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Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society’, people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.
The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development. To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.
But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….
Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:
- Progress Schools
- Community Conversations
- Local Community Enterprise Accelerators (‘Elsies’)
- Innovation Labs and
- Results Factories
These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.
To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.
Top Down Development
Top down development is characterised by usually a small number of people recruited or elected to develop a ‘strategy’ that will lead to progress.
The ‘strategy’ is usually accompanied by a ‘plan’, where costed elements are prioritised and scheduled for delivery in the full expectation that things will, as a result, get better.
The strategy and its associated plans are usually supported with evidence and feasibility studies showing just why this is the right course of action and how benefits will accrue and to whom. In recent years it seems we have stopped worrying about ‘to whom the benefits will accrue’ and accepting that the trickle down fairy will ensure that any wealth and wellbeing created by the plan will be enjoyed by all.
Top down development is also characterised by:
- delegation down a chain of command to manage implementation – this is not always well managed
- fierce discussions about the correct allocation of scarce resources – this can divert us from real issues and burn millions
- disputes about chosen methodologies and the viability of alternatives – as everyone tries to get a piece of the planning budget
- piloting and subsequent rolling out of schemes and plans – a belief that what worked elsewhere can also work here, and there….
- attempts, with varying degrees of honesty and legitimacy, to encourage participation in the top down planning process – phrases like consultation, co-production and engagement are used liberally.
Bottom Up Development
Bottom Up Development is characterised by people using their power to develop their self interest. Remember self interest is not selfishness but means ‘self amongst others’. One of the important lessons from top down development is that often the best way to develop ones own self interest is to look after the self interests of others.
Sometimes bottom up development is also characterised by groups of people coming together when they have shared self interests. In bottom up development this coming together around common cause requires little engineering. It sometimes just happens. But it can be supported and encouraged. It is often discouraged.
Bottom up development is characterised by:
- Individuals working in their own self interests in the way that they see fit
- Individuals looking for the resources that they need to make progress
- Individuals pondering their options
- Individuals coming together around common causes – forming associations and organising in order to increase their power
Bottom Up AND Top Down
Both bottom up and top down processes of development are necessary in a modern society. Top down to plan and provide the infrastructure required and bottom up to allow individuals and groups to use it effectively. Nearly all development work is done in a top down way. It is my contention that we need to invest significantly in bottom up development and its relationship to top down, if we are to build communities full of active citizens. If we are to encourage civic enterprise.