How can we encourage people to give time to their communities?
Tris Dyson, Guardian Blog
Few would question that stronger civic society and more cohesive communities create less pressure on an increasingly threadbare public purse. But how can public services act as a catalyst to engage those people who have no record of involvement?
In Wales, Spice, a social enterprise I run, has developed agency time credits to transform civic engagement in public services and to rebuild active vibrant communities.
It works on a simple hour-for-hour formula. An individual earns a credit by giving an hour to their community – this credit can be spent accessing an hour of events, training or activities.
Time credits grew out of the timebanking concept, which is about people in communities trading time with each other in a "person to person" exchange: "I will fix Dave’s car", "Dave will babysit George’s kids" and "George will give Ann a lift to the station". This usually requires a broker that matches people’s skills and interests. In contrast, agency time credits is "person to agency" and is about co-production, so we credit time given by people to their community. It is also brokered by the host agency with existing staff who benefit directly from greater civic engagement, such as tenant housing officers, teachers and youth workers.
Agency time credits are being used by public and community agencies across South Wales to address antisocial behaviour, tackle social exclusion and build active communities. In all of these communities engagement has increased by more than 100%.
On the Bettws estate near Bridgend, more than 500 young people access time credits by partnering with staff to run the youth club and local community projects. Antisocial behaviour on the estate has dropped by 17%. They use their credits to go on trips or to community events, such as a "battle of the bands" organised by the youth group, or to use the community gym or boxing facilities.
In United Welsh’s homeless hostels in Cardiff, residents access credits by giving their time to mentor new residents, running activities such as the fruit and veg co-op, and by assisting staff to run projects.
By discovering how people might be able to contribute, they are valued as assets. This helps people move beyond the culture of dependency.
Geoff Mulgan, director of the Young Foundation, and a recent adviser to David Cameron, says time credits are "where self-interest and shared interest overlap", and "one of the best and most practical expressions of the ‘big society’."
Credits can be spent on activities by accessing spare capacity. So, for example, the school gym or IT suite is made available to community members with time credits.
In Cardiff, this has been developed across the city to include council leisure services, Cardiff Blues rugby matches, concerts at St David’s Hall and many others. These are accessed by students and parents for contributing in schools, and active residents in housing associations.
In one local authority, the council sponsored a programme of free trips for young people on free school meals. Places on these activities, such as go-karting and paintballing, are now to be earned by young people. But time credits are not just an incentive scheme. This is a radical new language.
Spice and the Young Foundation are now seeking to work with a local authority in England that is committed to partnering with citizens to rebuild the architecture of civic life.