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What’s the role for dialogue in localism?

In recent years, the localism and Big Society agendas have emphasised the role for citizens to get more involved in delivering local services and having their say in local decisions. A number of examples suggest that building constructive dialogue between citizens and officials is helping to lay the groundwork for localism to succeed.

In Surrey, for example, the council is starting to use dialogue as a way of overcoming entrenched social problems in deprived communities. Rather than coming up with a solution itself, the council is using the principles of co-production, working with the residents to find out what their skills are and what they can contribute to the area. However, to do this, council staff realised that the communication they have with local residents needs to change. Therefore, they’ve held conversations in local public spaces to begin this process, using a number of ground rules to ensure that conversation is constructive and respectful.

In Luton, the council wanted to work with a diverse range of citizens to set priorities for the borough. Its project, ‘Your Say, Your Way’, involved a number of different informal dialogue exercises including neighbourhood mapping at local community festivals. Importantly, the results are being clearly fed back to participants so that they are able to see the influence they are having.

Although the context of local neighbourhood planning or service delivery might seem to have little in common with decision-making in policy involving science and technology, the principles of good dialogue remain the same. If citizens are going to be involved, there must be honesty and openness about the influence they can have and they must be given the information they need and the space to deliberate. There’s more information in the Sciencewise guiding principles.