South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) brings together the local authorities of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield and is led by the elected Mayor of South Yorkshire.
With powers and resources devolved from Westminster, SYMCA can take decisions regionally about the economy, transport, skills, housing and infrastructure. There is increased recognition that if they involve people in these decisions, it will lead to policies that meet people's needs, and their work will be more likely to receive community support.
SYMCA’s Policy Team has therefore set an ambition to adopt and embed participatory democracy as a way of working. We worked with SYMCA to assess how well they’re currently involving people in the decisions that affect them and identify areas for improvement.
To assess SYMCA’s current performance we worked with them to develop their own maturity assessment.
A maturity assessment is a development tool that outlines what good practice in participatory democracy looks like by using a set of standards and indicators, enabling us to assess SYMCA’s strengths and weaknesses and identify areas for improvement.
To develop the maturity assessment tool, we explored why SYMCA wants to adopt participatory democracy as a way of working, how they will need to work to achieve their goals, and the mindsets and behaviours needed to be successful.
We then conducted the maturity assessment with a small team from across SYMCA, including the Deputy Chief Executive, and senior leaders, managers and officers from Policy, External Affairs, Transport, Communications, and Economy and Skills. We analysed information from the SYMCA corporate strategy and other strategic documents, and held interviews with staff, to score each standard using the following scale:
- Established - good overall performance against the standard
- Aspiring - some good performance, but also some gaps
- Emerging - not there yet, but you’re able to identify areas for improvement
Through our assessment, we heard SYMCA officers at all levels speak passionately about the benefits of participatory democracy for achieving better outcomes for South Yorkshire, and a desire to adopt it more as a way of working in the future.
Together, we then identified the actions SYMCA could take to embed participatory democracy as a way of working, as well as the things that could prevent this.
Since our project finished, we are delighted that SYMCA has moved forward with many of the recommendations we suggested. They have now established a working group with officers from across the authority who are embedding participatory democracy within policy development and other activities.
South Yorkshire has recently elected a new mayor, who SYMCA will be working with to help shape a vision and strategy for participatory democracy in the future. Excitingly, the team is already identifying potential opportunities for using participatory democracy in its upcoming policy making processes.
SYMCA is also considering how to best empower their workforce to deliver participatory democracy effectively. They are considering how best to engage communities and to coordinate participatory democracy work and build capability across SYMCA.
"We really enjoyed working with TPXimpact. The work cemented participatory democracy within the organisation and has provided us with a leap in understanding and comprehension (from a standing start). Their assessment of the organisation highlighted several areas of development and we are making steps towards our wider ambition."
Head of Policy, South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority
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