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Community Participation: ‘Activists’ or ‘Citizens’?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jacqueline Haq


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In the northeast of England, the author first became involved in community activism to improve medical care for mothers and young children, along with other local residents, working with staff at a pioneering local health clinic. She saw the potential for collective local input to influence positive change within hierarchical institutions. Towards the end of the 1970s she worked as an unpaid volunteer in another local community project, in the centre of a housing estate, which led to the launch of the first credit union in the region. The critical principle underpinning all the work was a commitment to collective action. With the advent of City Challenge, and subsequent state-funded regimes, aimed at encouraging inner-city regeneration, the emphasis shifted from working on community-led, community-identified priorities to funding-led, local and central government-themed priorities. Despite government rhetoric about partnership working, power and control remained with the local and central government, and the effect was to divide and rule, limit and sanitise community participation. A new mode of 'community engagement' is now being promoted. Citizens' juries usually have a singular focus predetermined by funders, lack sustainable structures or long-term resources, and rarely inspire direct action. Their long-term impact, if any, is uncertain. They offer a veneer of participation that is little more than theatrical consultation, and in practice, may contain or even stifle genuine community participation.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Haq JM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Participatory Learning and Action

Year: 2008

Volume: 58

Issue: 1

Pages: 91-96

ISSN (print): 1357-938X



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