Looking back over ten years of projects, Anthony discusses an early project out and about in rural Sussex.

Although it’s fair to say Captain Sussex never made it to the level of fame achieved by Captain America, he was quite often found in rural Lewes district during 2013.

One of our bigger early projects was working with Lewes District Council to help them use citizen engagement to increase their recycling rate. The Zero Heroes campaign – fronted by the cartoon Captain Sussex – encouraged people living in the towns and villages of the district to recycle more, and earn money for a participatory budgeting fund for their community.

The idea was that encouraging people to do things for a community benefit would get the word-of-mouth conversations going, which would be more effective than a simple poster campaign. Then at the end, a participatory budgeting process in each community would work out how to spend it.

Ali Stoddart at the East Chiltington Bicycle Joust.

The main part of the project took place over the summer, so we had lots of village fairs and other events to attend and promote our work. As you can see from the picture above, our former colleague Ali Stoddart even got into repairman mode and helped out a contestant in the bicycle jousting at East Chiltington.

We learned a lot. The first was how the community that people feel they are part of is not always the obvious community. We had villages where residents at opposite ends didn’t feel like they were in the same community. We had villages in the same ward (electoral area) that had long-standing rivalries going back centuries and didn’t want to share a single participatory budgeting pot. We also had a problem in collecting data – the only data available were on ward boundaries (quite big in rural areas) or from trucks (which took the most efficient route and often picked up garbage in multiple different communities).

However, the idea of motivating people with a community contribution certainly created attention. We had 140 ideas suggested across the district, with 900 residents participating online and 650 votes cast at twelve public meetings. It was a relatively small scale programme, but certainly had more participation than you would generally get for a recycling campaign.

It also is a reference that we keep on coming back to – not just for the bicycle jousting. As participatory processes become more common, these sorts of connected processes will become the default. In this case, it was a simple competition tied to a participatory budgeting exercise, but on issues such as housing retrofitting, and behavioural issues around climate change, we are currently developing a much wider range of connected ideas, that contribute to building democratic infrastructure for the long term. Who needs Captain America when you have Captain Sussex?

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.