As disengagement and dissatisfaction with the public realm has spread, so the emphasis on reconnecting people with public institutions has naturally grown.
As a result, heavy scrutiny has fallen on the ability of politicians and public services to deliver. But people will not be satisfied by what the public realm has to offer until they themselves become more active in shaping it.
While services are increasingly focussed on the problems they must solve, community organisations start with people. They are able to create ‘communities of participation’ which bring the public realm to life, helping people to play a greater role within it.
As civic intermediaries, community organisations forge connections to the public realm that are meaningful to individuals and generate the hope and optimism that animates whole communities. In the process, these organisations are identifying the ingredients of a potent recipe for active citizenship. And the secret of this recipe is something politicians are increasingly desperate to discover.
This study, commissioned by the Big Lottery Fund, proposes a number of measures which would enable funding bodies to develop their roles as pro-active supporters of community organisations. From match-funding local people’s efforts to raise money, to unlocking the knowledge of local professionals, we argue that lottery funders can build on their growing capacity to experiment and learn.Start With People also raises a wider set of questions about the environment in which community organisations operate.
It suggests that greater value needs to be created from popular participation in public services and democratic institutions, by enabling community organisations to play a stronger role in local decision-making.
Paul Skidmore and John Craig are Senior Researchers at Demos.