People Power

Discovering the power of participation.

This project, which runs from September 2016 to late 2018, is a second phase of the People’s Conversation project (2014 – 2016). Both are programmes of work undertaken in partnership with, and with funding from, the Carnegie (UK) Trust.

The purpose of the project is to develop further thinking and practical solutions to the ‘five grand challenges’ facing Ireland in terms of maximising the active participation of its people.

Formulated during the first phase of the People’s Conversation project, these ‘five grand challenges’ are:

  1. Increasing participation in public decision-making
  2. Developing and nurturing active citizenship
  3. Building trust and respect
  4. Making citizenship global
  5. Resourcing and empowering citizens

The objective of the ‘Enabling Citizens’ project is to raise awareness of the challenges identified and what is required to address them. It was recognised that moving from dialogue to action is arduous and taxing. Accordingly, to aid with this process and to keep attention focused on responding to these challenges, we have worked with the partners from the Peoples Conversation to produce three new research reports to inspire and inform collective responses to the challenges.

Published in May 2018, these reports look at different aspects of the participation challenge:

  1. Powering Civil Society - examines the role of the community and voluntary sector as a vehicle for active citizenship.
  2. Money Matters: examines the economic barriers to active citizenship and how to over-come them.
  3. A Two-Way Street - explores the ‘missing piece’ in the citizen-participation narrative, namely the role of the public servant.

You can read the above reports, in addition to a summary of the three documents, here.

This project offers these reports as perspectives on the changes needed if we are to transform our society to ensure that all people can participate to their full capability. They are intended as catalysts for change, to be discussed and reacted to, not as documents that hold all the answers. The Wheel is working with policy-makers and communities, and with our partners, in attempting to bring this necessary change about. Our goal is ensuring that all people have the means to participate, and are afforded opportunities to participate, in our democracy to proactively shape our collective futures for the common good.

From 2015 – 2016, in partnership with The Carnegie UK Trust, The Wheel embarked on The People’s Conversation, an initiative to support and encourage people to participate in shaping our collective future through action-oriented dialogue. The context for this exploration was the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

After 100 years of fundamental societal change, it was clear, upon reflection, that people now have radically different expectations of the respective roles of the state, communities and citizens (understood as people and not a legal status term). The project set out to explore questions such as: What does it mean to be a citizen of this republic? What do citizens expect of the State and what is expected of Citizens? How can citizens and communities play a greater role in shaping their future? Visit project website here.

In the course of the 12-month active-phase of the project, 15 different civil society organisations convened over 30 different series of group conversations. Meetings took place in community centres, in the offices of national voluntary organisations, in hotels, arts centres and in prisons. The open questions posed prompted deep and challenging discussions, allowing participants to take a step back from day-to-day issues to instead focus on the long-term challenges facing Irish society. People spoke passionately and listened respectfully. Each conversation was different but over the course of the year a number of common themes began to emerge.

The project ultimately culminated in a report called Citizens Rising, which examined these common themes and which posed five grand challenges. If we are to be a country that is truly shaped by its people, the report argues that these challenges need to be addressed by both policymakers and the wider public.

Upon being presented with the report in 2015, and following his engagement in a discussion surrounding its findings, President Michael D Higgins said of the project: “The Peoples Conversation has developed into a dynamic dialogue, engaging the imagination and energy of citizens from across Ireland; people who have come together to envision a new version of citizenship, and to explore a new set of principles by which we might live ethically as a society”

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