People-powered services: myth or reality?

Joe Micheli

By Joe Micheli, on March 16th, 2018

> Read Joe Micheli's articles

An article written in conversation with Eddy Adams.

The challenge of citizen participation

One of the things that city authorities continue to most struggle with is citizen participation. More than ten years after the Leipzig Charter, which set out the goal of participative integrated urban regeneration, the picture across Europe remains highly uneven. Happily though, there are many beacons of excellence, and as a programme committed to participative principles, URBACT has supported many of them. Cities like Amersfoort (NL), Gdansk (PL) and Aarhus (DK) are amongst them, whilst networks like CHANGE! have championed approaches that place citizens at the centre of service design and delivery.

York (UK) uses a variety of platforms to involve citizens

As networks like Interactive Cities are discovering, digital platforms are widening the repertoire of tools enabling cities to involve citizens. In a previous pilot project, Genius Open, the City of York experimented with online tools as a way of crowd sourcing solutions from its citizens. Fast forward to 2018 and the same city is contributing to the URBACT debate on people-powered services. As one of the U.K. cities involved in the international Cities of Service model, York is pioneering new activity under the banner of ‘people helping people’. But what does this actually mean?

UK Cities of Service Conference

In a recent exchange with Joe Micheli, Head of Commissioning (Early Intervention, Prevention and Community Development) at York city authority, he described it this way.

“One of York’s greatest assets is its people, particularly the large number of citizens who give up their time to help others and who are an integral part of the city. Whether we call it volunteering, giving, social action or simply ‘people helping people’, spending time in the service of others is engrained in our culture. We know that when people help others, communities are stronger and more resilient. This enables higher levels of social capital, bringing economic and social benefit, as well as boosting our health and wellbeing. 

Whilst thousands of people volunteer in York, in all sorts of ways, we have introduced Cities of Service as a catalyst to tap into the power of citizens to tackle the city’s most pressing challenges more systematically and explore together how we might embed social action within public services as the norm.  There are four key elements to the approach: Leadership, Deliberation, Collaboration and Results.     

Building on national research and local conversations, we have created People Helping People as a new city wide strategy and campaign, drawing on the international success of Cities of Service. It’s designed to bring our local public services and people together as impact volunteers, working collaboratively and with focus to tackle our local priorities, whether it’s health inequalities, loneliness or young people struggling to achieve their potential.” 

York’s people powered services experience discussed with other European cities

On 18th April Joe will be joining network partners and an international audience in Eindhoven (NL) for the CHANGE! Final conference. He’ll be sharing details of The Cities of Service model and participating in a panel debate on the theme of “People-powered services: myth or reality? along with CHANGE! City partners, and international experts including Henry Kippin, who as Director of Collaborate created the framework which has shaped the network’s activities over the past 30 months.


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