Trust looking into shaping the sector
The Building Change Trust have hosted the second in a series of three workshops to plan their work on the theme Creative Space for Civic Thinking.
Whereas the first workshop looked at ‘Where are we now?’, the second looked at ‘Where do we want to be?’, with the third workshop looking at ‘How do we get there?’, in terms of the creative development of the Northern Ireland Community and Voluntary Sector.
17 people participated in the workshop, representing a diverse group of organisations from across the community and voluntary sector.
The workshop commenced with an input from the Trust’s Paul Braithwaite on international best practice on civic engagement work.
His presentation was based on the ‘Citizenship, Participation and Accountability’ research by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.
A few key factors were highlighted as being key to successful civic engagement work including, the importance of a ‘social mobilisation’ ethos meaning that citizens are well informed and organised at a grass roots level to demand their rights and that multi-layered approaches work best – those that combine work at local, national and if necessary international levels.
The pursuit of democracy is not a linear path – traditional political theory that assumes the state must first become stable and strong before robust civic engagement can be allowed does not hold water – rather it is when citizens seek engagement on their own terms that the most effective spaces for participation will open up.
As well as this, this kind of work takes time to achieve tangible outcomes in terms of citizens’ lives but when achieved they will be much more sustainable as they will be underpinned by strong participation, ownership and accountability.
Finally, the importance of working in partnership with allies, within the state set-up, such as civil servants and politicians who have an empathy with participatory approaches and the importance of civic engagement.
Participants were then asked in groups to look at the NI Community and Voluntary Sector and answer the following three questions; what they would like to keep, change and create.
When answering this, some interesting themes and ideas emerged including the importance of understanding power dynamics in our society and applying this analysis to our work, the necessity of taking risks and the underlying cultural conservatism that sometimes inhibits this and the ongoing problem of communal division and the need to facilitate the emergence of ‘communities of interest’.
There is also the suggestion that Northern Ireland might need an independent political watchdog body and the upcoming reorganisation of local government in NI presents a key opportunity for citizens to influence decisions that affect their lives.
Based on the discussion the following vision was proposed for the Community and Voluntary Sector over the coming years: The vision is for a resilient, independent voluntary and community sector that is capable of empowering communities of interest and place, especially the most marginalised, in order for citizens to articulate their voices, and ensure accountability in respect of decision-making relevant to their lives.