Thursday, 10 November 2005

Neighbourhood democracy: a non-partisan social movement As part of the Transforming neighbourhoods project, Paul Hilder has produced an excellent detailed think-piece on neighbourhood governance, Seeing the wood for the trees. On one level it just comes across as a combination of assertions, accumulated ideas, and unreferenced experience. But it's carefully framed and it takes us quite a bit closer to being able to build something functional, in terms of democratic structures, out of all the conceptual bayko that's lying around. I draw your attention to the hugely helpful matrix on page 9, a representation of the structures of neighbourhood governance on which it is well worth spending some time. It's a tribute to those involved in the project at the Young Foundation that a great deal of complexity is presented in such a digestible way. One of several key passages is the section on the role of councillors, a role that is desperately in need of re-invention. It makes me think that what I'd like to see, in addition to the representative function, is a role that enables local people to get to grips themselves with democratic processes - a kind of governance facilitator, perhaps a blend of community development worker and traditional councillor. And one of the key phrases comes right at the end of the paper: Paul asks, 'how can this non-partisan social movement best gather pace?' One way is to make sure that we balance all the attention to top-down structural tweaking with an attention to the ways in which people experience democracy in their everyday lives - an approach grotesquely absent from most of what has been written around the agenda thus far.

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