Sharing power for meaningful and sustainable change 

Dr Juan Pablo Winter, Y-PERN Policy Fellow (Hull, East Yorkshire & the Humber), and team invited policymakers, academics and people with lived experience to reflect on their role and examine underlying assumptions. 

Place-based approaches to policymaking seem to be gaining momentum in the UK. Whether people think it is cost-effective or feel it is just the right thing to do, the fact is that, over the last few years, there has been an increased interest in understanding the interconnections and relationships within a place and how working together can have a broader, deeper, and lasting change for the community. Within this context, in Hull and East Yorkshire, we have invited policymakers, academics and people with lived experience to sit at the same table, reflect on their role and take action and responsibility for improving the quality of life of their communities. In so doing, we have three underlying assumptions. 

Assumption 1: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us”.

The University of Hull is participating in several collaborative programmes across our city and region which seek to contribute to these agendas. The programmes include Y-PERN, Y-PIP (Yorkshire & Humber Policy Innovation Partnership), and the Ideas Fund. All three initiatives provide a space for the communities to be heard, to identify what is out there, what is needed, where the gaps are, and get actively involved from the beginning of the process. Consequently, to generate a collective understanding of policy, practice and community priorities around different themes, the three programmes organised a workshop together on the 5th of July. The event brought together more than 40 stakeholders from the City Council, the business sector, civil society organisations, people with lived experience and academia. 

Assumption 2:  Academics, policymakers and people with lived experience must work on sharing knowledge and agreeing on common understandings.

Participants were asked to reflect on what is already known about community experiences, preferences and needs around inclusive growth, green economy, and innovation. Then they were asked to uncover what research is needed to support and inform community-led policy and practice in each theme. Finally, the participants had to reflect on what needs to change about how communities, researchers, and policymakers interact. Unsurprisingly, an important part of the discussion was about academics and policymakers’ language. People do not know (and most of the time do not care) what acronyms mean or what sustainability or a greener economy looks like. Most marginalised and underserved groups worry more about their daily needs than understanding academic jargon. Moreover, there appears to be a lack of trust in information and frustration on how issues such as greenwashing have made people not trust the idea of a greener economy (leading to inaction).   

Assumption 3: Engagement requires time to know what is out there, build trust and an extra effort to include “the unengaged majority”.

The participants highlighted that there is a vibrant community sector in the region. The question they posed was how to bring those networks together. Other challenges raised by the participants were how to engage everyone in a meaningful way, criticising that there are always the same people participating in different projects (that would participate anyways, with or without being invited). Hence, the challenge is to engage “the unengaged majority” and reflect on the nature of that engagement, communicating better, building trust, and understanding the different timeframes between what academics, policymakers, and communities might need.  

Overall, we aim to build on current initiatives to shift and share power through innovative ways of working. We believe there is a big opportunity for this in Hull and East Yorkshire, with increasing initiatives that look for engagement on an equitable level, including funding for place-based approaches to policymaking and community engagement. Workshops like the one we had can help us build new ways of working with the community to promote meaningful and sustainable change.