credit may lead to reciprocal recognition). Partly based on this, construct a comprehensive and systematic survey of local quality of life and local sustainability action for all districts across England, and use this in combination with the results of Taking it On, networking events and continuing dialogue to refine the CA2020 programme over time (baseline study followed by annual monitoring).

Discuss or Comment Edit

You can discuss or comment on this article, or any aspect of it, via this article's discussion page - see discussion tab at top of page.

Related topics Edit

(1) Wide Open, Open source methods and their future potential, Geoff Mulgan, Omar Salem, Tom Steinberg, 2005, ISBN 1841801429, Demos

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