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Public Entrepreneurship in the UK

How does public entrepreneurship work? In this article, we describe several UK case studies in a new report by Simon Kaye of New Local.
© King’s College London, New Local

What is public entrepreneurship?

Public entrepreneurship is the process through which individuals devise solutions to collective action dilemmas in their communities. Public entrepreneurs come from all walks of life and sectors of society.

Guerilla gardening and the ‘incredible edible’ movement are just a few examples of how citizens transform their communities by becoming public entrepreneurs.

Think Big, Act Small

Our colleague Dr Simon Kaye documents several other examples in his report for the New Local, ‘Think Big, Act Small: Elinor Ostrom’s Radical Vision for Community Power.’

You can find a link to the full report by scrolling down, but we’ll consider a few of the important case studies in this article.

The Brockham Emergency Response Team (BERT)

In 2013, a group of public entrepreneurs discovered a solution to a classic collective action problem in a small rural village in Surrey. When the village was overcome with flooding, residents were evacuated by the Brockham Emergency Response Team (BERT), an autonomous group of citizens who stepped in to respond to the crisis.

Realising that residents of the village lacked the skills and incentives to manage the local system of waterways, BERT volunteers devised their own governance structure to spread responsibility for maintaining the system across the community.

Doing so relieved the pressure on the local authorities and mitigated future flood risk in ways individual residents couldn’t have accomplished in isolation.

An award-winning organisation

BERT became an award-winning charitable organisation and expanded its community response to caring for elderly residents, assisting during power outages, managing community supplies and organising local services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

These knock-on effects of public entrepreneurship demonstrate how mobilising relationships to solve a single collective action problem helps the community generate social capital to solve numerous others.

Bramley Baths

Similar forms of public entrepreneurship can arise through the creation of community businesses. Consider the case of the historic Bramley Baths in Leeds, which were converted into a community business when the Leeds City Council announced its plans to close them.

Residents designed a shared governance structure for the Baths and rehabilitated the facility into a multiservice community centre featuring gardens, gyms, training facilities, and special events spaces. The new Baths were immensely popular with local residents.

Public entrepreneurs behind the project proved to the Council that they could turn a surplus rather than abandon the shared asset for resale to private developers.

The mechanisms of self-governance

What does this example teach us about the mechanisms of self-governance? While the Council provided broad oversight over public service provision in Leeds, local residents supplemented its work by rallying their neighbourhood to reorganise a public resource to the community’s benefit.

Being embedded in the dilemma of managing a common space gave them a sense of ownership of the problem and the initiative to solve it creatively. Their successful intervention demonstrates that governance is not solely the responsibility of the government, nor are governments always best placed to spot the right solutions to dilemmas faced by citizens in their jurisdictions.

By granting citizens the autonomy to solve collective action problems that closely affected them, local authorities helped citizens become co-producers of their own governance structures.

© King’s College London, New Local
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The Ideal of Self-Governance: Public Policy Beyond Markets and States

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