Rolfe S (2014) The double helix of community participation policy: Applying a Theory of Change approach to the Big Society and Community Empowerment (Presentation) Social Policy Association Annual Conference 2014, Sheffield, 14.07.2014-16.07.2016.
The last two decades have witnessed a significant turn towards community participation in public policy around the globe. This has raised concerns that, enfeebled by globalisation and addicted to neo-liberalism, states are resorting to a form of 'government through community', shifting responsibility for an increasing range of issues onto communities. In order to get beneath the ideologically ambiguous rhetoric of policy statements, this presentation employs ideas from evaluation methodology to develop a generic Theory of Change for community participation policy. The model is then utilised to analyse and compare the UK Coalition Government's Big Society/Localism agenda and the Scottish Government's Community Empowerment approach, demonstrating the ways in which these represent a clear example of policy divergence, and potentially significant alternatives to state-community relations in the context of austerity. Building on this analysis of policy, initial findings will be presented from participative research being undertaken in Scotland and England. This empirical work points to some key lessons for communities taking action on local issues, for public services engaging with communities, and for national policy-makers. The evidence indicates how the differing policy regimes on either side of the border are playing out in terms of community activity, relations between communities and local government, and long-term outcomes for communities. In particular, the research highlights significant issues around the balance of responsibilities between state agencies and communities, and how these are negotiated in practice.
Community participation; community empowerment; localism; evaluation; theories of change