Shifting the Balance of Community Power

July 30, 2020

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By Pippa Coutts, Policy and Development Manager


There is a strong consensus emerging that after the pandemic, we must ‘build back better’. Last week, we published six propositions to connect the recovery effort with the transformative systems change that so many have been calling for before and during the pandemic. Build Back for the Better is grounded in our history of research, policy and practice on wellbeing, but also based on recent learning from the pandemic. This has shown that people and communities have come together around a common goal and desire to help and support each other in an emergency. It has shown what communities can do, especially when allowed and supported to act by the state.

With fellow travellers, we want to understand more about where communities and public services worked well together and to learn from the areas where there was less collaboration. We want to learn how can we crystallise these new working practices and sustain and develop mutually beneficial partnerships between the state and communities.

A new partnership project, Shifting the Balance of Community Power, with New Local Government Network, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Power to Change, will consider just this. The project’s aim is to capture the good practices that have emerged in recent months, to share this learning across England, Scotland and Wales, and to find ways to embed and build on this in each jurisdiction.

Realising these opportunities will require a concerted effort. Status-quo bias is real: the reassurance of returning to well-worn ways of doing things will tempt many of us back into old patterns. And the challenges ahead – a major economic downturn with all that entails, the return to work for so many of the people whose free time was fuel for the extraordinary expansion of community power during the crisis – will make it even harder to invest energy in developing and building upon new, emergent approaches. So as the immediate crisis wanes and our thoughts turn to recovery, all of the creativity of the last few months could easily be swept away by a return to the routine pressures of everyday public service.

To avoid this kind of slippage, Shifting the Balance will seek to answer some key questions – for example:

  • What good practices have emerged? What is different about them, and what makes them work?
  • How have the relationships between different sectors – and across institutional and community boundaries – been shifting? What shifts in practice explain this?
  • How are new ways of working being established in areas with less existing (or formally recognised) wealth or social capital? How have less-advantaged communities experienced the crisis, and how can their voices be centered during the recovery?
  • How can the positive trends be sustained beyond the immediate crisis? What are the barriers against embedding them, and how can these be removed?

To address these questions Shifting the Balance will use a mix of approaches: workshops, case-studies, interviews, and comparative analysis to discover what has worked well and develop proposals on how to sustain good practice.

To get this right, we need to hear about how things have changed, and why, and for whom. We want to learn what has been happening across Britain so we can find patterns, draw comparisons, and make sure that our proposals make sense everywhere. If you have a story to share, or an insight into the nature of the community response, the way that councils have shifted their practices, or the new partnerships that have started to emerge, then we’d like to hear from you.

Please contribute your experiences to this project by contacting Simon Kaye, Senior Policy Researcher, New Local Government Network at [email protected].

Carnegie UK Trust has adapted this blog from the original piece posted by the New Local Government Network, one of the partners on the Shifting the Balance project.