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November 30, 2016

Time for citizens

George Monbiot’s writing can be inspirational but it can also be unremittingly gloomy. In this piece he goes overboard, even by his standards, and lists the 13 big crises that currently face us (albeit three are Trump related).  What they all highlight in different ways is that there has never been a more crucial time to consider how we as citizens respond. A timely new project – Citizenship 4.0 : an invitation to power change – comes from RSA and JRF. As Barack Obama once opined the most important title is not ‘president’ or ‘prime minister’; the most important title is ‘citizen’.



2016 has been a year of seismic shift. In a year already punctuated by global economic crisis, conflict and human loss, political uncertainty, austerity and Brexit, the golden confetti dust is begin to settle on the US Presidential election, and the world is now adjusting to the reality of President-elect Trump.

The results of both the US election and the UK ‘Brexit’ referendum earlier this year have prompted extensive public debate, and have raised searching questions around representation, electoral mechanisms and democratic processes. Both results have been driven by, and also met with, frustration and disillusionment with the limitations of established systems and structures, from which vast numbers of people are currently disengaged and excluded. As we scrutinise those limitations and seek change, as the first wave of ‘Metro Mayor’ candidates set out their visions for city-regions ahead of election in May 2017, and as post-referendum Brexit deliberations give rise to speculation around a snap general election, there is a collective recognition of the pressing need for openness, inclusion and participation in whatever comes next.

This is the real-time and potent context for the launch of ‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’, a new programme from the RSA Action and Research Centre, in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

 ‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’ will interrogate what citizenship means and how it is manifest. It will examine international and UK citizen engagement methods, mechanisms and systemic infrastructure to identify and evidence what works, and to draw out and understand the reasons at the core of what doesn’t.

People are the starting point for ‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’. The nature of ‘top down’ policy-making and governance structures means that people can often be a secondary consideration; passive players in strategies and decision-making processes orchestrated at impervious height and distance. It is when ill thought through consultations attempt to “engage” people that “Have your say!” tokenism abounds. This project seeks to go beyond the existing layers of exclusion, consultation and engagement to explore a fourth model of civic participation: Citizenship 4.0.

But before we judge, we must also accept that research can be guilty of following a similar path, engaging people only as subjects to be analysed. The implications of this growing disconnect have been keenly felt in the general failure of pollsters to predict recent voting patterns with any degree of accuracy in the US and UK elections and in the EU Referendum, and furthermore in the limitations of established analytical methods and metrics to offer any further insight or meaningful understanding after the fact.

‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’ is a ‘live’ and dynamic piece of participatory research. It is designed to grow iteratively and deliberatively. Its dynamism relies on your participation.

We ask that you — as a citizen — contribute your thoughts on the key research questions (set out at the end of this blog post), respond to those questions as they develop during the course of the research, share your experiences of citizenship and citizen engagement, help to identify places, projects and approaches for further investigation, put forward your ideas, submit material of interest, get involved with the ‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’ discussions on social media, join the debate on key issues, contribute in person to our city-based workshops, interact with our team, assist us in the evaluation and analysis of new evidence as it emerges, and help us to understand your cities, and your experiences.

The thinking behind ‘Citizens and Inclusive Growth’ builds on the ‘inclusive growth’ agenda, which has gained particular momentum in recent months, bolstered by a growing global focus on cities and, in the UK, by devolution. As urbanisation casts major cities as the engines of economic growth, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The emphasis on agglomeration, and the focus in the UK on city-centres and in the US on the ‘downtown core’ has arguably contributed to increased inequality and exclusion beyond those focal points. Inclusive growth is predicated on addressing that paradox by integrating social and economic policy to achieve shared goals, and creating much broader, ‘people-shaped’ parameters for growth and economic development.

The paradigm of ‘place’ is also resonant with this project, and has itself recently gained prominence globally, being at the heart of the United Nations’ UNHABITAT agenda, and in the UK, in line with devolution. In offering a new locally-driven model of governance, devolution brings the potential for cities to pursue distinctive ‘place-based’ strategies which respond not only to local assets, but also challenges and needs.

The stark reality remains that there are currently 13.5 million people living in poverty in the UK. The need for change; the need to seek the voice of marginalised and disadvantaged people in decision-making processes is of undeniable and acute local, national and global relevance.


Call for evidence

In this, the first — and open — call for evidence, we are particularly interested in contributions which respond to any or all of three key themes and their underpinning questions:


•             What does inclusion mean to you?

•             What are the barriers to inclusion in your city?

•             How does your city support inclusion?

•             How can we ensure that this project is inclusive? Specifically, what can we do to ensure people experiencing poverty, homelessness or social isolation can participate in this project, as citizens?


•             What does innovation mean to you?

•             How does your city support and stimulate innovation? Is there anything ‘place-based’, distinctive or characteristic of the city in its approach?

•             Who do you think leads and/or owns innovation in your city?

•             What is innovative about your city’s approach to citizen engagement?


•             How do you engage with your city as a citizen?

•             Are citizens engaged in decision making processes in your city? In what way, and how is that measured, evaluated and reported?

•             What do you perceive as the main benefits and opportunities for citizenship and/or economic inclusion in your city?

•             And the main dis-benefits, challenges and threats?

Example projects

We are keen to find local, national and global examples of projects and good practice in supporting inclusion, innovation or impact in citizen engagement, which might include collaboration tools such as participatory budgeting, citizens’ juries or forums, and online methods such as crowdsourced polling, sentiment analysis and opinion mining.

Case studies

The project will include a pilot series of intensive place-based case studies, working with selected UK cities and city-regions. We welcome your ideas, nominations, inside knowledge, connections, pointers, introductions and contributions.

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