If local authorities are to improve or even maintain service outcomes in the coming period of austerity - a time also of rising needs - they will have to forge a different quality of relationship with citizens.
This is one of the assumptions behind an ambitious and innovative partnership between the RSA, Peterborough City Council and the Arts Council - the Citizen Power project.
Peterborough is a successful city in many ways and already a national leader in environmental policy. However, the city also faces challenges.
Levels of trust, engagement and attachment to place are lower than average and problems such as crime and drug misuse higher. Research suggests these problems often get worse when population rises take place and Peterborough is set to grow by about 10% over the next 10 years.
Peterborough’s leaders share with the RSA the view that we need to cultivate a more ambitious model of citizenship - more engaged, more self-reliant, more pro-social - and that this needs to be done through the development of a stronger sense of place in neighbourhoods and across the city.
But this project goes further than the traditional process of engagement, not only giving art and culture a central role, but also seeking to embed these ideas in the practices of core public services. It has a wide set of objectives:
- Developing shared accounts of citizens of the future: the project aims to develop a debate at many levels about the future for Peterborough and its residents. We aim to show that the way people live and the way they engage with decision makers is crucial to the health and prosperity of the city. This belief is reflected in the ‘open source’ nature of the project, with citizens able to make any input they wish as it unfolds;
- Helping to create a vibrant arts and cultural offer: we believe socially engaged arts and culture plays a major role in breaking down social barriers, mobilising and enthusing people and firing the collective imagination;
- Citizen led policy innovation: we are developing projects that place citizens at the heart of the process of innovation and improvement. These include a programme to develop a recovery community for problem drug users and the development of an area-based curriculum that brings schools and the community together to foster a culture of learning.
It is clear already - just from the scoping stage - that unforeseen ideas, insights and innovations will emerge from its core question: what kind of people do the residents of Peterborough need to be to create the better future they want?
Matthew Taylor, Chief executive, RSA