The civic support paradox: Fighting unequal participation in deprived neighbourhoods

Article of Evelien Tonkens and Imrat Verhoeven from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands



In urban neighbourhoods, there is an enduring problem with inequality in participation. Middle-aged, higher educated, white men are often overrepresented. Research indicates that front-line workers can play an important role to reach and activate underrepresented groups, but there is little evidence on how they manage (or fail) to do so. In this article, we focus on front-line workers’ strategies to combat inequality in citizens’ initiatives in the deprived neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. To analyse these strategies, we construct the ACLR-framework. We find that front-line workers manage to activate a more diverse group of citizens by paying special attention to those who are not already active, by supporting citizens in developing and exercising civic skills, by connecting them with others, and by making sure that citizens experience the system as responsive. However, this professional support is often not recognised because of what we call the civic support paradox: the better that front-line workers do their work, the more invisible it is, and the more difficult it is to pinpoint the factors that make it effective.