Forget the DH site, the place to look for what’s happening in public and service user engagement is increasingly Communities and Local Government (CLG), which is churning out more useful stuff about civic engagement and community participation across the board. But should we welcome this uncritically, especially when it involves LINks? For instance, I noticed this in the most recent Consultation Institute newsletter:
“Gung-ho CLG seems so enthused by LINks that it seems keen to expand the concept beyond health and social care and is inviting Councils to submit proposals. Where this leads is anybody’s guess but the idea of networks of interested stakeholders is a powerful concept.”
Is this an idea linked (no pun intended) with CLG minister Hazel Blears – she of the recent community empowerment white paper and participatory budgeting experiments – to extend LINks straight across everything a Council does? Sounds like the kind of thing that the “government in waiting” might be keen on too. And it is just the sort of development that some Councils might want for the wrong reasons. A single tick box solution to involvement and consultation based on “we talked to LINk” is appealing but it is reductionist and simplistic. We should be wary of this expansionist offer at least until we have some solid achievements with LINks in health and social care to point to and much more experience with the methodology of contacting, listening, understanding and transmitting views of local citizens. But as the CI newsletter rightly says, the idea is powerful and something to think about for the future.
In the meantime here is a just published CLG report on barriers which people feel keep them from being able to influence local decision making. Quite relevant for LINk and our understanding of participation generally I think. The biggest factor (barrier) is how much people trust their local council – perhaps an obvious conclusion but one that must be addressed where the answer is “not much”.
Readers could also dip into the CLG report on the New Deal for Communities pilots. It is mercifully short and summarises lots of what we know already – so it provides a good and recent benchmark – about barriers and incentives to participation. It talks about the “1% solution” we have previously discussed on this blog. There is an allied report on what works well in communicationswith specific groups in the community.
This is all good stuff for us to know for LINks and Hosts should have these reports on their electronic reading lists.