Community empowerment: identifying the barriers to 'purposeful citizen participation'

David Adamson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine Communities First, an area-based regeneration policy in Wales to explore the barriers to community empowerment. Three related research projects provide data to inform the discussion of community empowerment and to consider the implications of delivery of the policy for theorising the relationship between the citizen and the state as mediated through regeneration partnerships. Design/methodology/approach - Data from three related research projects are discussed. These are an evaluation of local delivery of the Communities First programme, the delivery of technical support to participating communities and a Joseph Rowntree-funded case study of nine regeneration partnerships. All projects are concerned with exploring the experience of community members within regeneration partnerships. Findings - The findings identify major barriers to the achievement of community empowerment including issues of community capacity, institutional capacity, organisational cultures and regulatory frameworks. The findings identify mechanisms for improving community participation and empowerment. The findings are also used to identify community actor agency within regeneration partnerships and to argue against an analysis of regeneration initiatives as a mechanism of social control and incorporation of community activism into a state led agenda. Research limitations/implications - The paper explores one specific policy within a UK devolved region and is not able to comment extensively on similar policy programmes in other areas of the UK. However, it uses this specific experience to comment on generic issues in the community empowerment field and to elaborate theory on the relationship between the citizen and the state. Practical implications - The paper offers practitioners and policy makers insight into the community experience of participation in regeneration partnerships and proposes methods and policy refinements which can improve empowerment outcomes and assist community participation to achieve higher levels of influence over statutory partners. Originality/value - While the paper identifies barriers to empowerment that are recognised in the wider literature, it demonstrates that such barriers can prevail even within a highly participative policy framework such as Communities First. The paper also provides evidence of a clear sense of agency on the part of community members of regeneration partnerships and counters models which suggest regeneration partnerships are simple mechanisms of social control which diffuse community activism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)114 - 126
    Number of pages12
    JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
    Issue number3and4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


    • citizen participation
    • community development
    • partnership
    • poverty
    • regeneration


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