A couple of weeks back, I attended an Active Citizen function in Sligo. According to the website, Active Citizenship seeks
“to advise the Government on the steps that can be taken to ensure that the wealth of civic spirit and active participation already present in Ireland continues to grow and develop.”
My attendance was underpinned by equal measures of cynicism (close
to an election, perception of a large scale “focus” group, etc, etc)
but also genuine interest. We all know the story – the Celtic Tiger has
eroded any spare time and spare energy that we may have in being
involved in our communities.
This is of course a little simplistic, but in terms of opening the
discussion it is one which we can all identify. Cultural & ethnic
diversity, tapping into the wisdom of senior citizens and engaging with
the younger generation are also key principles.
So the event itself – I would say well over 130 people. Early on it
was pretty clear that I was in the minority; Whereas I attended because
of a maybe temporary interest in such matters, my table of 10 was
widely representative of local community groups and voluntary
organisations. The passion, determination and drive of these people was
The Q&A session hit on a number of common themes which these
groups appear to encounter on a regular basis – but often in isolation
of knowing how others have dealt with or deflected. A lot of nodding
heads then to issues with Limited Companies formed for projects,
Insurance & liability, interaction with Government bodies; and of
course form filling.
I gave my own tuppenceworth of observations – with the clear
understanding at the outset that I was maybe giving the perspective of
somebody that could be targeted to partake in community type activities.
Leaders vs. Followers
I’ll bet 90% of the people in that room fell into this category – These types of individuals will always be in the minority.
I get the impression that with a lot of
activities at a local level, a lot of people don’t actually know what
is happening and who is involved. If the medium being used is mainly
local radio and newspapers, then straight away this cuts out a huge
number of the commute to work population.
Skills vs. Time
one makes total sense. The amount you give should not be measured in
time but in skills. If the starting point is that a lot of people would
contribute conditionally, then it is not too much of a leap to grab an
hour here or an hour there with people that can offer legal,
accountacy, technology, marketing, secretarial and media skills.
This comes back to communication, and
the traditional mechanisms that have been used up to now. We’ve
progressed a lot of the past decade with regard to recognising how this
is done and why. Even the smallest community based project should tap
into these techniques.
I’d be interested in comments from others who have attended these events around the country – what did you think?