Tuesday, 14 March 2006

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The complexity of neighbourhood governance Today's neighbourhood governance conference in London gave us the chance to run out the neighbourhood governance game, previously trialled back in November (summary here). Once again we were in the hands of David Wilcox and games maestro Drew Mackie (pictured here helping one of the groups along). The idea of the game is to surface the issues that might be implied by the developing policies, but are difficult to articulate or disentangle. Using the experience of people in the room, and fictionalising the context in which the policies get played out, we can sometimes gain significant insights. The first version of the game had been uncannily realistic but we had struggled to integrate the policy role. On this occasion we diluted it but Drew introduced a role for ward councillors - and it was fascinating to watch how, in two of the three groups, the councillor ended up being a butt for complaints from the community groups and systematically ignored or by-passed by the service agencies. Watching one group was like watching a game of tennis, and reminds me that I've often been puzzled as to why anyone would want to become a councillor. It just doesn't seem a pleasant way to spend one's evenings. Presentations and discussion at the conference, as well as the game, confirmed that this agenda packs a hugely complex set of issues. The scope and power of agencies, the formality of neighbourhood agreements with service providers, the skill-levels of councillors, the worries about burn-out among activists, and so on - all sorts of unanswered dynamics and tensions. To their credit, the ODPM have long-since recognised the importance of strengthening local government and enhancing the role of councillors. With a white paper expected in the summer and the Young Foundation quite rightly urging a slow and flexible approach over several years, it seems likely that what we will get will be a set of principles and the gradual rolling out of some pioneering good practice for different kinds of context. But it ain't gonna be easy. Towards the end of the day the calls for proper support for community development work to be mainstreamed, to become a statutory requirement and be properly resourced - became louder and more earnest. Maybe we need to develop a version of the game with the CD role factored in. The amount of laughter there was today, even around the more intense moments in the game, suggest that people are happy to work through the issues in the right context.

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