Putting people at the heart of everything we do: civic participation

Putting people at the heart of everything we do is a key strategic principle for Newham Council. It is committed to better-involving residents because working together with our communities achieves better services and outcomes and makes the borough a happier and healthier place to live.

We set up a Democracy and Civic Participation Commission in 2020 to enable democracy in the borough to become more representative and participatory and to look at alternative governance models for the council.

We established the UK’s first permanent citizens assembly and one of the country’s largest participatory budgeting programmes to support our residents to be “policymakers” and “budget makers”

We also mobilised pioneering alliances to “co-produce” with residents and partners, setting Help Newham to mobilise staff and residents to provide emergency support during the pandemic, and the Newham Social Welfare Alliance which brings together frontline partners to support residents at risk of crisis.

We set up Health Champions to engage residents to protect themselves from Covid, now leading a national network, and are working with UCL in the training of residents to carry out research in their communities as part of the UK’s first longitudinal programme through community-led research.

1. Setting up a Democracy & Civic Participation Commission

•We set up a Democracy and Civic Participation Commission in 2020 to enable democracy in the borough to become more representative and participatory and to look at alternative governance models for the council.

•The Commission brought together local and national experts related to the Commission themes. It involved residents in this process by being able to take part in community activities and events, as well as online engagement.

  • The Council agreed to implement all of its recommendations.

2. Learning the lessons from involving residents in policymaking

To ensure that the voices of citizens can shape policymaking, it’s important that leaders of local areas:

  • Create opportunities for residents to be involved throughout the process of designing and delivering policies and services
  • Value the different strengths & expertise of people from different backgrounds and sectors in shaping the lives of people and our neighbourhoods
  • Improve how we support participation with residents and partners so that we work more in partnership and devolve power to residents

3. Creating opportunities for residents to be involved throughout

We believe that participation in helping develop healthy cities & local areas can’t just be at specific points in time but throughout the process of designing & delivering strategies & services.

That’s why we have established the UK’s first permanent citizens assembly, one of the country’s largest participatory budgeting programmes and pioneering alliances with partners to mobilise the solidarity of residents.

Residents as “policymakers”

We have established the UK’s first permanent citizens assembly to develop our future strategies in a way that is

  • Inclusive in that it recognises the different roles that people play to tackle issues. That’s why the Council invites a representative set of people and people with lived experience
  • Ambitious in that they can genuinely tackle the challenges and that by the end of this assembly, residents can work out what are the most important priorities to focus on within this issue
  • Strengths-building helping residents develop “policymaking” skills in learning different levers we can use, building consensus between competing perspectives to develop recommendations

We invite residents to vote on the issues the assembly should focus on. The next assembly will focus on 15 Minute Neighbourhoods.

We also created an Advisory Group made up of local partners to ensure the Assembly considers the different levers their sectors have.

Residents as “budget makers”

We run one of the country’s largest participatory budgeting programmes, through our Community Assemblies, where we provide £100k for each of our neighbourhoods for people to decide on budget priorities for those areas, and then what projects should be funded.

Each Community Neighbourhood has a working group from the previous cycle of assemblies that consists of local people who live, work or learn in the area, councillors and council officers using an online participatory budgeting platform.

They work together to review the priorities and the information that has emerged from the new cycle of community assemblies. They then make an assessment of the local priorities and advise on the appropriate projects and activities, using their local knowledge of the neighbourhood area.

Issues residents most want to develop projects in their communities in 2021

Residents as “co-producers”

Local authorities are devolving power already to communities, coordinating the use of resources with other organisations and investing in people’s solidarity without government direction.

We set up Help Newham to mobilise staff and residents to provide emergency support during the pandemic.

We set up the Newham Social Welfare Alliance which brings together frontline workers from local organisations to support residents together who are at risk of crisis or in crisis.

We are working with UCL in the training of residents to carry out research in their communities as “citizen scientists” as part of the UK’s first longitudinal programme through community-led research.

We have set up local Health Champions to co-produce how we engage residents in protecting themselves from the virus, which is now leading a national network of Health Champions.

We will be using these experiences to develop a participation framework and academy to improve people’s skills in participation & co-production.

Head of Strategy (Communities) @camdencouncil #localgov Director @euroalter Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese