Topic: Facilitating voice and supporting choices in rural areas
Citizen participation in the design and delivery of services is increasingly framed within a narrative based on concepts such as co-production. Such concepts go beyond constructs of “partnership” to embrace what the New Economics Foundation has defined as the delivery of,” public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours”. Geographical constraints, lack of infrastructure and low critical mass create barriers for all rural residents but for people with a disability or long-term health condition these barriers can be exacerbated. These people rarely have a voice nor influence over how embodied practices can be changed to fit citizen needs.
The University of Wales Trinity Saint David led an evaluation of a portfolio of initiatives called Co-Creating Healthy Change aimed at providing voice to marginalised people across both urban and rural spaces. The research reflected on the barriers to engagement, the challenges of finding voice and the reality of choices for people with diverse life experiences within a rural space including those with learning disabilities, mental health conditions and age-related health issues. How rural people from these target groups are engaged in co-producing services is particularly pertinent.
This paper uses the findings of the South Wales research alongside data from other work with rural and marginalised groups across Rural Wales (and more widely with evidence from trans-European project work on rural vibrancy and community engagement) to draw observations on the strengths and shortcomings of practice and the policy implications. The value of providing a platform for the voices of people with lived experience to influence service delivery is central to the learning derived from the evaluations.
The Welsh Government has committed to putting sustainability at the centre of policy. The Well-being of Future Generations (2015) Act places a duty on public bodies to ensure the well-being of citizens. Involvement is one of the five key ways of working within the legislation.
Civil society organisations provide essential support structures which go beyond contracted services funded from the public purse. These organisations have the potential to underpin embodied transformations in rural space. In Wales, as elsewhere in the UK, the move away from the core funding of community organisations to a focus on the procurement of services with specified outputs has resulted in a contraction in the ability to undertake developmental work. This poses a threat to the capacity to enact embodied transformations.