It is sometimes suggested that engagement is a waste of time and money because citizens don’t care or are too busy to participate. In the UK, the country that is the worst offender against the working time directive, won’t increased engagement just attract the ‘usual suspects’? Let’s be realistic. We may never get a majority engaged but we can expand the minority that does. Even a few per cent would be extremely useful. Through history we’ve seen that small groups can make a massive difference.

The key is to tap into citizens’ motivations and provide different levels of engagement. Without a ‘shallow end’, the numbers of people actively engaged will never rise. Not everyone will want to run their local library or set up a community action forum. But three-quarters of people routinely say they would like to be more involved in their communities if the opportunity could be integrated within their busy lives.1  A 2012 Consumer Focus Report found there were “many people who said they would like to have more influence, but who are put off because it was not easy for them to find out about or take up opportunities. There is a clear opportunity to tap into the resources and energy of this particular group who may need some extra encouragement and support.”2

  • 1. Ipsos MORI, Do the public really want to join the government of Britain? (London: Ipsos MORI, 2010).
  • 2. Consumer Focus, Hands up and hands on – Understanding the new opportunities for localism (London: Consumer Focus, 2012).