From Engagement to Empowerment

Citizens as Co-creators of Community Services

New forms of community initiative are emerging as people take charge of social services once expected of government.
What are the opportunities arising in the increasing distance between community needs and what governments can provide? How might we design and organize to befriend this trend?

Governments as we know them are transforming, budgets and infrastructures are tapped out while citizens demand more than agencies can support. Social contracts are breaking down across North America as governments go broke, outsource and privatize. Citizens will need to organize to compensate and get their community needs met. 
How will we close the gap between what governments can provide and the social services that vibrant citizens and communities require? We can learn from the many small-scale community-led projects around the world where people are leading the way – to make, plant, harvest, heal, build, and teach collectively. At some point these collective actions become organized services that serve more needs across the community. 
What tools or infrastructure can governments provide to empower citizens to take leadership of the services they need? What role can citizens play in improving the services we use? What community-led initiatives are emerging in our dense urban enclaves? How might this practice unfold in Ontario or Toronto? 
About 27 people participated in the session, convened as a series of dialogues from an opening circle to small group idea design sessions. Thanks to Patricia Kambitsch of playthink again for the visual reflection, sketched live during the whole group dialogues.

Five sets of proposals were generated by the small groups, each with a sketch or scenario mapped to the following questions:
  1.     What personal or community need does this service address?
  2.     How might this service involve the community to deliver maximum value at minimum cost?
  3.     What, tools, resources or incentives would community members need to help them initiate and implement this service?
  4.     What support could government provide to kickstart or sustain this service?
The five concepts generated by the groups were cooperative service led by community participants:
  1. Community skill library exchange
  2. Senior citizen buddy system (a kind of circle of care concept)
  3. The community wiki garden (This one is actually happening now)
  4. Community time bank
  5. Incentives for community participation

Related News:

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Friends of Dufferin Grove Park
Transition Toronto
The Circle Movement
Yellow Springs Community Solutions
Ezio Manzini on Creative Communities


Peter Jones is a professor in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation MDes program at OCAD University and senior fellow of the Strategic Innovation Lab. Peter is founder of Redesign, a strategic innovation research company. Redesign conducts ethnographic and design research to guide innovations for professional practice, clinical and healthcare services, and information work. His research explores emerging social and service practices in publishing, science, and healthcare – his Rosenfeld Media book on healthcare service design, Design for Care is expected early 2013. Peter blogs at Design Dialogues and tweets @redesign.

Greg Judelman is a co-founder of Design with Dialogue and is a facilitator, designer and innovation consultant based in Toronto. Through his firm The Moment, he works with the conceptualization and facilitation of collaborative design workshops and innovation processes for organizational and community transformation. From 2006-2011 he was a senior designer at the globally recognized Bruce Mau Design, where he led creative teams on identity, web, experience and strategy projects for clients ranging from not-for-profits to universities to public associations to multinational corporations.