This has been quite a week for us. We’ve been pretty much overwhelmed by the response to Jon’s Radio 4 Four Thought on Wednesday evening.

Out of the response, we’ve noticed two things in particular.

First, pretty much no one disagrees. We’ve had next to no trolling or angry stone-throwing, and we know that a hugely diverse range of people, many of whom have very strong opinions, have heard it. Which is great. But…

Second, it comes across (as one person succinctly put it on twitter) as “a bit of a downer.”

And that’s a real shame, because to our minds, this isn’t a bit of a downer. This is perhaps the greatest creative opportunity in history. When you think of people as Citizens, you see us as potential participants in shaping the context of our lives, people who can and will act and respond and express our multiple agency in fascinating and unpredictable ways – not just one-dimensional buying machines. And that’s a hell of a platform for idea generation.


We’ve got loads of ideas and projects of our own, and we’re working on how to share those and involve people in building them (we want to practise what we preach after all!).

But while we figure that out, we want to seize the moment and get a new conversation started.

This conversation is about spotting, celebrating and debating where the shift from Consumer to Citizen is happening already. Because it is. When you look, there are examples everywhere: from the famous ideas that we quote all the time (like Wikipedia, Loomio, or Tim Berners-Lee’s Web We Want campaign); to big corporations reinventing their business models and authentically serving communities (like B&Q with their StreetClub initiative, or Ovo’s Communities scheme); to NGOs and community initiatives that are moving from mobilising to organising (like Incredible Edible, and our amazing friends at GoodForNothing and ShareAction); and many more besides.

We call this #CitizenShift, and we’d love you to get involved. Leave a comment on this post, use #CitizenShift on twitter, or if you want to get involved in debating the finer points, join in the conversation on our New Citizens LinkedIn group.

What are we looking for? Anything and everything that YOU think embodies the shift from Consumer to Citizen that Jon talked about. Big or small. Public, private, third sector. UK or international. Theory or practice. Your pet project or something you saw on the news. There’s only one rule: let’s not be dogmatic. Let’s get the examples up there. If we disagree with each other, we can have the conversation. That’s what participation is, right?!

10 thoughts on “#CitizenShift: The Greatest Creative Opportunity in History

  1. Mary O’Hara writes in her book Austerity Bites: “In Northumberland there was the small charity that set up its own chocolate factory in the back of its premises, and established it as a social enterprise employing local people who were long-term unemployed in a high unemployment area. In Croxteth there was the community education initiative, Communiversity, which helped adults improve their skills; and in Rhondda there was the online bookselling scheme that sold rare books on the internet while training workers.”

  2. I’m the Governance Manager at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, the UK’s first ever co-owned employee and tenant mutual housing society with over 13,700 homes. We only mutualised in June 2013 and our goal is to put our members at the centre of decision making. I’m passionate about citizenship and strong communities which is why I am so excited about the path we have chosen. We have our mutual constitution and governance framework in place and we have buy in from our employees and tenants…. the challenge we are now working through is two fold: 1) Generating self-realisation amongst our members so that they realise their right and responsibility to democratic self-determination 2) Developing and maturing the practical processes necessary to allow much larger numbers to be part of meaningful decision making.

    Being a mutual or co-operative in UK is basically a mini-democracy within a much greater one – it’s really fun as you can aim for all sorts of democratic ideals which would take generations for our national democracy to reach….I don’t know what the future holds for RBH, but I am going to really enjoy, along with my fellow members, trying to make it as bright as possible.

    • Love this example, thank you! The freehold of my flat is owned by a housing association, would be amazing if they could start to work in this way.

  3. I write in particular relation to your excellent, easy-to-read BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29786733 

    I’m suitably impressed by the ‘Consumer/Citizen Reaction Study’ experiment, and the result.

    And I note the paragraph that follows immediately after: “That pattern has been seen elsewhere, and the only possible explanation for the difference is the unconscious effect of merely being exposed to the language of the Consumer as a prime, a kind of mental framing of the task at hand.”

    You then go on to write: “Language is the scaffolding on which we build our thoughts, attitudes, values and behaviours. And as we do so, we would do well to recognise that the Consumer is a deeply dangerous place to start.”

    I believe in the importance of both your basic analysis and your wider aim. But what goes for a word like ‘consumer’ (with or without a capital initial letter) goes for no shortage of other words and clichés.

    Take the word ‘behaviour’, for example. In the second passage of yours (above), you write of ‘behaviours’. But you didn’t grow up using the word ‘behaviour’ as a countable noun; that’s something you’ve picked up relatively recently. (It’s an expression of an incoherent, value- and quality-free scientistic ‘idea’: the ‘idea’ that everything in the world is countable or measurable.) And yet, even so, you mostly _do not_ use the word ‘behaviour’ in that way.

    Perhaps you’re a father. So suppose the teacher says your son has been very naughty at school today. And that evening, you tell him you’d like to speak with him about his behaviour. He replies immediately: “Which one?” If he isn’t just being sarcastic, then you’ve got a serious problem of communication to deal with there. (I’d say it indicates a quasi-medical problem.)

    Starting with the word ‘consumer’ is fine – it’s as good a place to start as any, and perhaps better than most. (Okay, I think it’s a great way to start; for you’ve certainly prompted this particular response.) But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander _and_ for all the countless little goslings too.

    The problem you identify has to be pulled up by the roots. And that’s tough. For it requires our beginning to think about these things in a new way. (The change is as decisive as, for example, that from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican way of thinking.)

    Moreover, there’s also a mighty human paradox to resolve: sc. that of how, exactly, the world has come to this pass. And it is a _global_ problem, of course, which will only get bigger (much bigger) if left unaddressed and unresolved.

    In effect, you’ve identified an instance of the paradoxical human capacity to be bewitched by means of language. (Small children do not have this capacity, but they soon learn.) And it’s not a five-minute job, establishing a new way of thinking and elaborating a new form of expression. (As well as being the source of the problem, the means of language is also _the remedy_; and there’s a certain quasi-poetical technique which aids its administration – see below.) But it’s very much easier – and far more realistic – than trying to do the work piecemeal, one word at a time.

    And at least we’ve got the right global language to be working with here. (Our words are like living, speaking fossils; and English is an immensely rich and varied source.) Indeed, right here in this paragraph, there are several – sc. three or four – suitably adroit verbal clues as to the potential for the resolution of the human paradox referred to above. (This quasi-poetical technique’s expression even rhymes, sometimes!) And I wonder if you can put your finger on them. (This requires a little insight, but no great mental dexterity.)

  4. This may sound like a trivial example but this weekend there has been a bit of discussion about the behaviour of the Chelsea FC crowd at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho, the manager, accused the crowd of being too quiet and not creating a good atmosphere. The response of supporters was to say that the club could go some way to creating a better atmosphere by lowering prices because it was disenfranchising fans who had previously been part of a community. Because the club is now treating the supporters as consumers of football rather than people who are looking for a shared experience from a sporting event, they are in danger of alienating them. And the mood of the crowd is changing because they don’t want to watch the match as if they are alone in their living room, they want to be part of something bigger, something collective, and they want to share it with a collection of fellow fanatics who are chosen because they rally around a common cause and not just because they can afford a ticket.

    • I don’t think this is trivial at all John – football fans as Citizen participants in the club rather than Consumers is a really major example of this work, and one we hadn’t really thought of. But this casts a really interesting light on clubs like AFC Wimbledon, FC United, Ebbsfleet United, and so on – and on the plight of my club, Stockport County. Thank you!

  5. The rise of the social media site Ello is a pretty good example of the #CitizenShift (or Netizen Shift I suppose). It is set up as a Social Enterprise Company meaning that it’s mission is for the community as a whole rather than just the company.

    Specifically Ello has promised to never share or sell users data and never to use advertising on its site to generate profit. This is a pretty huge shift from Facebook et al who use their users as their product and sell them to others.

    It is still in Beta at the moment so it is not very open to new users but with it’s unique focus on people as citizens rather than consumers (or products which is perhaps even worse) it will hopefully have some success.

  6. Pingback: A Laggard of Innovation? | TechnicalNature

  7. Pingback: Are you a consumer or a citizen? | Project Conscience

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s