The Community Paradigm: Why public services need radical change and how it can be achieved

March 4, 2021   By

The Community Paradigm sets out the case for a fundamental shift in how public services work – to share power with people rather than hoard it.

The approach guides our work as a think tank and network, and is building a movement of practitioners and policymakers who see this shift as increasingly urgent.

In March 2021 we added an updated preface to the report, to reflect the dramatic change in our national circumstances and outlook post-Covid. This new version includes guidance for public servants hoping to harness its potential in their own work.

Listen to the podcast

Adam Lent and Jessica Studdert reflect on The Community Paradigm – the problems that it seeks to solve, and the way we see it in action. We hear from Mark Pepper, a community leader in Bristol at the forefront of regenerating his neighbourhood.

Watch the animation

What is the Community Paradigm?

In The Community Paradigm, New Local sets out the case for a fundamental shift in how public services work. The report made an urgent case for a wholesale response to the twin trends of rising demand on public services and people’s unmet appetite for more influence over their lives. It argues that more power and resources should be given to communities rather than be held by central government or public services.

Currently public services are held back by two paradigms which became dominant when the challenges and opportunities for these services were very different to those that exist today:

The state paradigm, which came about in the 1940s, instils hierarchy, creates professionally dominated siloes and treats people as largely passive service users.

The market paradigm, which came into being from the 1980s onwards, injects a focus on efficiency and cost, reducing interactions to transactions and viewing the individual as a customer.

Why is it needed?

The Community Paradigm is not a “nice to have” – it is a fundamental challenge for the way our society works.

  • Public services today face a threat of rising demand. They are struggling to cope with a rapidly aging population, combined with reducing resources.
  • Faith in democratic legitimacy and central Government is declining.
  • People expect to exercise more control over their day-to-day lives – and can do so using technology.

We believe people and communities themselves have the best insight into their own situation, and public services need to work with and recognise this if they are to be fit for purpose and sustainable into the future.

What change will it bring?

There are many places in the UK and across the world where community power is beginning to flourish. Here, people are taking matters into their own hands – often working in partnership with public services and local government to build better services and places to live.

A full paradigm shift will create a fairer society for everyone, where people have a say over the decisions that affect their lives. By empowering communities to support each other and come up with long-term solutions, we can shift our public service system away from crisis reaction to problems and towards prevention and early intervention. This is essential if public services are to be sustainable in the future.

What’s next & further reading

Local government are key partners in making this vision a reality. Many are already making a huge impact by collaborating with community members to create healthier, happier places to live. Through our network, we work with more and more councils to do the same by sharing insights and good practice.

Meanwhile, our research team are working on projects to build the case for community power, and to help people and organisations to cultivate it. This includes:

March 4, 2021
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