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8 - The 45° Change model for remaking power relations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

Introduction

Why, despite the rhetoric and long-term investment, have strategies directed at communities often failed to turn them around in the ways hoped for, and why have they failed to ‘empower communities’? We argue that this is because of three fundamental errors of approach. First, a tendency to view community empowerment as having a utilitarian and managerialist purpose, rather than as an essential political and human right. Thus community engagement tends to only be valued for creating more effective and efficient services. Second, the failure to realise that the way in which local government and public services are structured has effectively prevented the state (nationally and locally) and communities from working together to transform communities. Third, the tendency to oversimplify our understanding of how radical change in communities can be achieved, through unhelpful slogans such as ‘top down doesn't work, only a bottom-up approach can work’.

If past governments had come to grips with these issues of empowering communities structurally and politically, they could have played a significant role not only in supporting community-based transformation, but also in addressing the long-developing crises of confidence in our political and democratic systems that many communities have (see Figure 8.1).

The development of the ‘45° Change’ model (Lawson, 2019) and the follow-up pamphlet ‘Participation at 45°’ (Miller et al, 2020) confront these issues and argue that a key reason for the failure of ‘top-down’ government programmes and the weakness of the ‘bottom-up’ change model is because transformative change requires both. We need to bring together the vertical power of government with the horizontal power of civil society to create a deeper democracy based on shared and distributed forms of power (Lawson, 2019).

Crises in democracy: voting, alienation and taking back control

‘Take back control’ caught the mood like no other slogan in my lifetime. For too long, people felt decision-making to be remote and unaccountable, imposing change that is unwelcome, stripping them of meaningful choices and denying them urgency over their lives and communities. (Lisa Nandy MP, quoted in Lawson, 2019, p 4)

Government motivation for focusing on communities is usually based on concern with apparently intractable issues of poverty and deprivation but also, particularly during the Labour period (1997– 2010), an underlying concern with the ‘growing sense of citizens feeling inadequately empowered to influence local decisions and conditions’ (DCLG, 2008, p 6).

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 127 - 146
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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