Friday, 6 January 2017

98. The Citizens Chest (and Community SOUP)

[I said when I started this blog that I would share 101 ideas.  I'm now getting near the end so I'm having a final push.  I found this in my drafts and thought it was worth sharing - so here it is.]

Turns out that the Community Chest on the Monopoly board relates to an actual thing.  An actual thing that has been around for a while in the United States where community chest means a general home for charitable donations that are then allocated to worthy community causes.  I suppose the nearest thing we have to this in the UK is something like the Big Lottery Fund.

I think the idea is an interesting one as it sits somewhere between taxation, where government makes decisions about what you give and how it is spent, and philanthropy, where it is the individual that makes those decisions.

Hence you could either think of a community chest as voluntary taxation or civic philanthropy (I prefer the former as a concept).

One way I would like to see the idea developed is to add the dimension of participatory budgeting.  At the moment (as far as I can tell) community chest funds are allocated to good causes by a board or committee. Imagine if the funds were allocated by a participatory process involving all citizens instead.  There are participatory budgeting schemes that use a 'community chest' approach but, as I understand it, the money for these schemes comes as a lump sum from a local council or parish and not from individual citizen donations.

The idea of the Citizens' Chest then is a linking together of the idea of community chest and community based particpatory budgeting schemes.  Not only would this be a great way to expand participatory democracy, engaging people in debates over what should be funded and why, but it would also be a much more democratic way of allocating funds. 

I wonder whether giving people the right to participate in the allocation might also nudge people to donate.  As I've blogged before, people might be more comfortable about contributing if they have a better idea about how the money is being used.

Update:  John Popham has pointed to a rather brilliant scheme that captures the community chest idea in a nutshell - 'Huddersfield Soup' is an evening where you pay to get in, get fed soup, hear pitches from local projects and help to decide who gets the door money.

Here is the video:

Update 2: Turns out that SOUP is an international thing.  See this news piece for example.  Thanks to @helencammack for pointing out on twitter also making the point that there is room to do this on a larger scale, in other words, scope to scale up the soup.  Here is the Guildford SOUP website also via Helen.

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