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Citizen Hubs
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About the project

Opus collaborated with a number of partners to develop the Citizen Hub model over 2021-2022, a neighbourhood-level approach to engaging people in decision making around the key issue for their community. 

This paper, provided voluntarily by Opus, is written in response to the development of Local Area Committees in Sheffield. Its intention is to provoke a shift in thinking towards deeper, collaborative and more authentic participatory and deliberative democratic engagement with citizens where they are in Sheffield. 

This is with a view to augmenting existing representative democracy structures and further unlocking the latent problem-solving capacity and expertise which lies within communities in Sheffield. The paper proposes a collaborative governance model called Citizen Hubs which has the flexibility to be led by citizens as well as to house a variety of participatory and/or deliberative methodologies of their choosing. The model seeks to recognise that different communities will want to engage in different areas of concern in different ways, and therefore a structure which can be inhabited and changed to suit different needs and interests is critical. 

The topics that Citizen Hubs engage with should be led by citizens at the neighbourhood and ward level, with support from resourced ambassador functions recruited from within communities. The Citizen Hubs themselves could be facilitated by independent voluntary, community or faith organisations who have trust in their communities, and who have undergone the necessary training to facilitate multiple methods of engagement in an open and inclusive way. It should be acknowledged at all points that different parts of Sheffield will require different assets and levels of investment and resources to support these emerging structures.

Currently each Local Area Committee is responsible for engaging with 80,000 people in Sheffield. This paper is premised on the assumption that truly authentic engagement with citizens via Local Area Committees is not possible at this population size. Furthermore at this size, we fail as a city to recognise and benefit from the latent skills and expertise within communities. This paper therefore proposes how a layer of processes and engagement could sit beneath Local Area Committees, grounded in neighbourhoods or at ward level, to enable genuine and flexible engagement, information and input by, with and from people who live in the city. In the final section of this paper we also suggest that an investment in collaborative governance at neighbourhood or even ward level would create the conditions for improved responses to racial equity, community cohesion, health inequalities and consequently wellbeing outcomes. Over time these outcomes would diminish the cost of services and improve the city’s problem-solving capabilities and resilience.

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Photo credit: Rachel Rae

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