What does community participation policy actually do? The messy outcomes of Localism and Community Empowerment



Rolfe S (2015) What does community participation policy actually do? The messy outcomes of Localism and Community Empowerment (Presentation) Social Policy Association Annual Conference 2015, Belfast, 06.07.2015-08.07.2015. http://www.ulster.ac.uk/cpsp/files/2014/09/spa-booklet.pdf

Community participation has become a common policy trope for governments of all stripes in recent decades. In the UK, the Coalition Government at Westminster from 2010 promoted the notions of the Big Society and Localism, whilst the devolved administration in Scotland has developed a Community Empowerment approach. Utilising ideas from theory-based evaluation methodologies, this paper examines the assumptions that underlie these two policy agendas, and draws on empirical evidence from six case studies in Scotland and England to explore the ways in which specific policies play out in practice and the impacts of policy assumptions on the ground. On both sides of the border, the research demonstrates the substantial impact that committed community activists can have in their local area, though at times this is in spite of, rather than because of national community participation policy. In particular, the findings from England raise significant questions about the possibilities for Localism as an approach when the rhetoric of devolving power to communities is undermined by continuing centralisation in the state, swingeing cuts to local government budgets, and the power of private sector players in some arenas. This has significant implications for the types of communities and groups within communities that are most able to benefit from Localism as a policy. And perhaps more importantly, the case studies suggest that communities are being handed responsibility and risk alongside broken promises of power. Some similar issues regarding the balance between power, risk and responsibility arise in the evidence from the Scottish case studies, although the policy context is somewhat different. Crucially, the case studies raise questions regarding the repeated mantra from the Scottish Government that communities should be able to choose their own level of empowerment, illustrating a range of contextual factors which constrain such choices. Drawing the findings together from Scotland and England, the paper provides some conclusions about the limits and opportunities of community participation policy, which may be of particular import as austerity reinforces the turn to community.

Publication date31/07/2015
Related URLshttp://www.social-policy.org.uk/news/2015-confernce/
Publisher URLhttp://www.ulster.ac.uk/cpsp/files/2014/09/spa-booklet.pdf
ConferenceSocial Policy Association Annual Conference 2015
Conference locationBelfast

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Dr Steve Rolfe

Dr Steve Rolfe

Lecturer in Social Policy, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology

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