3 Active citizenship and stakeholder engagement
So how might communities take proactive steps to enhance empowerment? In the following section we look at a number of approaches.
While it might seem like a modern and fashionable phenomenon, the notion of active citizenship is far from new. As Blunkett (2003) asserts:
The ethos of active citizenship is derived from the Athenian tradition which unites the values of democratic self-determination with mutuality and solidarity. This means that those who can look after themselves and contribute to the well-being of the wider community will endeavour to do so, while those who cannot will equally be respected and supported by others. This requires a sense of common purpose. As we live in a society with a diversity of cultures, what we need both to bind us together and to enable us to respect our differences, are common beliefs in the democratic practices of citizenship itself, and the rights and duties that go with it. (2003, p.8)
These common beliefs are crucially supported by ‘a set of fundamental values that includes respect for the rule of law, democracy, justice, tolerance and open mindedness, and regard for the rights and freedoms of others’ (Darmanin, 2012, p.7).
Just as important is active engagement with and by community stakeholders. McGee (2003) distinguishes four types of participation, starting with the most basic elements of information sharing and then ultimately progressing through to initiation and control by stakeholders.
- Information sharing
- the state puts budget and public policy information into the public domain
- the state sets up mechanisms such as forums, councils, and referendums or surveys to gather information on citizen preferences
- Joint decision making
- citizens not only provide information on their needs and preferences but are active in real decision making
- Initiation and control by stakeholders
- citizens have direct control over the full process of developing, raising funds for, and implementing projects or policy, as in social fund and community-driven development projects
As Fölscher (2007, p.247) points out, ‘As participatory practices move up this ladder, the argument goes, they become more effective instruments of participation: direct initiation and control by stakeholders is more powerful than joint decision making, which in turn is more effective than consultation and information sharing.’
Activity 2 Stakeholder engagement in your community
What forms of stakeholder engagement have you have seen in your community?
Based on this, what in your opinion distinguishes kinds of stakeholder engagement which have been effective from those which were less effective?
You may have seen or even experienced many, varied forms of stakeholder engagement in your community. Quite possibly some of these were very effective, but equally some may have been less effective. Common reasons can include a lack of broader stakeholder commitment, competing demands for time/attention or even a lack of sufficient funding.