The Power of Community Organising: Reflecting on Citizens UK: Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games Assembly

Catherine Durose

Diverse, joyful, inspiring and hopeful are not words that I would usually associate with meetings, but they are wholly appropriate to describe my experience of being involved as Co-Chair of Citizens UK: Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games Assembly.

A chapter of a national organisation, Citizens UK: Birmingham is a diverse civil society alliance bringing together over 25 member institutions, including education, community, trade union and faith-based organisations from across the city-region. They are committed to using community organising to generate collective power for social change and convene a series of local campaigns on issues of social justice. In Birmingham’s Town Hall on 7 March 2018, Citizens UK brought together nearly a thousand people from communities across the city to celebrate that Birmingham is now confirmed as the host of the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Amidst the celebration, Citizens UK sought pledges from the head of the organising committee on a set of citizen’s guarantees to ensure community benefit from the Games. These guarantees focus attention on the once in a lifetime opportunity offered by the Games for a catalyst and a legacy of social change for the city. Citizens UK called for a working relationship to deliver a living wage games with a legacy of opportunity for children and young people from across all our communities in Birmingham, ranging from paid work experience to access to sports facilities to permanently affordable social housing.

The Assembly was a celebratory occasion, full of music, performance and laughter. But it was also an important political event. Assemblies are a form of political theatre, highly choreographed and intending to take the audience on a journey. The songs sung by school choirs, performances from diasporic community groups and the powerful testimony from often least represented voices in our society speaking truth to power about their own lives are all deeply emotional experiences and deliberately so. It is easy to be cynical about politics and democracy, particularly in the current climate, but this event offered an important starting point for a different kind of political conversation.

Assemblies fulfil a series of important political functions. Assemblies are designed to be about political accountability, a public holding to account of those with formal decision-making power, a forging of a relationship beyond the ballot box between voters and those they elected. Assemblies demonstrate a different kind of political power, a power generated by organising and mobilising. Assemblies provide a political education, a new kind of political training ground, inspiring active citizens and forging the political leaders of tomorrow. Assemblies are also about political efficacy, building the hope and belief that not only is social change possible, but showing people that they have an active role to play in achieving it. As a fellow Leader noted at the Assembly; whilst people often think that action comes from hope, it’s the other way round, hope comes from action.

I was at the Assembly as part Citizens UK: Birmingham’s Leadership Group and a member of the Citizens UK National Council, representing the University of Birmingham’s College of Social Sciences, which have been a Principal Partner in this alliance since March 2015. Why would a university be involved in community organising? The answer is that there is a need for universities to be actively engaged with their local communities. We have a role and moreover a responsibility to work locally as well as globally to improve the conditions and opportunities for our local communities.

Community organising also recognises self-interest, being part of this civil society alliance helps us to build capacity for civic engagement in our research, teaching and impact. I was joined on Wednesday by over sixty colleagues and students from the University of Birmingham, ranging from final year students working with Citizens UK on placement as part of their Professional Development module to members of a recent Senior Leader’s cohort who have worked with Citizens UK on a project developing new modes of research access and engagement, to a Professor using community organising to pioneer inclusive business support for minority ethnic entrepreneurs. Civic engagement of this kind is crucial to what we are as a College.

To get involved:

On 6 June, we will be holding the second in our annual CoSS Citizens UK lecture series where Professor Guy Standing (SOAS) will be talking on the subject of universal basic income. The lecture will be followed the next day by a Civic Academy, where civil society leaders will be discussing how to take action on this issue in the city. As a precursor we are screening the film, ‘Free Lunch Society’ on Wednesday 25 April on the University of Birmingham’s campus. If you want to register for any of these events, please email me at [email protected].

Catherine Durose 2017Dr Catherine Durose is a Reader in Policy Sciences at INLOGOV. She undertakes research, teaching and impact work on urban governance and public services, with particular interests in participation, intermediation and co-production. She is part of Citizens UK: Birmingham’s Leadership Group and a member of Citizens UK National Council.

‘Participating in participation’ or influencing policy outcomes? Evaluating the effects of public participation in Kenya’s sub-national legislatures.

Brenda Ogembo

Here Brenda Ogembo outlines her doctoral research, which was presented at the latest PhD Showcase at INLOGOV in April.

Public participation, community engagement, community involvement, public engagement, deliberative democracy and participatory democracy. The thread running through all these terms is the focus on fostering increased public participation in governance decisions that affect them. Initiatives like the Open Government Partnership and Open Parliament Initiative, which are increasingly being taken up by countries globally, are a testament to the increasing global demand by citizens to have greater involvement in decision making by their governments. The Sustainable Development Goals, which lay out the global agenda for sustainable development to 2030, have three specific targets directly aimed at increasing participation of people in decision-making processes. The focus on increasing public participation has however not been accompanied by as rigorous a focus on the effects of public participation, particularly bearing in mind the cost and time spent on these efforts. A critical review of the literature, reveals that there is a significant gap on the policy impacts of public participation (Salisbury, 1975; Abelson and Gauvin, 2006; Nabatchi et al., 2012). Public participation has instead become an almost ritualistic expectation which nobody dares to challenge if it is necessary or even beneficial. Burton (2009) states it best when he says that ‘for something that is held to be so important and to deliver a myriad of benefits, we know little of the extent to which the benefits of public participation are in fact delivered or of the balance of these benefits with any costs’. Interestingly, and which leads to the focus of the research, there is even less academic literature examining the effects of public participation in legislative contexts.

Increasingly, Parliaments’ have found themselves having to make significant efforts to increase opportunities for public participation to address the ever-growing arguments about the insufficiency of representative democracy in dealing with issues such as voter apathy and reducing public trust in political institutions. Many open governance advocates argue that increased public engagement can strengthen public trust in representative institutions and build a responsive, 21st-century legislature. However, we must ask ourselves whether greater efforts of public participation and the numerous focus on methods of engagement are achieving the purpose for which they are intended. Empirical research must question if the evaluation of public participation has focused more on evaluating and improving methods of engagement rather than on whether public participation improves decision-making and if it is of any useful consequence at all (Rowe and Frewer, 2004).

My doctoral research focuses on a particularly ignored area of public participation, i.e. public participation in legislative contexts. A quick scan through the literature on participatory democracy shows that public participation in legislative environments has largely been ignored and only recently have some scholars begun looking at public engagement in legislatures. The focus of the research in this area has largely been on the Westminster Parliament and UK sub-national legislatures. Much of it has mostly focused on methods of public participation employed by the legislatures’ and less so on their effects in the legislative process. This research aims to address this gap by looking at the effects of public participation in different legislative contexts. The research, using a case study of public participation in two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures, will examine if public participation improves the quality of legislative decision making as well as if it has any effect on increasing public trust in the Legislature.

Research on African legislatures is scarce, and yet democracy has continued to take root in the continent. Large scale surveys such as those carried out by Afrobarometer, show that on average Africans, despite the challenges of democracy, still prefer it to any other kind of government (Mattes and Bratton, 2016). In 2010, when Kenya adopted a new constitution, one of the fundamental pillars of the Constitution was mandatory public participation in all policy decisions. The Constitution of Kenya makes public participation a central part of Kenya’s governance system and each legislative assembly is mandated to provide for it in its rules of procedure and ensure public participation on all legislation they consider. Articles 10, 174(c), 184 (1) (c) and 196 of the Constitution recognise participation of the people as a national value and principle of governance and detail how it should be implemented. However even as the focus on avenues for public participation has increased and methods for facilitating public participation have continued to grow, very little has been done on evaluating the effects of these exercises on decision-making. The research focuses on studying the effects of public participation in legislative decision-making with a focus on the budget-making process in the Nairobi Assembly and Mombasa Assembly, two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures. The two sub-national legislatures are in relatively similarly sized urban cities with a multi-cultural population of predominantly young working age residents. The county budget bills have been chosen for the case study as they are recurrent every year in all county assemblies with the key budget calendar dates provided in law. The budget is also as an important bill for the assembly that carries with it various significant policy and legislative directions that affect people’s lives.

The primary objective of the research is to examine if public participation in legislative contexts improves the quality of legislative decision making and consequently increases institutional trust through greater legitimacy of its policy decisions. The project will be seeking to answer three questions –

  1. Does public participation in legislative contexts improve the quality of parliamentary decision-making?
  2. Does public participation lead to an increase in public trust of legislative institutions
  3. Is there congruence of evaluation from political actors and the public about the efficacy and purpose of public participation in legislative business?

In conclusion, local governments are considered a critical arena for increasing public participation in governance decisions. In fact, the entire framework of Kenya’s devolution is anchored on devolving fiscal resources and accompanying decision-making power on how those funds are spent to the local level so that citizens can be directly involved in making spending decisions on issues affecting them. The next year will be spent designing a framework that will enable a detailed study of the public participation process on the budget process in two of Kenya’s sub-national legislatures. The research will engage with citizens, politicians, stakeholders and elite actors that take part in public participation. In the process, the research will unpack what motives people go into public participation exercises with, what happens during the process of public participation to all the actors engaged and how do the various actors evaluate and take forward the outcomes of the engagement.


Abelson, J. and Gauvin, F.-P. (2006) Assessing the impacts of public participation: Concepts, evidence and policy implications. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc. Available at:

Burton, P. (2009) ‘Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Issues in Measuring the Benefits of Public Participation’, Evaluation, 15(3), pp. 263–284. doi: 10.1177/1356389009105881.

Mattes, R. and Bratton, M. (2016) Do Africans still want democracy? Afrobarometer Policy Paper No. 36, p. 25.

Nabatchi, T., Gastil, J., Weiksner, G. M. and Leighninger, M. (eds) (2012) Democracy in Motion: Evaluating the Practice and Impact of Deliberative Civic Engagement. 1 edition. Oxford University Press.

Rowe, G. and Frewer, L. J. (2004) ‘Evaluating Public-Participation Exercises: A Research Agenda’, Science, Technology, & Human Values, 29(4), pp. 512–557.

Salisbury, R. H. (1975) ‘Research on Political Participation’, American Journal of Political Science, 19(2), pp. 323–341. doi: 10.2307/2110440.

Brenda Ogembo started her PhD after spending the last two years working with the Senate of the Parliament of Kenya as First Clerk Assistant. She is currently on academic study leave after being awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship in 2016 to explore the effects of public participation in legislative contexts with the objective of trying to inform better ways of citizen engagement in legislatures. She holds an MA in Public Policy from King’s College London, which she completed in 2011 on a Chevening Scholarship award.

What is the place of emotion in the making of policy?

Kevin Harris

In the years I spent shuttling between local initiatives in low income neighbourhoods and oddly clean cupboard rooms in Westminster, I never really cracked the way the experience of disadvantage was absorbed or dismissed as ‘personal’ and disconnected from policy.

You see this constantly in the skirmishes of local democracy of course – a local meeting where an officer or elected member gets a thorough bashing by a resident who’s living a kind of hell that current policies don’t address. Fierce steam gets released but policy is unaffected.

Such occasions can be off-putting for the well-meaning policy maker. I think most are aware of the gravitational effect here, caused often by internal pressures of work, of the risk of gradually becoming detached from local experience.

Politicians shield themselves from occasional bombardment, and disparage the ‘personal’ as ‘emotional’ while routinely exploiting examples through the media when it suits them to do so.

Sometimes politicians try to use public events to draw the sting of citizens’ anger, and occasionally find they’ve over-estimated their own political skills. When they view confrontation with residents as political sport and not as a chance to understand and address needs, that illustrates the tension I’m talking about.

At the same time, people who have profound experience of the failure of social systems to protect them, may not have the perspective that helps anyone relate it to policy in a meaningful way. But sometimes you hear a really considered, articulate exposition of experience that takes the personal and places it in a generalised policy context. That’s rare, and risks diluting the very emotion of lived experience that gives pertinent urgency to the cause. And often intermediaries, like housing workers say, who can speak the equivocal language of policy while combining understanding of several individual examples of disadvantage, can make contributions that are valued and welcomed by both sides.

So what is the place of emotion in the making of policy? Rosie Anderson has done some work on this ‘essential but difficult territory’ and TSRC have just published a fascinating paper based on policy making around poverty in Scotland (Summary; 4-page briefing; working paper). Emotional knowledge, she says, is frequently described by her informants as ‘ambiguous, unreliable and potentially overwhelming knowledge – in contrast with “rational” knowledge, which is the prerequisite for “professionalism” in policy-making and a necessity for making policy decisions.’ This sounds a lot like what Ivan Illich described as a ‘cognitive disorder’, resting on the illusion that

‘the knowledge of the individual citizen is of less value than the “knowledge” of science. The former is the opinion of individuals. It is merely subjective and is excluded from policies. The latter is “objective” – defined by science and promulgated by expert spokesmen. This objective knowledge is viewed as a commodity which can be refined… and fed into a process, now called “decision-making.” This new mythology of governance by the manipulation of knowledge-stock inevitably erodes reliance on government by people.” (Tools for conviviality, 1973).

Anderson makes the point that policy processes are contrived to exclude subjectivity and individuality. And if people are to engage with those processes, it’s hard to see what else they are to bring to them. I have been in public meetings where a roomful of people, having collectively an enormous wealth of knowledge about the local issues under discussion, have sat in disconnected silence because the language and process disenfranchised them at the very point they were supposed to be being ‘invited’ to participate. Even the most well-meaning policy makers can flounder at this point.

Conversely, there are those meetings which seem like unstructured and unruly free-for-alls, a sequence of barely related angry rants. As Anderson says,

‘In practice this process of moving from the particular and emotional to general and impersonal, so simple-sounding on paper, is actually very difficult to get right in the eyes of policy practitioners because of emotional knowledge’s ambiguous status in policy.’

Partly, I have no doubt, this is an educational issue. As I have said often before, too many of us emerge from the education system with no idea how local democracy functions. For a long time it’s been in the interests of politicians to keep things that way, although some of them appear to be less sure nowadays (that’s a network society effect, I think). And Anderson raises the question of how we provide better support for policy workers emotionally when they engage with such lived experience.

We’ve all talked about emotional intelligence over the years. But it strikes me as curious that no-one seems to have got to grips with this topic before. This is a hugely important site of conflict and potentially fruitful understanding, and Anderson has pin-pointed the significance of ‘the negotiation and policing of the boundary between “personal” and “professional” knowledge about social change.’


Kevin Harris runs a community development consultancy, Local Level, offering expertise and advice on community engagement, community cohesion, involvement and participation, and neighbourhood development. He has 25 years’ experience in community development with a particular emphasis on how people communicate, share information, and interact at local level. Kevin has published several books, chapters and articles, online articles for the Guardian, and reports to government. He is Senior Associate Consultant to Breslin Public Policy and co-founder of Networked Neighbourhoods. He was previously a British Library Research Fellow.

This post was previously featured on the Neighbourhoods blog.

How can communities mobilise to shape public policy and service delivery in new and creative ways?

Catherine Durose, Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher

Community organising and co-production can shape public policy making and service delivery in new and creative ways, providing an alternative to privatisation and the outsourcing of public services. This is the claim made in our new pamphlet, ‘Beyond the state: mobilising and co-producing with communities’. The pamphlet is written with community activists and policy researchers, and provides case studies and analysis of UK and US experience in community organising to solve problems and improve public services. The pamphlet features contributors from CitizensUK, Locality and Scope and a Chicago-based organisation, Pilsen Alliance.

Community organising has a long tradition internationally. It offers a way for communities to recognise their common interests and mobilise to achieve change.  Often their target is government, and their desire is to redress disadvantage by actively campaigning for changes in policy and practice.  Sometimes this is to overcome the effects of existing policy, but it is also about shaping emerging policy to ensure that affected communities become beneficiaries rather than bearing the costs. Co-production is becoming an important way of thinking about the active design and delivery of services through collaboration between users and providers.  While its origins are in social care and health services, it has much wider applications.  But to be effective, it requires ways of redressing the power imbalance between users and producers.  Here, community organising can be an important mechanism. Together, the contributions show how community organising and co-production are powerful instruments to open up the policy process, potentially deepening democratic engagement and administrative responsiveness.  As such, they offer a challenge to the way in which governing beyond the state sometimes obscures accountability, privileges private interests, or facilitates governments’ off-loading of responsibilities to civil society.

This pamphlet’s contributions show the value of moving beyond a perspective that recognises the state as the only legitimate centre of authority. At the same time, however, the contributors challenge an assumption in our title. For ‘beyond the state’ implies that non-state models of collective choice and action are somehow secondary or less fundamental than those of government. The evidence from the contributors is that community organising and co-production are not somehow second best models, when compared to government provision.  They show that there is a vital energy that can be mobilised, but that it cannot be shaped to government’s agendas.  Community organising and co-production are political processes that create new possibilities that are not solely oppositional but also collaborative.

This can be a struggle for those in government, used to traditional models of policy making and service delivery, and trying to reconcile the political legitimacy of politicians with the demands and campaigns of users and communities. The state has become and is likely to remain a focal institution for defining and accomplishing shared purposes. But its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion need not imply a monopoly on the legitimate use of collective decision and action. So we should continue to look past the language to observe the actual processes and results of power, and to look beyond the state alone for solutions.


Catherine Durose is Director of Research at INLOGOV. Catherine is interested in the restructuring of relationships between citizens, communities and the state. Catherine is currently advising the Office of Civil Society’s evaluation of the Community Organisers  initiatives and leading a policy review for the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme on re-thinking local public services.


Jonathan Justice

Jonathan Justice is Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. Jonathan previously worked for the City of New York and for non-profit organisations in the New York metropolitan area. His areas of specialisation include public budgeting and finance, accountability and decision making and local economic development.



Chris Skelcher is Professor of Public Governance in the University of Birmingham’s School of Government and Society. His research and teaching focus on the transformation of UK governance in an international context. Chris is currently leading a three year ESRC study of the reform of public bodies and their changing relationships with sponsor departments.

In favour of the mundane: citizenship testing and participation

Katherine Tonkiss

This weekend saw the announcement that the Government has completed its revisions to the ‘Life in the UK’ citizenship test, refocusing the questions on British culture, history and sport.  According to the Government, there will be no more ‘mundane’ questions about water meters, job interviews, the internet and public transport.  Rather, as immigration minister Nick Harper described, ‘the new book rightly focuses on the values and principles at the heart of being British.  Instead of telling people how to claim benefits, it encourages participation in British life’.

This is just the latest in a series of announcements which have reinforced some notion of a British way of life as a criterion of both immigration and integration, as I have described elsewhere.  Nick Harper’s words draw us again into the vastly questionable argument that migrants are ‘benefits scroungers’, and so rather than telling them how to access those benefits we should instead be expecting them to assimilate to the British way of life.  It is this, we are being told, that holds the key to participation in community life.

The use of the word ‘participation’ is itself more than a little problematic.  Is participation really what is at stake in this debate?  Harper is also quoted as saying that the new citizenship test is ‘just part of our work to help ensure migrants are ready and able to integrate into British society’.  Integrate into.  This claim seems to denote the idea that integration is something that migrants ‘do’ when they come into a country in order to take on the national culture and history, rather than something that a society experiences collectively in order to build social inclusion and cohesion.

None of this sounds much like participation to me.  Casting an eye over the ten sample questions from the new test is similarly illuminating.  Does my knowing which admiral died in 1805 and has a monument in Trafalgar Square help to participate in my local community?  Does my knowing the name of the prehistoric landmark still standing in Wiltshire really help me to play an active role in society?

Actually, what it might do is to further define me as an outsider, whether or not I know the answers.  Much in the same way that Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has suggested that Councils only publish documents in English because ‘translation undermines community cohesion’, the new citizenship test underpins the idea that it is up to migrants to integrate into ‘our’ culture, and that if migrants are unable to do that then they have no right to live in our country, to make use of our services or to participate in the lives of our communities.  It presents an ideal of Britishness which is unattainable beyond a simplistic test, when migrants bring with them their own rich cultural heritages – heritages which have, previously, been celebrated as central to the life of our communities.

And the very notion of ‘our culture’ is itself deeply problematic.  This suggests a one-size-fits-all notion of Britishness that will evade people who were themselves born in Britain.  Arguing that Britishness involves ‘the national love of gardening, the novels of Jane Austen and the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber’ is ignorant not just of diverse ethnicities and cultural heritages, but also of the diversity of genders, class backgrounds and life experiences present within Britain today.

I want to make an argument in favour of the mundane. If we have to have a citizenship test, then surely in a liberal society our citizenship test should be about helping people to access public services and to actually participate in their community through contact with their elected representatives and other important organisations in their area.  We live in a liberal democratic society – citizenship testing should not be about reinforcing a sense of Britishness that is alien even to the most ‘British’ amongst us.  Rather, it should be about making sure that everyone has equal access to services and the equal chance to participate, and that everyone is deserving of equal respect.


Katherine Tonkiss is a Research Fellow in INLOGOV.  She is currently working on a three year, ESRC funded project titled Shrinking the State, and is converting her PhD thesis, on the subject of migration and identity, into a book to be published later this year with Palgrave Macmillan.  Her research interests are focused on the changing nature of citizenship and democracy in a globalising world, and the local experience of global transformations.  Follow her Twitter feed here.

Elected Mayors: The Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem

Catherine Durose

Only one eligible voter in every three participated in the local elections in May 2012, the lowest turnout since 2000 and despite a context of austerity and swingeing public spending cuts. The recent elections for Police and Crime Commissioners saw turnout slump to a record low for a national poll, averaging at 15%. To quote a Guardian editorial, ‘lack of engagement is the most eloquent of all the political messages…. and one that the parties need to take most seriously. Voters are fed up, not fired up’. Collapsing turnout is perceived as part of a wider decline in traditional forms of political participation, this trend has been labelled as a ‘democratic deficit’ and it is this ‘problem’ that elected mayors are seen as offering a fix to by as simplifying local democratic accountability and offering greater visibility for citizens.

In the referenda held in May 2012, the rejection of elected mayors was near unanimous. The average turnout was low at 32% with over 60% of those who participated, voting for the status quo. The turnout can be, in part, explained by the uncertainty and confusion amongst the electorate about what they were being asked to vote on (the powers which elected mayors would have was, and remains, unclear). But, the size of the ‘no’ vote suggests, at the least, a lack of enthusiasm about electing more politicians. Indeed, voters in Hartlepool have now decided to scrap the position of a directly elected mayor after three terms of office.

Bristol is an exception, by a narrow margin of 7%, it was the only one of the ten cities to vote in favour of an elected mayor. Yet, the Bristol mayoral election, held on 15 November 2012, only received a turnout of 27.92%. Of the fifteen candidates who contested the elections, only one was female and one was non-white. The newly elected mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, whilst depicting himself as an independent, has previously sat as a Liberal councillor and contested a seat at two General Elections for the Liberal Democrats.

In thinking about why citizens are ‘fed up’ with local democracy and why the idea of elected mayors was a turn-off, perhaps we should take a look at those contesting and winning these elections. As in Bristol, mayors do not represent a radical departure from the professionalised political class or indeed the mainstream political parties which citizens are increasingly dis-engaged from: Boris Johnson in London, Ian Stewart in Salford and Peter Soulsby in Leicester, are all former MPs; Joe Anderson in Liverpool is a former Leader of the council.

I would argue that elected mayors are the wrong solution to the wrong problem. The currently proposed fixes in the constitutional reform agenda, including elected mayors, to deal with the ‘democratic deficit’, are clearly not producing changes which citizens are interested in engaging with. Perhaps this is because the assumption that underpins such fixes – that citizens are apathetic about politics – is incorrect. If we challenge this thinking, then many of the proposed fixes seem like the wrong solution to the wrong problem. If we instead recognise that many people feel that representative politics doesn’t represent them or indeed engage with the important issues that affect their everyday lives, then a different problem with a potentially different solution emerges.

One means of responding to a decline in traditional forms of political participation is to offer different opportunities to engage democratically. Broadening the range of democratic engagement fits with re-thinking what citizenship means: it’s less a ‘status’ which people possess and more a ‘practice’ that people participate in. Looking at data on levels of different forms of civic activity in the UK suggests there is a healthy base of existing participation and an appetite for more. The Hansard Audit of Political Engagement suggested that 14% of people are already active, but 51% felt that getting involved could make a difference; 14% of these were considered as ‘willing localists’, people who were not actively involved but were willing and likely to do so locally.

But how can we tap into this latent demand? First, local authorities and other public bodies need to stop ‘second-guessing’ citizens.  Recent research highlighted that whilst two thirds of local councils felt that the community would be unmotivated to participate more locally, less than 20% of them had formally assessed communities’ interest.  Second, we need to acknowledge that a lot of current opportunities for ‘participation’ replicate some of the problems of local representative democracy by acting as ‘mini town halls’ offering only tokenistic consultation of citizens, failing to recognise Sherry Arnstein’s seminal observation that “there is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process”. Third, to look for alternative ways to mobilise citizens and communities. I recently attended Locality’s annual convention – the organisation now recruiting and training 500 senior community organisers, along with a further 4,500 part-time voluntary organisers, over four years spent working with community host organisations. For Locality, this initiative is about ‘building a movement’. Speaking to organisers, they see their challenge as mobilising social action and generating a sense that change is possible. I have seen the impact of organising first-hand in Chicago, and it was inspiring to hear the impact the programme is already making there. If an elected mayor is to make a difference to local democracy, it won’t be as a visible manifestation of Politics, it will be about embracing and supporting these new social movements.

Catherine Durose is Senior Lecturer and Director of Research in the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham.  Catherine’s research focuses on the changing relationships between the state, communities and citizens.