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power-sharing in place-making

Over the last five years, co-production and collaboration have become popular – the concepts of people and organisations working together to make better places, with a focus on action. For some examples, look through the case studies in the excellent Compendium for the Civic Economy or the winning projects of last month’s SURF regeneration awards. There’s clearly no shortage of excellent community-based projects which are improving places and making real differences to people’s lives.

What worries me is that, despite this constant flow of excellent individual projects in worthy publications and awards shortlists, we seem to be a long way from these examples becoming the norm. I sense that in many places these excellent examples succeed in spite of the public policy and funding systems that we have – not because of them. As Diarmaid Lawlor of A+DS explains in his thought-provoking article Towns as Verbs, all of us involved in the future of towns need to think and engage differently from how we have in the past.

Although there are signs that things are moving in the right direction – such as the lofty goals that the Scottish Government has set for the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, I’m not convinced that will succeed in mainstreaming collaboration and co-production.

I believe there is a very simple principle which needs to be embedded across all our placemaking for collaboration and co-production to become the norm: power-sharing. In the UK today, those words are commonly used in relation to the Northern Ireland peace process. I think they are just as relevant for embedding collaborative working in Scottish planning and placemaking.

To explain what I mean, let me give a couple of examples from an area I am closely involved with at the moment: town centre regeneration.

At one end of the spectrum is Linlithgow Civic Trust’s A Vision for Linlithgow 2010-2030 – a well produced document mapping out a future for the town, designed as input to the local authority’s statutory development plan. But limited involvement from the local authority has meant that it is proving difficult to translate the vision into the statutory planning process.

At the other end of the spectrum are countless plans, strategies and visions produced on behalf of local communities. To avoid embarrassing myself or anyone else, let me give an example from my own experience: Maryhill Town Centre Action Plan, which I worked in 2010-11 with Kevin Murray Associates and WMUD. The decision to prepare an action plan came from the Council, not least in response to local concern about the future of the local centre. Although we consulted locally on the plan with community groups, businesses and residents of different ages, it was consultation rather than co-production. In other words, the action plan was to be approved by the public sector and taken forward by them. It was their responsibility. There wasn’t much opportunity for local organisations to develop parts of the action plan themselves, neither was there much capacity or desire to either – although that may come in the future.

Both of these examples show the pitfalls of not power-sharing. In the case of Linlithgow, the balance lay with the local community – and it was difficult to get the local authority involved. In Maryhill, it was the other way around. I believe that both will struggle as collaborative strategies for action because they have not fully harnessed the potential energy of all the potential actors in each place – businesses, social enterprises, community groups, residents young and old, local authority and other public agencies.

Power-sharing is so fundamental because it is a check-in-the-system as to whether all the energy and potential in a local place is being harnessed. A good strategy for action will engage with all those actors, and will do it in such a way that no-one actor dominates the others – hence, power-sharing.

To their immense credit, the people and organisations in one place I know seem to understand that. That place is Haddington. The Haddington town centre vision that I have been working on with Urban AnimationDhu Rural and WMUD places as much importance on collaborative governance, action and delivery as it does on what the town centre will physically look like in the future – in direct response to local aspirations. Local people and institutions are coming together to deliver the vision forward, building trust where previously there was the barrier of suspicion. Now, additional resources are being levered in for specific strands of the vision, such as pioneering social enterprise Space Unlimited‘s involvement in taking forward the youth enterprise strand through a programme of youth enquiry, engagement and activity.

Haddington isn’t the only good example of power-sharing. It’s just one that I happen to know.

What other examples of power-sharing do you know of? Please use the Comments box below to share your examples…


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