Participation is purposeful; it is intended to make a difference – to the participant, or to the world around them. People who take part in voluntary and community action are looking to fulfill this need. But local democracy has lost its sense of purpose. Politicians are seen as self-serving, local elections written off as a foregone conclusion and engagement is considered a cynical exercise in legitimising decisions already made.

It would be nice to think that social media could solve this problem, but I’m far from convinced. I do not dispute that it can be an excellent tool for engaging with certain groups, and making the business of government more open and transparent. But when people do not trust the messenger or the message, changing the medium is unlikely to make much difference.

Great discussion at the Guardian. Couldn’t agree more with the quote above. 

Empowerment: a Systematic Review of the Evidence

On the 1st of June, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in the UK published online the paper  “Empowering communities to influence local decision making: A systematic review of the evidence”.

In this paper, Prof. Lawrence Pratchett and his colleagues provide evidence-based lessons on six empowerment mechanisms:

1)      asset transfer
2)      citizen governance
3)      e-participation
4)      participatory budgeting
5)      petitions
6)      redress

Having worked as a consultant for a short while in this project (where I learned more than I provided), I had the opportunity to glimpse how these great scholars employed top-level methodology and analytical rigor to come up with the results they are now sharing with the broader public.

Among other findings, the research shows that each of the six mechanisms can potentially – to some extent – empower the citizens participating directly in it. Nonetheless, only the citizen governance and participatory budgeting mechanisms provided “evidence of spill-over from individuals to the wider community”.

However, any reference to a main finding would be unfair, given the amount of valuable information provided by this research for academics and practitioners interested in issues related to empowerment.  A full reading is well worth it.

The authors of this report raise the bar by going well beyond the general assumptions and unsubstantiated lucubrations that are, unfortunately, so common in the domain.

You can download the full-report here [PDF].

(originally posted in Facebook’s Participatory Budgeting group)