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February 17, 2010

Why Dame Julie Mellor is making a good case for how the state and citizens can build communities

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 2:00 pm
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Yesterday I came across a grubby copy of Society Guardian (which I was about to use as a firelighter) when I found a highly readable piece by Dame Julie Mellor on how the state and citizens have to work together to build communities. To my mind it was very apt and timely copy and rather surprising, given that Ms Mellor works for PwC, an organisation not known for its services to the public.

Apologies, but I quote Julie at length here because I think she makes some crucial points:

“A shift to services produced in ¬relationship with citizens will require not just communities to take on more ¬responsibility but also the state to change the way it works. In particular, increased citizen involvement in services should not be used as cover for the state leaving people to fend for themselves, or putting them in situations for which they are unprepared. Co-producing services demands a new relationship between the state and communities.

“Greater community involvement in public services will also require professionals to change the way they work. The job of a service professional will increasingly involve building a relationship with service users, working with them to identify how to solve a problem, managing the relationships between people, and building mutual support systems.

“At its heart, community empowerment is about developing a new set of relationships between citizens, the state, service providers and actors in civil society. It is a demanding agenda that requires citizens and public services to change the way they engage with each other. However, the benefits are considerable, and policy-makers need to understand how the barriers to advancing this agenda can be overcome.”

In the past I’ve mentioned how the media is changing as the industry and communications change. And this is also true of the public sector and the professionals who are running public services.

To build these types of communities you need state funding and agendas that set out how professionals should connect with the public. You also need professional communicators that can make sure the connections are made and, more importantly, managed.

You need stakeholder engagement programmes that bring all sections of the community together through common platforms – and this is then managed by communications professionals.

Regardless of all the best laid plans, if communities are not managed then they will wither very quickly.

Linking to all this, I interviewed Chris Pyburn, communications and engagement manager at Suffolk County Council, last week. During the next year my team and I will be working closely with Chris and his team to roll out a programme that comes close the all the points Dame Julie Mellor has written about.


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