Supporting Effective Citizenship in Local Government: Engaging, Educating and Empowering Local Citizens

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Colorado - Health ScienceLibrary]On: 10 October 2014, At: 19:45Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    Supporting Effective Citizenshipin Local Government: Engaging,Educating and Empowering LocalCitizensRhys Andrews a , Richard Cowell a , James Downe a ,Steve Martin a & David Turner ba Centre for Local and Regional Government Research,Cardiff University , Wales, UKb Department of Natural and Social Sciences ,University of Gloucestershire , Cheltenham, UKPublished online: 22 Jul 2008.

    To cite this article: Rhys Andrews , Richard Cowell , James Downe , Steve Martin &David Turner (2008) Supporting Effective Citizenship in Local Government: Engaging,Educating and Empowering Local Citizens, Local Government Studies, 34:4, 489-507,DOI: 10.1080/03003930802217462

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  • Supporting Effective Citizenship inLocal Government: Engaging,Educating and Empowering LocalCitizens

    RHYS ANDREWS*, RICHARD COWELL*, JAMES DOWNE*,

    STEVE MARTIN* & DAVID TURNER***Centre for Local and Regional Government Research, Cardiff University, Wales, UK

    **Department of Natural and Social Sciences, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK

    ABSTRACT Civic-republican theories suggest that an active citizenry is associated withcommunity cohesion, better political institutions and inclusive democratic decisionmaking. The influence of these arguments on the UK Labour government has led policymakers to focus attention on strategies to promote citizenship at a local level. Inparticular, English local authorities are expected to provide support for citizenship aspart of their wider duty to promote effective community engagement. The ways inwhich they can do this are various, ranging from the simple provision of information todirect support for community networks and groups. This article reports the findings ofan extensive study of English councils efforts to engage, educate and empower localcitizens. The paper concludes that although local authorities have made significantprogress in recent years in widening the structures for communicating with, andengaging citizens, there remains considerable scope for improving activities that addressthe learning implications of effective citizenship.

    KEY WORDS: Citizenship, community engagement, local government, England

    Introduction

    While public disaffection with formal democratic processes is neither newnor unique to the UK (Pharr & Putnam, 2000), since 1997 the UK Labourgovernment has been particularly vocal in its concern about this issue. A keyresponse has been to encourage people to re-connect with government andtheir communities by becoming active citizens (Blunkett, 2003; Marinetto,2003). However, the rationale for the kind of reconnection that active

    Correspondence Address: Rhys Andrews, Centre for Local and Regional Government

    Research, Cardiff University, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, Wales, UK.

    Email: AndrewsR4@cardiff.ac.uk

    Local Government StudiesVol. 34, No. 4, 489507, August 2008

    ISSN 0300-3930 Print/1743-9388 Online 2008 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/03003930802217462

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  • citizenship is deemed to achieve has evolved over time. Long-standingconsternation about low turnout in UK local elections has beensupplemented by survey evidence showing declining trust in publicinstitutions, especially politicians (MORI, 2003). Meanwhile, the events of9/11 and 7/7 have led to heightened concerns about the dangers posed forcommunity cohesion and integration by Islamic extremists (Blair, 2006;Kelly, 2006). The complex combination of discursive moral repertoires forcitizenship that these various concerns have provoked (Dean, 2004: 72) hasbeen reflected in myriad policy agendas and initiatives.

    Local authorities are caught up in these agendas in various ways. Manyhave sought independently to encourage public participation for some time(Leach et al., 2005), displaying particular enthusiasm for forms of citizeneducation which explained how the council worked and what opportunitiesthere were for participation (Lowndes et al., 2001: 449). Central govern-ment, in turn, has sought to harness local authorities to its own activecitizenship agenda. While schools are now expected to deliver a formalprogramme of citizenship education, the government has insisted that localauthorities should also alert young people to the working of social andpublic life . . . and the means at their disposal for influencing local policies(DTLR, 2001: 20). In addition, twenty-four Councils have been recruited asCivic Pioneers a joint Home Office, LGA and SOLACE initiative toshare their practical experiences in participatory democracy with othercouncils. Active citizenship also features prominently in the governmentsten-year vision for local government (ODPM, 2004). It is therefore timelyand pertinent to examine in detail the extent to which local authorities aresupporting citizens in becoming more effective participants in local affairs.

    This paper reports the findings of a research project examining goodpractice in supporting effective citizenship in English local authorities(DCLG, 2006b). The study addressed the following main questions, fromthe perspective of local authorities themselves. What were the aims ofcouncils citizenship activities? What types of action did authorities claim tobe taking to support effective citizenship and were they evaluating theimpacts? To what extent were councils engaging, educating and empoweringlocal citizens? For the purposes of the study and this paper, effectivecitizenship was defined as educational, learning or awareness-raisingactivities which help people develop the knowledge, skills and confidenceto engage with local decision making. This captures the idea that effectivecitizenship includes making discriminating decisions about how and whetherto get involved in local governance, as well as being active per se. Our focusexcludes citizenship education within schools, although council activitiessupporting and extending the National Curriculum are considered. Theprimary reason for this is that there are already extensive ongoing studiesassessing citizenship education in schools (see, for example, Kerr & Cleaver,2004). To complement this existing research, our own study focused on thespecific contribution local authorities are making to engaging, educating

    490 R. Andrews et al.

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  • and empowering all citizens. The paper therefore concludes with anexamination of the policy implications of the findings, especially withrespect to the role that all local authorities can and arguably should play insupporting effective citizenship.

    Supporting Effective Citizenship

    For the UK central government, citizenship has been positioned as integralto a comprehensive revitalisation of the ethos of democracy, the strength ofcivil society, the citizen-orientation of public services, and the vibrancy ofcommunity life itself (Civil Renewal Unit, 2003: 6). Such claims raisesubstantial questions. There are clearly tensions between competinginterpretations of what active citizenship requires. But even operating withinthe governments own terms of reference, there are questions about the extentto which efforts to support effective citizenship actually affect citizensbehaviour and values, or promote service improvement and democraticlegitimacy.

    Policy Rationales

    The concept of citizenship is, of course, subject to a range of interpretations,with different implications for the role of the state. Since 1997, UK policydebates have centred on an ideal of active citizenship which emphasises theneed for citizens to fulfil social and political obligations. This notion has avenerable history within political theory stretching back to Aristotlesargument that the exercise of civic virtue was crucial to the flourishing of thepolis. It has also been associated closely with the values of local government.For example, Tocqueville (1966) claimed that a flourishing local civic culturewas the central feature of social life in developed democracies. Indeed, muchof the basis of local democracy rests on the fact that it is the most accessibleavenue for political participation (Phillips, 1996: 26). None the less, despitewidespread agreement with T.H. Marshalls (1992: 41) influential exhorta-tion that citizens should be inspired by a lively sense of responsibilitytowards the welfare of the community, the obligations associated with activecitizenship remain open to debate and have been subject to considerablecontestation. Civic-individualists regard the promotion of such citizenship asbeing concerned primarily with helping people to become volunteers andinformed consumers; civic-republicans, by contrast, emphasise directpolitical participation, while civic-pluralists focus on the need to build adiverse but cohesive civic culture. Although each of these positions haspermeated policy debates, civic-republican theories (e.g. Putnam, 1993; Tam,1998) suggesting that a vibrant, effective citizenry is associated with betterpolitical institutions have proved to be a substantial influence on NewLabour thinking on citizenship during the past decade (see, for example,Crick, 2007).

    Effective Citizenship in Local Government 491

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  • Civic-republicans argue that members of local communities need to bewilling, able and equipped to get involved in public life (Oldfield, 1990).Realising this ideal requires government to go beyond simply providingpeople with the opportunity to participate, to disseminate the necessaryinformation to citizens and help them to acquire the skills and confidencethat they need in order to become more active. Civic-republicanstherefore propose that policies, such as public communications (Dagger,1996), civic education (Gutmann, 1999) and participation in decisionmaking (Tam, 1998), are essential to enable citizens to become more activein public affairs. Education for citizenship has been viewed historically as abasic function of local government (Sharpe, 1970). None the less, NewLabour thinking about the governance and delivery of public servicesdraws more heavily on consumerist approaches than on notions ofcitizenship, and often appears to elevate the needs and preferences ofservice users (or customers) over those of other stakeholders (Needham,2003). There has been a recognition that strengthening citizenship mayhelp to secure increased public satisfaction with local services (see Dean,2004; HM Government, 2006), with research suggesting that councillorsand officers often feel more familiar and comfortable in regarding thepublic as customers, rather than active citizens (Orr & McAteer, 2004:164; Slocum 2004). The case for promoting the democratic value ofcitizenship therefore faces considerable cultural barriers at both centraland local levels.

    Cutting across these interpretative, theoretical differences are turf warsin the governmental machinery. While the department with leadresponsibility for local government has been keen to promote it as anarena for the exercise of citizenship, not all arms of government see localauthorities as a key partner in this enterprise. With its emphasis on peopleand places, the Department for Communities and Local Government (andits predecessors) has encouraged local government to engage citizens indecisions relating to service delivery and to devolve responsibility andbudgets to neighbourhoods (ODPM, 2005; DCLG 2006a). The HomeOffice, meanwhile, being less trustful of local authorities, supported anaction learning network of Active Learning for Active Citizenshipfacilitated by voluntary sector organisations and universities, albeitalongside sponsorship of Civic Pioneers. Furthermore, the Departmentfor Education and Skills introduction of citizenship education in schoolscoincided with a reduction in the resources for non-vocational educationfor adults (Mayo & Rooke, 2006). Given the multiple agendas beingpromoted by different government departments, it is perhaps unsurprisingthat declarations of cross-departmental support for active citizenship (seeHM Government, 2006) have not been translated into a consistentmessage about what ministers see as the role of local authorities, and thatthere are still considerable differences across Whitehall in beliefs about thebenefits of support for citizenship.

    492 R. Andrews et al.

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  • Evidence for Impacts?

    Its advocates claim that the cultivation of active citizens has positive benefitsfor improving public services and the quality of local democracy. As well asenhancing the quality of life within their community, getting involved inlocal affairs can provide participants...

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