This article is a offshoot from Defra Third Sector Strategy - consultation responses focusing on questions 2 to 6
Quick links - Main article - Q2-6 - Q14-18
Collaboration between Defra and stakeholders Edit
This section in the consultation document is referred to as 'Working in partnership'. Partnership is a term which has come to be associated with co-operation between organisations (especially large traditional and establishment organisations) and so tends to preclude thinking about wider collaboration including for example community-based or grass roots groups, social networks, etc.
Q2 In what ways could both Defra and its delivery bodies work more effectively with third sector stakeholders? (p10)
- Annual forums offer potential, particularly for recognition of the diversity of the sector (acknowledged as a need within the consultation document, for example p.20, para 4), but ideally would be co-designed and integrated within a "continuous dialogue with all interested parties" as advocated by the The Phillis report  This continuous dialogue should aim to seamlessly integrate face to face and online networking, something that the sustainable community action wiki, for example, has the potential to help with. A series of regional forums might be more successful, particularly from the point of view of smaller groups, than one unwieldy and so less productive or effective national forum.
- Following on from the government's acceptance of recommendations from the Power of Information review, Defra should encourage its delivery bodies and all large and establishment organisations to adopt a consistent approach. For example these organisations should be clearly seen to avoid duplication of existing user-generated material and/or ....complement citizen-led endeavours.
Q3 Which Defra objectives, themes or issues offer the greatest potential for strategic partnering arrangements which would add value to existing activities? (p14)
Strategic view of local sustainability Edit
- Collaboration on meta or strategic issues re local sustainability - as this does not appear to be mentioned it may be that there is little appreciation of the value of such collaboration. Non government stakeholders concerned with local sustainability - independent sustainability forums, Local Agenda 21 groups, community based climate change groups, transition towns groups, etc - for whom there is no obvious inclusive national forum, agency or avenue to express their concerns and seek support will continue to be at risk of feeling isolated and becoming disillusioned.
- Government rhetoric on community empowerment can see hollow when so little is provided by way of avenues for the local sustainability movement to exercise responsible stakeholder influence on what Defra does or aims to do.
- It should go without saying that any such arrangements for these type of groups should be open to and inclusive of all types and not just based around one scheme or initiative which has the appearance of being 'flavour of the month'. Enabling and supporting this kind of collaboration need not cost much at all, especially if based around face to face networking (eg annual regional forums) and integrated with whatever further collaborative arrangements this group of stakeholders would help co-design.
Rebuilding trust Edit
- Face to face forums, if properly designed (open design, open to all stakeholders) and integrated with online networking, can be particularly useful in rebuilding trust and overcoming cynicism. Such forums would seem consistent with Recommendation 7 of the Power of Information review, which the government accepts.
- The need for rebuilding trust is supported by statistical evidence, for example: 37 per cent of people feel they can influence decisions affecting their local area. 20 per cent feel they could influence decisions affecting Great Britain. Source: 2007 Citizenship Survey, Communities and Local Government. Both measures have fallen since 2001 where they were at 44 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
- In the context of local sustainability many stakeholders - ordinary citizens and community groups - got involved in Local Agenda 21 to produce action plans for the majority (one estimate is 97%?) of local districts. As this was around ten years ago, now would be a very good time for a thorough and systematic review of progress since these action plans. Such an exercise would also be a very good 'gesture of good faith' by local government. Lack of proper feedback on the last time citizens and community groups got involved in a reasonably big way only continues to fuel cynicism and mistrust.
- The reaction of civic society to a number of recent government consultations suggests no shortage of controversy. Government plans or actions on a growing list of issues, all relevant to the interests and sustainability of local communities, seem to invite scepticism if not outright mistrust:
Sustainability not just climate change Edit
- Important though action on climate change is, there is an argument that undue concentration on this topic can weaken action on other aspects of sustainability. Support for the diversity and plurality of local independent sustainability forums would act as a good counterbalance to overemphasis on climate change.
Local quality of life forums Edit
- There is perhaps also an argument for government supporting in some way or other the establishment (and ongoing sustainability) of all inclusive local sustainability (or quality of life) forums open to all stakeholders in every (local government District sized) community.
- It is unclear as to whether the concept of greener living (p. 14) is intended to include community action for sustainability. If personal and community actions are seen as separate it might be argued that this is a false division - unrealistic in terms of how citizens actually experience their lives in a more joined up way - weakening the overall Strategy.
- There might also be an argument that a properly resourced program about community action for local sustainability and climate change would be more effective than expecting individuals to change behaviour without peer group and other forms of collective or community support.
Local accountability Edit
- Government at all levels seems to persistently underestimate the potential of local civic society to drive up standards of local accountability, particularly concerning sustainable development. Local quality of life forums to advise, but independent of Local Strategic Partnerships, could for example be helped to develop locally chosen sustainability indicators and generally drive increases in transparency about progress.
Q4 What model or approach to strategic partnering do you feel is most effective and appropriate for Defra? (p14)
- There may be concerns that strategic partnering as currently envisaged is essentially a top down mechanism and so counter productive to the interests and concerns of those stakeholders who already feel marginalised or totally ignored.
- Recognition of the challenges posed by strategic partnering (p.10) is welcome, but the document does not appear to provide any reassurance to for example smaller groups or those beyond the usual suspects, as to how these challenges might actually be tackled. Putting most resources in the hands of those already comparatively well resourced, without having any specific means of ensuring openness, inclusivity and transparency seems counter - intuitive.
Q5 What roles do you feel strategic partners should perform? (p14)
- Encourage and enable both continuous dialogue and opportunities for collaboration amongst all interested parties, particularly any groups who may feel excluded by current arrangements
Q6 What should Defra offer in return to support strategic partners? (p14)
- Annual face to face forums bringing together all interested parties (and for the benefit of all not just strategic partners) concerned with sustainable development in a region as described above. Any additional face to face networking within regions as maybe helpful to collaboration toward sustainable development.
- Freeing up data for reuse.
- The government in its response to the Power of Information review accepts in principle, subject to funding, recommendations 4, 8 and 11, regarding
- encouraging innovation in the re-use of information by non - commercial users
- improving government's responsiveness to demand for public sector information
- improving the supply of government information for re-use
- Defra should play a full part in freeing up data for reuse, not just performance data, but outcome data relating to all aspects of sustainable development and climate change, specifically including data relevant to local communities.
- At the launch of the Guide for Policy Makers agreed by the IPCC in the run up to the Bali Conference, Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation said, "...societies need more detailed information about anticipated impacts at regional and local levels for responding and adapting to climate change, Individuals, enterprises and civil society cannot adapt autonomously without reliable information and projections, especially since they should make some of their investment choices well before the effects of climate change are fully visible." 
- In line with its response to Recommendation 13 of the Power of Information review, which the government accepts, Defra should enable its civil servants to play a full part in online fora. It would be a postive step for Defra to make an explicit commitment to this.
- Experimental partnerships between major departments and user-generated sites (Recommendation 1 of the Power of Information review which the government accepts). If climate change and the sustainability of communities is not regarded as a "key policy area" this is disappointing.
- Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- CLG - Communities and Local Government
- LSP - Local Strategic Partnership
- see also Category:Glossary