Our sector plays a crucial role in identifying peoples’ and communities needs with organisations then taking action both individually and collaboratively to meet those needs and/or hold others with responsibility to meet them to account. This ability to identify, articulate needs and to work to meet them has resulted in many organisations being contracted to help deliver public services. The support from government to the sector has changed over time to reflect this.10 11
However, a key function of our sector is also in supporting and developing active citizens and in facilitating greater citizen involvement in public policy and decision making at all levels.
In a changing and uncertain Northern Ireland our sector can and should do much more to develop active citizens and play a greater role in policy and decision making.
The lessons of our peace process have been shared around the world but now it’s time that we look outward to learn the lessons from elsewhere that put innovating and developing civic activism at the centre of relationships between the public and decision makers and inward to examine if and why our civic voice has stagnated and identify areas where this role is working well.
Some ideas for action
A new collaborative initiative between independent funders and the sector coulddevelop and support a suite of new and innovative civic activism projects across Northern Ireland connected to networks of best practice elsewhere.
National Standards for Community Engagement have been developed for the public service in Scotland through the work of the Scottish Community Development Centre12. Such an approach would be helpful here.
Civic innovations such as participatory budgeting and participatory grant making have transformative potential, both public and independent funders can do more to support their development.