The Citizens Forum

This report was written for the community of New Mills in the High Peak, where the local council has recently declared a climate emergency. It can act as a framework for any community, "MyTown", to collectively imagine a vibrant regenerative future.

A Framework For Development

"Co-production is a partnership between citizens and public services to achieve a valued outcome. Such partnerships empower citizens to contribute more of their own resources (time, will power, expertise and effort) and have greater control over service decisions and resources.". Cabinet Office Strategy Unit

1. The Climate Crisis.

  • 1.1. Majority scientific opinion now confirms that we are faced with the need to instigate widespread changes throughout society in a very short space of time. MyTown Town Council, along with an increasing number of local authorities, together with some national governments, have declared a "climate emergency".
  • 1.2. Faced with this declaration, and mindful of the need to engage all sectors of society in implementing a programme of radical change, there is widespread agreement that this necessitates the establishment of new models of statutory/community partnerships.
  • 1.3. The climate crisis, "global warming", can be seen as just one aspect of a comprehensive ecological crisis threatening all aspects of both global and local society; encompassing species extinction, air pollution, plastics production and waste to name but a few issues.
  • 1.4. Many local people, both within and without existing groups, wish to find a solution to this crisis, see it as the paramount issue of the day and wish, within the limitations of daily life, to commit to working with others to develop a practical, achievable, enduring & comprehensive local plan of action.
  • 1.5. There is no single unified opinion regarding the causes, priorities and solutions to this crisis, or even whether it should be regarded as an emergency at all. The reality of this diversity is a fundamental fact that should inform the establishment of a Citizen´s Forum.

2. A New Role for The Community

  • 2.1. The Community includes all individuals, groups and organisations that comprise that community.
  • 2.2. While no one individual, group, sector or organisation holds all the answers to the climate/ecological crisis, the community "as a whole" assuredly does. What is needed are not new solutions, rather new models of collaborative working together to manifest those solutions.
  • 2.3. The commitment, will, resources, experience and expertise available within the community exists today as a largely untapped resource for the work of the statutory sector in general and a response to the climate/ecological emergency in particular.
  • 2.4. The statutory sector, in partnership with the voluntary and business sectors, has largely assumed a role as the "provider and director" of services that shape the evolution of society.
  • 2.5. The necessity of a coherent response to the climate/ecological crisis suggests the need for a new enhanced role for this sector as a "facilitator and supporter" of community-led initiatives and statutory-community collaborations.

3. Citizen´s Assembly or Citizen´s Forum.

  • 3.1. A Citizen´s Assembly is an established format that has been successfully used in decision making regarding a range of national issues. It emphasises the importance of reflection and informed discussion; termed "deliberation". (Citizen´s Assembly, 2019)
  • 3.2. A Citizen´s Assembly is costly and complicated to set up.
  • 3.3. A Citizen´s Assembly works best on a single large-scale issue that requires a single decision, rather than a complex issue that requires a widespread range of responses.
  • 3.4. The Citizen´s Assembly model is perhaps an appropriate forum for large metropolitan communities in addressing the climate/ecological crisis; arguably not appropriate for a community such as MyTown.
  • 3.5. A Citizen´s Assembly comprises a representative cross-section of interests within the community. A MyTown Citizens Forum can comprise any or all organisations, groups and individuals who are interested in finding solutions to the climate/ecological emergency.
  • 3.6. A Citizen´s Assembly, as generally understood, follows an established model. A Citizen´s Forum is a new idea that can be modelled & adapted uniquely to local circumstances, needs, vision, available skills and defined aims & objectives.

4. Aims and Objectives of a Citizen´s Forum.

  • 4.1. To initiate a new era of collaborative development in MyTown, between individuals, existing groups & organisations, and statutory organisations, to creatively address the global climate/ecological emergency at a local level.
  • 4.2. To create a forum where individuals, groups and organisations are able to a) formulate a collective vision for MyTown, leading to a comprehensive local plan of action, b) articulate their personal vision & skills contribution for practical radical change, c) to be heard and to hear others, d) provide a focus for existing groups, e) inspire local people to get involved and e) encourage people to envisage new possibilities for our shared future.
  • 4.3. To create an environment in which individuals, groups and organisation are able to make connections with others, share skills & resources, and undertake imaginative collaborations.

5. Challenges of a Citizen´s Forum.

  • 5.1. Because there is such a diversity of strongly-held viewpoints concerning the climate/ecological emergency, respectful deliberation can easily degenerate into argument, acrimony and discord. This suggests the need for carefully constructed "rules & procedures" for the forum processes.
  • 5.2. Because of the wide scope of issues involved in the crisis, and the diversity of local individuals and groups each with a unique perspective on those issues, it is probably counter-productive for a forum to aim for consensus on one single or limited range of centrally co-ordinated agreed strategies to address that crisis, and that accommodates all viewpoints. Instead this suggests a method of working that facilitates a wide range of devolved outcomes that build on the "connections" made between forum participants and characterised by mutual support, sharing and co-operation.
  • 5.3. The above naturally leads to a "technique" guided format for a forum that uses existing and successfully implemented strategies to directly facilitate the aims and objectives (Section 4)

6. Suggested Format of a MyTown Citizen´s Forum

  • 6.1. A key element for the forum process is the group facilitation skills/experience of the co-ordinating individual/group. The following format has been arrived at through a collaborative process.
  • 6.2. Participation to be open to local individuals and representatives of any groups & organisations that recognise the necessity of developing a local response to the global climate/ecological emergency and wish to be involved.
  • 6.3. The emphasis of the forum to be on what "we" can imagine for our community and facilitate together, rather than what we demand that others do, although lobbying of others can be something "we" do.
  • 6.4. A larger public weekend event as the first step in evolving a MyTown Citizen´s Forum, of a maximum 2-3 hours duration, in order to attract wide participation and accommodate busy lives with time commitments. Information about the event, the forum process and suggested participant preparation to be shared in advance, through a dedicated bespoke website and closed Facebook group. The website can also suggest participative measures for those unable to attend the event. Future events and initiatives to be determined by participants, communicated through the website.
  • 6.5. The event is NOT intended as a debate or a discussion, rather a structured exercise to enable all voices to be heard, recorded and shared between all participants. The aim is to listen to the diversity of viewpoints from the community and to identify points of connection between people.
  • 6.6. Outline format of the event: time sequences and format for event are flexible, in lieu of participant numbers and available groupwork skills. Book in: record names, organisations and contact details. Stage 1: Brief Introduction to the forum techniques, aims and anticipated outcomes. 5 minutes. Stage 2: Splitting of the gathering into small groups of 3-5 to brainstorm "what needs to change". Record all points of view on large sheets of paper. 10-15 minutes. Stage 3: All/some groups takes 1-2 minutes to feedback to entire gathering. All sheets blu-tacked to walls. 15-20 minutes. Stage 4: Networking and view sheets. 10 minutes. Stage 5: "Creative Imagination of the Future". Whole group guided visualisation to imagine a future for our community where all issues in Stage 2 have been addressed. 10 minutes. Stage 6: In groups of 3, write/draw on a sheet of paper your positive vision of what MyTown in 2025 might include. 10-15 minutes. Total time so far. 75 minutes. Stage 7: Blu-tac all papers to walls. Refreshments, networking and view sheets. 30-45 minutes. Stage 8: Closing statement and outline next steps.
  • 6.7. Post-event. Photograph all sheets of paper, produce a report that synthesises all contributions, post online and create link from website for public scrutiny.

7. Next Steps

"Collaborations between local governments and community-based initiatives can lead to significant synergies. Several factors can influence the results and are differentially valued according to collaboration arrangements. In an effort to systematize these factors a "Compass for Collaborative Transformation" is proposed... In synthesis, probably the major value of this new framework rests in the possibility of bringing order to the chaotic transformation we see in our world, connecting what was not connected and unleashing the creativity and power that lies in our communities." Municipalities In Transition, 2019
  • 7.1. Confidence, and subsequent participation, in a Citizen´s Forum is entirely dependent on the rapid establishment of a viable structure that offers the best measurable outcomes for achieving its objectives.
  • 7.2. A viable structure is one that a) supports the Local Authority to better fulfil its Duties and maximise its Powers in a cost-effective and efficient manner and b) empowers the Community to believe that collaboration is both real, of value and effective.
  • 7.3. A viable structure is one that maximises the existing strengths, skills, resources and working practices of both Council and Community.
  • 7.4. A viable structure can best be established through a process of open dialogue, willingness to experiment, acknowledgement of the urgency of the global climate/ecological crisis, ability to reconcile conflicting viewpoints and recognition of the need for systemic transformation for the common good.
  • 7.5. Establishment of a viable structure for a MyTown Council/Community collaboration does not take place in isolation, rather as part of a rapidly growing network of similar experiments throughout the world. Much support and examples of good practice are available and known within the MyTown community.

Change Agents

Planning For Real

Innovative community regeneration technique that uses 3 dimensional models to focus attention and imagination. A powerful catalyst.

Rob Hopkins

Imagination Taking Power. We need to tell the stories that create a deep longing for a future that looks very different to the present.