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  • Author or Editor: Liz Richardson x
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Government has long had an interest in altering how its citizens behave. However, local governance attempts to navigate this new field of understanding using an ‘evidence base’ have led to inconclusive results because this fails to recognise the values and assumptions underlying ‘neutral’ facts. This article uses empirical material from the United Kingdom (UK) local government to look at how governance and governmentality perspectives were cross-fertilised to inform policy using research. It illustrates a reframing of the relationship between social science and policy making from a simplistic linear model to an iterative and reflexive process.

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This article looks at whether, and how, involving service users can produce improvements in public services (such as housing, welfare to work, health and law and order). Based on 15 case studies, user engagement was found to produce cost-effective benefits. Service providers tended to employ traditional involvement methods, focusing on existing community networks, because this helped to educate participants and reduce dependency. Use of innovative measures were rare. There were signs of better institutional responsiveness, and better integration of involvement into strategy making, which coincides with a shift in government away from a managerialist vision of public services, and towards transforming services around the needs of users. The article makes recommendations for strengthening the representativeness of user engagement, and raises questions about how to spread involvement on a wider scale.

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It is not just representative democracy that needs to be strengthened.... Every authority should set itself targets for improving voter turnout and strengthening local participation in the government of their community. (Tony Blair, 1998b)

The ... freedom of citizens can only truly be realised if they are enabled to participate constructively in the decisions that shape their lives.... Communities should be helped to form and sustain their own organisations, bringing people together to deal with their common concerns. (David Blunkett, 2003, pp 3, 6)

I place such importance on the existence of a thriving voluntary and community sector [because] the community [where] I grew up revolved not only around the home but the church, the youth club, the rugby team, the local tennis club, the scouts and boys brigades, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the St Johns and St Andrews Ambulance Society.... (Gordon Brown, 2004)

The aim of this chapter is to investigate trends in political and social participation since 1997 and to assess the impact of New Labour’s attempts to increase the quantity and quality of citizen participation. We look both at formal ways of participating in political decision making processes – in this case, voting – and at the more informal ways people influence decisions that affect the nature, level and quality of public services they receive. We also look at social participation; that is, people’s involvement in activities of community or social benefit, like volunteering and community organising.

Social and political participation is important for social inclusion because deprivation is about more than income poverty.

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Neighbourhood problems and community self-help
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How people can be persuaded to take more control of their own lives continues to be a subject of policy and academic debate, and the contribution of active citizens to improving societal well-being is high across different policy agendas. But the promotion of community self-help raises a wide range of questions - for people working in neighbourhoods, for policy makers, for politicians, and for residents themselves - about how we promote engagement, what would motivate people to become active, and more fundamentally about the ongoing relevance and value of community activity.

“DIY Community Action” offers thought-provoking answers to these questions, based on detailed real-life evidence from over 100 community groups, each trying to combat neighbourhood problems. It presents a lively challenge to the existing thinking on contested debates, and proposes ways forward for community building.

This timely publication is an engaging resource for policy makers, practitioners, academics, students and general readers interested in exploring community engagement and active citizenship. Its insightful analysis will be of interest to students of social policy, sociology, community work, housing and regeneration, local government studies and public policy.

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This introductory chapter looks at the activities people in low-income neighbourhoods are doing in order to improve the places where they live. It first discusses DIY community action, which is used interchangeably with ‘community self-help activity’. The chapter then studies the importance of neighbourhood conditions and the concepts of social capital and community engagement. It ends with a study of the structure of the book and the findings of the study.

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This chapter studies the many barriers and obstacles that groups have to deal with, as well as the support they receive. It explores the limits of what groups can or want to do, and the potential to facilitate the work of the groups. The financial sustainability of the groups is also examined. The chapter furthermore discusses the range of external supports the groups receive, the kind of help they get and where it comes from, and what forms of support the groups value.

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This chapter aims to determine whether people’s good intentions are enough. It looks at the legitimacy the community organisations have to act on behalf of other residents, and how they relate to the wider community. The chapter studies where they are located within the context of other forms of representation and local democracy. Finally, how the community organisations link in with wider bodies is shown.

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This chapter aims to show how the work of the groups contributes to dealing with social exclusion and neighbourhood decline. It examines how one understands the value the groups’ work has, what the groups actually do in practice, and whether one can create more social capital and citizenship using community self-help activity. The chapter determines that initially, the things the groups do seem like worthy activities, but that this perception drops compared to the scale of problems.

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This chapter examines the neighbourhoods in which the residents live and operate. It explores the aspects of community that affect the residents, most especially the management of homes and neighbourhoods by social landlords. The chapter also examines the communities as people, and several questions are considered and answered.

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This chapter talks about the triggers that generate citizen involvement and community self-help activity. It considers why some people go out of their way to take local action, and tries to determine what motivates community volunteers. The chapter examines their altruistic concerns, and decides if it is fair to expect those with the least advantages to do the most to compensate for others’ failures.

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