As Future Cities Catapult launch the definitive guide to civic crowdfunding for local authorities, Dr Catherine Howe, Director at Capita, shares her thoughts on the opportunity for civic crowdfunding to change the way citizens engage.
Civic crowdfunding is emerging as a powerful tool in the hands of communities. With the involvement of the council, it has the potential to revolutionise local democracy. This much-needed report comes at a crucial time—not just because of the ongoing search for ways to ease pressure on council budgets but because the yearning to ‘take back control’ requires constructive, inclusive answers.
There are now 45 councils across the UK using civic crowdfunding and yet very little work has been done to understand what it can really offer to our local communities as we try to make sense of an increasingly complex and austere world. To consider crowdfunding as simply another fundraising tool is to ignore its huge potential
for citizen participation and practical democracy.
What if citizens could be given real power to shape the places where they live in an immediate and practical way?
New technology offers us the opportunity to rewrite the rules of civic place-making by breaking open the world of planning, local government and community grant-making and replacing it with something much more responsive to the needs and aspirations of local people.
Active participation by local government in this process has the potential to put citizens in the driving seat of local change. It could reinvigorate and revitalise local democracy by offering the kind of immediate, social and viral experience, which is so much a part of the 21st-century citizen’s life.
I am passionate about the power of technology to rewrite the rules of civic engagement but equally passionate about the need to link these new tools to our democratic process.
Our democracy is struggling to keep pace with the changes in our society but the immediate and relevant relationship that local government has with its citizens puts it in a unique position to pioneer new methods of participation.
As is clearly demonstrated in this report, the growth of crowdfunding in the UK is now well established. It has democratised access to business finance and provided a springboard for entrepreneurs and creative people. What remains to be seen is how effectively local government will embrace it as a tool to reshape and re-energise democratic engagement itself.
I hope that this report helps to shed some light on the challenges and opportunities of this new world.