Event with Deputy Mayor @rydermc and #reclaimourspaces opens door to co-designing community engagement … but with whom?

Last night’s event at London’s City Hall might just open the way to much-needed improvements in the way policies are developed and implemented with community groups and citizens – if someone can help convene on our behalf.
We heard powerful but disheartening stories from community activists about the ways that councils and developers are failing adequately to engage with residents … or going back on agreements. That’s what the Reclaim Our Spaces Manifesto aims to address.

Deputy Mayor Matthew Ryder QC explained that his brief for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement does not make him and his team a one-stop place for improvements. They can advise and support other departments … as well as meeting many interests to gather ideas.

During discussion of ways that community networks and the Greater London Authority could work more closely together I suggested better understanding on both sides would help. What’s it like as an officer trying to cope with so many different interests? Someone suggested mapping the civil society landscape as seen by City Hall, as well as that of community networks, as we have been doing.
Eileen Conn had already explained the highly successful engagement processes used by Peckham Vision – and suggested that now was the time to work with GLA on developing wider collaborative processes.

Matthew Ryder said he was open to those ideas, and I certainly found the four members of his team that were present receptive.
The challenge now is how to move things forward. Who can help convene community groups and networks?
Today is the last day of operation of the London Voluntary Service Council.**

LVSC is the collaborative leader of London’s voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector enabling a co-ordinated voice to influence policy makers. We support the 120,000 organisations who provide a range of services and support to London’s diverse communities and empower the lives of Londoners.

LVSC is being abolished to make way for new arrangements being developed by The Way Ahead initiative, supported by London funders. As I’ve written here the plan is to establish a new London Hub, based on Greater London Volunteering.
However, while valuable in many ways it currently looks like a top-down model, rather than one that would embrace a more networked approach, as suggested here.
To be fair, the team developing ideas for the hub have opened discussion with the Our Way Ahead group about representation. There’s a door open there for representation, but that’s not the same as engagement and co-design. It is pretty low down on the classic ladder of participation.
There are maybe 100,000 community groups in London, as well hundreds if not thousands of networks representing local and london-wide interests, now without any strategic representation – unless I have missed something.
As Nicolas Fonty and I explained last night, we have made a very modest start on mapping geographically and socially some local and London networks. We are working with Our Way Ahead to explore how to do more.
One advantage of network mapping – explained here on our Networked City wiki – is that it helps understanding of who are the key connectors and influences in any ecosystem.
The vacuum created by the abolition of LVSC, with only a top-down Hub replacement, opens the way for some fresh thinking about engagement with London citizens and community groups. Who will lead the way? If not the Deputy Mayor and his team, then who? After last night’s meeting I’m hopeful that they may rise to the occasion.

** The work that I, Drew Mackie and others have done in developing Connecting Londoners, and mapping networks, would not have been possible without initial funding from LVSC, and the tremendous work by Matt Scott in supporting that and development of Our Way Way Ahead. It’s going to leave a big hole.

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