'Politics aside, we can co-create the country we want'

As the nation heads to the polls for the 2017 general election, Iris Schönherr of the New Citizenship Project asks: could we co-create the country we would like to see? How can we all participate in a world we want to live in?

I’m thinking back to Wednesday 29 March and Theresa May has officially triggered the process of leaving the European Union. I, meanwhile, am sat with a group of people sharing citizenship examples in politics from around the world – examples from places that have been shifting from a representative to a participatory democracy. Despite everything, hearing about these shifts leaves me feeling energised and hopeful.

More than three years ago I joined a start-up company called the New Citizenship Project. Our purpose is to help catalyse what we call the CitizenShift – the shift from consumers of society, to citizens in society so that we may all participate in a world that we want to live in.

We focus on organisations and sectors and help them think about, and involve, people as citizens who can participate in an organisation’s purpose: rather than thinking of people as consumers and asking what they can sell. I’m aware of the fact, and appreciate, that I have a job I love and in which I believe in – most days I feel excited and hopeful.

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Lately though, all too often, I feel sucked in by the global political headlines that dominate the front pages. I feel disconnected to politics and sometimes, due solely to this disconnection, I don’t want to engage. But I’ve learned that this isn’t good enough – I need to get involved because politics is fundamentally about the way we want to live together.

Just after the EU referendum I felt lonely, sad and powerless – like many of my British friends. It took a lot of talking, reflecting and dancing (that’s me exercising!) to find my way back from a place best described as ‘I don’t know anymore where I belong’, to me feeling that I have agency again  – I can shape this world and my actions can have an impact.

I expected that 29 March, the day the UK triggered Article 50, would throw me back into another identity/agency crisis but instead I won a sense of clarity, and that clarity gives me a purpose.

Things aren’t decided yet and the next two years will be crucial – that’s why I’m choosing to get involved so that I can co-create the place that I want to live in.

Let’s share, support and contribute to good ideas. And let’s make them happen

So I’m wondering, regardless of what one voted, could we start a public conversation and idea generation on what we want this country to be? Can we re-imagine who we are? We should have asked this a long time ago but there’s nothing holding us back from asking this now and by that we can co-create the place we want to live in.

This is happening in many places – in the Spanish town Jun in which citizens are talking about how to make the town better via Twitter, or in Mexico City where citizens are crowdsourcing their constitution via, or in Canada where citizens use #3ThingsforCanada to commit to three actions that make their city or country better.

Yes, it would be great if we had a platform with a designed process that involves everyone in a meaningful way (like Better Reykjavik or OpenIdeo) but we don’t need to wait for someone to build this for us. We all have agency and power as individuals to do this ourselves – we can, and should be inviting these conversations into our personal and professional lives, because only then can we begin to co-create, together.

Let’s start with what we appreciate (about the place we live in or anything else) and envision what we want more of or what we would like to see, and then let’s start plotting how to get there – and do it.

Let’s start with what’s great. Let’s listen to and respect each other. Let’s share, support and contribute to good ideas. And let’s make them happen.

We can do this, we just need the courage to start the conversation with an open heart, mind and will

After all, our individual agency isn’t limited to watching what will happen or choosing between options – we can create and shape the future we want to have. We can do this, we just need the courage to start the conversation with an open heart, mind and will.

That’s at least what I will do – I’m choosing to recommit to use my head, heart and hands to make the UK, the country I want to live in, a better place. I hope this has given you the courage to do the same.

Iris Schönherr is programme manager for the New Citizenship Project

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