Creative Space without the Confusion

Creative Space without the Confusion

29 May 2014

Not entirely clear on what ‘Creative Space for Civic Thinking’ actually means? Paul Braithwaite, who heads up the Building Change Trust’s work is this area, explains in more detail.

Can you elaborate on what is meant by ‘Creative Space for Civic Thinking’?

‘Creative Space for Civic Thinking’ could mean many things to many people, but in this instance it refers to the Trust’s work in supporting the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector to open up space for ordinary citizens to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives.

In short, it is about enhancing civic participation and deepening participatory democracy in Northern Ireland.

Why is this one of your key themes?

The Trust believes that the VCSE sector, in addition to directly delivering services to thousands of people, has a key role to play as an interlocutor between citizens and the state.

Looking back, the VCSE sector’s origins can be traced to groupings of citizens, passionate about a shared cause and committed to bringing about a more just society.

Without voluntary action, the history of some of the greatest social progressions, such as the abolition of slavery and the introduction of the welfare state, even our own peace process, would be very different.

The basic logic of the VCSE sector remains unchanged.  But it is useful from time to time to re-assert this basic principle of independent voluntary action, and to support the sector to seek new, creative ways of enabling citizens, especially those most marginalised within society. 

Why was this title chosen?

The Board articulated this phrase as part of its strategic planning exercise in 2013. It reflects a desire to enable the VCSE sector to create a new space for citizens committed to the common good to bring fresh thinking to bear on a context struggling with the twin challenges of austerity and a fragile peace process. 

What key issues are you hoping to encourage discussion on through this strategy?

The key is enabling citizens to prioritise what they see as important, so any issue that aims to bring about social change could be included. The Trust’s key interest is in the process of how people influence change through the VCSE sector as an interlocutor. 

Which types of organisations should pay attention to this work?

Any organisation in the VCSE that has an interest in citizens having greater influence over how government does its business. Particularly:

  • Community and residents associations
  • Membership-based organisations
  • Advocacy, campaigning or policy influencing organisations
  • Service delivery organisations that want to enable their clients to have greater influence over government policy and services 

How can they get involved?

The Trust is exploring how best to resource the VCSE sector to adopt innovative approaches to civic engagement. To help us with this, a series of ‘idea generation’ workshops will be organised in late June 2014 in Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Enniskillen and Newry. All VCSE sector representatives are welcome. More information on these workshops will be posted soon. Simultaneously the Trust is commissioning research to identify some of the most innovative and creative approaches to civic engagement internationally. These will be published and shared with the VCSE sector during summer 2014.

The Trust is also to continue and deepen its work on the independence of the VCSE sector in NI, following the widely read and discussed opinion piece conducted in 2012. 

What are the main aims of this strategy?

The overarching aim of this thematic area the Trust’s work is to enable the Northern Ireland VCSE sector to better facilitate meaningful participation of individuals and communities in decision-making processes that impact upon their lives. 

What are the key opportunities to redress the imbalance between the sector’s service delivery and watchdog functions?

  • Austerity and cuts to VCSE sector funding in coming years are likely to force new ways of working to emerge
  • Greater demand for a more pluralistic society in Northern Ireland
  • The Review of Public Administration leading to the creation of 11 new councils with greater powers, including the new Community Planning function through which councils will be obliged to involve citizens and the VCSE sector in creating a vision for their area
  • Discussion in the NI Assembly around the revival of the Civic Forum as foreseen in the Good Friday Agreement 

Why does this work need to take place now?

In order to rebalance the increased focus on service delivery that has emerged over recent years, especially as a result of the increase in government service contracts to the sector. There is a sense on the part of many that there is inertia in government and a disconnection with the priorities of the most marginalised citizens.

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