I don't know where it came from but it’s definitely pre-recession, probably at least five years old, and would have been from a workshop in which I was helping participants to reflect on the relation between participation and governance. The sheet, with a quotation pasted in the centre, would have been passed round a few tables to get an accumulation of views.
Here’s the quotation, does anyone recognise it? I don’t know where it comes from, perhaps a recognised academic source or policy paper, or an online forum of some kind -
‘Community involvement costs public services significant time and money. Communities volunteer their scarce time and limited resources, taking away their energies from other activities in their community. If neither providers nor communities are clear about the objectives nor perceive any impact on decisions, on service quality or on citizen satisfaction, the policy is not sustainable in the face of tightening finances and difficult decisions about resource allocation.’
Allowing for the challenge being made, quite rightly, to the use of the word ‘communities’ rather than reference made to individuals, what struck me was that all the comments were negative, and some completely dismissive, about the sentiments expressed. ‘Wrong assumptions’, someone has scrawled. Does that imply blind faith in the ability of people in communities to bring about change?
FWIW, my own take on it would be that if community involvement proves not to be sustainable on these terms (which do not seem unreasonable in themselves) maybe it’s just not being handled properly.
Or maybe, given the current trajectory, it is subject to a gradual cultural change which is already well underway and which in time will render phrases like ‘community involvement’ meaningless: maybe we'll be talking about trying to stimulate ‘sustainable service involvement’ in what local people are doing.
So here’s a rewrite for a future workshop exercise:
‘Service involvement costs local communities significant time and energy. Officers commit scarce time and limited resources, taking away their energies from other duties in their area. If neither they nor residents are clear about the objectives nor perceive any impact on decisions, on quality of life or on citizen satisfaction, the policy is not sustainable in the face of tightening finances and difficult decisions about resource allocation.’