Archive for 2012

Resource launch – Working in Inclusive Ways

It is 1st November and we are delighted to launch our new resource – a publicly available blog designed for anyone who is planning and delivering community engagement at any level and in any context.

Working In Inclusive Ways explores the current equalities context, contains information, references, and food for thought about how your own practice impacts on ‘communities’. It contains information and ideas about:

  • national and local context for equalities, exclusion and diversity
  • key issues relating to equality and diversity in practice
  • attitudes to fairness and how that impacts on practice

Please go and have a look, share with your colleagues and leave comments on the blog. We are really interested in your feedback and experiences – both on the content and the format. This is the first in a series of practical resources that we plan to release – the next one will be on Reflective Practice. It will be in a similar style so we can take your comments on board and make it as accessible as possible.

http://inclusiononthetin.wordpress.com/

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Thursday, November 1st, 2012 Community engagement, Equalities & Diversity

On the tin – a series of practical resources

In August we posted a blog about some of the things we are working on. In this we mentioned some resources that we are playing with to get them ready for public consumption. The first of these is nearly ready and we will be launching it on 1st November 2012. It is in blog format – a bit like the Inspiring Democracy resource but branded to be part of a specifically practical series called ‘on the tin’. Each blog in the series focuses on a different aspect of  community engagement and the skills, knowledge and understanding that supports practice.

The first ‘on the tin’ blog is called Working In Inclusive Ways and leads you through information and questions to get you thinking. The sections are: Exploring Equalities, Barriers to Involvement, Stereotypes, Prejudice & Discrimination, Equality Skills and Handy Documents (which consists of a series of equalities related posts). Each section has comment boxes and we hope that people will post their feedback and/or their own information to add and build on the resource for others to use.

We had some deep and meaningful conversations about making this degree of work freely available online and made the decision to do so for a few reasons:

  • this information exists, it is something we have pulled together for various bits of work and it feels like such a waste to limit access to it if others may find it useful
  • the online world is the way to go these days and we benefit from other people’s resources where they have been generous enough to share. We wanted to do our bit to add to the fermentation pot
  • it offers us a way to showcase our work. Whilst some people will find the blog/s useful in their own right, others may see the potential for something similar but tailor-made. It is a competitive world out there and we think we have something to offer which is a bit different. Our online portfolio helps potential clients/commissioners to make their own minds up
  • we are quite nice people really and sharing makes us happy

We will be protecting each ‘on the tin’ resource with a Creative Commons licence which will be explained in each case – and we will be encouraging you to use the information, share it with others and tell us how you are getting on!

Put 1st November on your calendar to check out Working In Inclusive Ways – we will circulate the URL and look forward to your feedback. Following on its heels will be further ‘on the tin’ resources, including:

 

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Friday, October 26th, 2012 Community engagement, Equalities & Diversity

Neighbourhood Planning: in my own time

Jill has been having a think:

I’ve been doing some reflecting recently, as I’ve been involved in a neighbourhood planning group for about a year now, and I’ve come to some conclusions for myself that I want to share…

The area we cover is too large (10k people) with little sense of shared community, identity or networks. This is one reason why it has not been possible to get people involved from across the whole area- it isn’t meaningful to people, it isn’t local enough, we are not connected across our differences/boundaries. Community based groups have to be meaningful to people and build on existing networks and shared interests/identity – this is why we only have people from 2 areas. Keeping this wide focus makes the group structurally weak and creates a negative  feeling …(of failure at some level?)…which is insidious and affects the culture of the group

I don’t think that it is possible to make the group inclusive to all areas – even with a full time community development worker it would be hard and it would be through connecting people with similar interests and identities, not through geography. It won’t happen organically…

In order for neighbourhood planning to be worth doing there has to be a commitment from the local state (local authorities, fire, police, health, education etc) to create a shared route to influence. At present we have not got this. In fact, someone attended one of our meetings earlier this year to tell us that the council would definitely not support a formal neighbourhood development plan to emerge from our neighbourhood planning work. She told us that we would have to make the business case and persuade them. Not exactly fertile ground…

At present, we have little understanding of how we can shape the agenda once we have a neighbourhood plan. We have to choose whether to accept these boundaries laid down by the council or take a more challenging position and start a lobbying/advocacy process with them.

So on both fronts – community and council – it feel that there is not much support or commitment. This feels difficult to progress – very hard work for a very small group of people to take on. The group over the last year has operated very minimally and it feels like there isn’t a great deal of energy around, so do we have the energy to turn this around as it stands? I have limited time/energy outside work and family life for volunteering /activism and I want to use it for the greatest effect and there’s a lot to do out there at the moment.

I do think there is something positive to take from this – square up to these challenges, rather than plod on, and consider what to do to become productive and positive. For me – for a start,  it would be to:
reduce the geographical area we work with and focus on membership as part of our NP work
contact and call a meeting for the council, fire, police, health, education, transport and ask about their practical commitment to neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood influence.

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When we are not working

Over the past couple of years we have been having conversations at changes about establishing some sort of charitable arm. Our rationale for this was to have a consistent and dependable route through which some of the strands of our work could operate and to capitalise on the sustainable nature of the work that clients have commissioned in the past. By this, I mean things like the Women Take Part learning programmes and Voice and echo in practice. Over the years, we have trained up many people to be able to engage with – and in some cases – to deliver these frameworks, working in empowering ways and making a difference. In our minds, a charitable organisation could provide a structure through which these could continue, without dependency on a commissioning process and under the guidance of a Board comprising some of those very people who could take them forward.

The waters are very muddied for consultants to do this sort of thing and there is a lot of suspicion around, about this being just a matter of semantics so that private agencies can reap the benefits of both private and charitable sectors for their own ends. In fact, this is something that has concerned us for quite some time, as our competitors have increasingly changed to become Community Interest Companies or Social Enterprises.

Ultimately, we decided that a charitable arm was not for us and would not achieve what we were trying to do. We still haven’t worked out what might but keep checking us out – you never know! In the meantime, our conversations have turned more toward a structured recognition of the voluntary work that we do in changes’ time. One of our aims when we got together in 2005 was to be able to undertake voluntary work i.e. literally to be able to afford to do so: meaning time rather than money.

At the moment, in particular, this is keeping us very busy indeed! At the national level, Sue is Chair of CDX which is currently going through the motions of winding up, Sal is Co-Chair of Urban Forum which is experiencing major change. Both are drawing increasingly on Trustees. Locally, Jill is involved in her local neighbourhood planning group and Sal is on the board of AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin.  Here is a bit from each of us about what we are up to, why we got involved and what this voluntary activity adds to our work at changes.

Jill: At present my voluntary work is mainly with my local neighbourhood planning group. We are a small group of residents aiming to talk with people and groups in our area about future plans for this part of the town. We were chosen to be a neighbourhood planning ‘front runner’ and, of the five in Shropshire, we are the only community group as the rest are either parish or town councils. I am also involved in a ‘Friends of the Library’ group. I decided to get involved in the neighbourhood planning group for two reasons; firstly, to get to know a different group of people in the area where I live and, secondly, to find out what’s going on locally and  influence decisions collectively. I’ve found it so useful from a changes’ point of view to have a grass roots experience of how aspects of the Localism Act filter through layers of local government and to be able to link this to my understanding of Localism policy and strategy. This local involvement also reminds me about how inequalities are reproduced in community groups – how gender, age, class and so on, shape people’s expectations of involvement – and how community isn’t always a benign force for the collective good. It’s a timely reminder that personal is political.

Sue: I am currently Chair of CDX, a national independent organisation that promotes and supports community development in all its guises. It’s a membership organisation that seeks to build networks and to influence policy makers to understand the value of working with people in local communities so that they can transform their lives.  I’m involved because this is what I believe in passionately and thought that I had something to contribute, partly because the underpinning values and principles of community development are also at the heart of the work that we do as changes.

From the point of view of changes it means that we keep up to date with what’s going on and, keep our connections in the real world of community development and also in the real world of those who want to use a community development approach to their work but are not sure how. We are continually thinking about how to demystify ‘community development’ and encourage people to adopt ways of working that are empowering for everyone. I’ve only been on the Board of Trustees for about 18 months and sadly that time has seen a complete pulling out of any funding for CDX from national government, and banishment from the national tables where discussions happen that are supposed to influence government policy. We don’t know what the future holds for community development networking but, watch this space and we’ll let you know

Sal: I am in my 6th year as a trustee at Urban Forum and have been Co-Chair for a rollercoaster 2 years, following a spell as Acting Chair and 3 years as Vice-Chair. I got involved because I wanted to get a different insight into the national scene and because I thought I could offer a different sort of input to the organisation – bringing my community development experience in. One thing that happened quite quickly – and to my surprise – was an interest in Board relationships. This includes how Boards function as a whole, how to encourage an active board, how to utilise the skills of those on the board and the relationship between the board and CEO – and staff. This interest has continued and spills into my voluntary activity at AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin where I am currently looking at the different ways that we could share information about trustee strengths in a way which makes this information useful – not only to the board – but to the organisation more widely. The value to changes feels enormous. As with Jill and Sue, this on the ground experience in a non-paid role provides its own unique reality which then feeds what I do at work. I wouldn’t be without it.

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What we are working on

We have just had our annual changes business planning meeting, which always leaves us with great long lists of exciting things to work on. Gathering these together into a plan really helps us to see the links between different aspects of our work at the same time as illustrating how we are branching out into new – but related – areas. It also gives a good idea about how ‘consultants’ spend their time when not out there delivering.

We do a lot of what we term ‘Research & Development’. This might be about maintaining and updating existing resources, extending existing resources where we see opportunities for them to help in less traditional (for us) arenas, or working on something ‘new’. (We say ‘new’ cautiously as we don’t believe that anything is truly’new’, it is all building on what has gone before, providing firm foundations).

This time around, the things that will be occupying our time include:

  • Updating the Voice resource pack – this has been on the agenda for a while and has been delayed by plans to:
  • Develop the changes ‘core documents’ – this will be an online resource drawing together the common aspects of the ‘Axis of Influence’ frameworks – things like: an exploration or power, understandings of community empowerment, exploring what influence means
  • Update information on the model of change to clarify what it is, how it can help and how it might relate to other models
  • Pulling together resources that we have done over the last year or so and making them accessible to wider audiences. This includes a workbook on Working in Inclusive Ways, another on Reflective Practice and yet another on Planning Community Engagement
  • Following up recent thoughts on Trustee Engagement and developing these into a resource
  • Disseminating the Lisbon Papers (of which we are very proud!)
  • Planning and supporting events focusing on feminism and community development
  • Coordinating progress on the Dynamo framework in the Axis of Influence series
  • Expanding our work on community leadership and link this in with the Inspiring Democracy resource
  • Polishing our resource on facilitation skills and make it available online
  • Maintaining our commitment to all of our voluntary work local and national

 

A suite of resources – going ‘e’

… or perhaps it is a ‘nest’.

Over the past few years, we have consistently added online resources to help the people that we work with. Included in this are:

  • Our networking site – where anyone can sign in to network with others. Currently with over 250 members, the site has private groups for people who have taken part in particular training course, then open blogs and forums. There are monthly email updates to keep members in touch with new postings on the site
  • Policy Nutshell – originally set up to focus on health & social care this has now been broadened out to focus on all policy relating to community engagement. The idea is to capture the essence of changing policy and pull out the bits impacting on engagement with communities and post it all on the same site for ease of reference
  • Inspiring Democracy – a practical resource for local Councillors (which may also be of use and interest to VCS and Council officers) to change the way they work in response to changing policy – which basically means much more community engagement
  • Pinterest – where we have started to gather examples of our work, references to different aspects of our work and a selection of websites and resources we are looking at which may also be of interest to you
  • Core documents – this is the working title for an (as yet) incomplete online resource. It will draw together the common aspects of our frameworks – things like: exploring ‘what is community’, thinking about ‘community development’, exploring concepts of power, considering what we mean by ’empowerment’ and putting them together in a workbook format – watch this space for updates on how this is coming along, we hope to have it up and ready by the end of the year.

All in addition to this website which offers an overview of what we do, a bit about us and our clients, access to specific resources to download and signposts to the rest of it!

Saturday, August 11th, 2012 Community engagement

Community engagement – back on the agenda

We have recently had a few requests for ‘community engagement training’ which is music to our ears. We have never ceased to believe that ‘good’ community engagement takes skill and understanding so it is great to see this valued. We are now developing a two-day course which takes people through the different stages of planning, engaging and reviewing community engagement with a comprehensive resource pack to help people to put it all into practice. At the moment we are talking to people in the housing sector and local authorities and we believe that this will be useful for many others with just a little tweaking.

And this is not a million miles away from some work we have been doing in Dudley Borough.
More consultancy than training, this project ostensibly started out by looking at collaboration between the voluntary sector and the local authority in the name of efficiency. It became known as the MASH project (Managing Assets and Service Holistically), with a particular focus on ‘assets’ – viewing all partners as bringing something of value to the party – and making that the starting point. This can be quite a culture shock for some and it has been interesting to watch the [growing number of] people involved tussle with putting ‘assets’ at the forefront. When planning the latest session we were faced with trying to ensure that this wasn’t going to stray into just ‘any old collaboration’ but was distinctive and had its USP embedded. That was the point at which we started to see how the Community Empowerment Dimensions could help to keep it on track – and ensure it all hangs together. Taking that one step further we had a go at re-framing the Community Empowerment Dimensions to say – we (i.e. all the partners involved) collaborate in ways which mean that:
We are Confident
We recognise and increase the skills, knowledge and confidence of others.
We recognise our own skills.
We recognise when we have something to offer – and when we don’t

We are Inclusive
We recognise and value difference
We promote equality of opportunity
We promote good relations between individuals and groups

We are Organised
We encourage shared learning
We bring people together collectively: physically and/or virtually
We encourage and value group working and experience
We communicate effectively

We are Cooperative
We promote the value of long term collective change
We seek creative, complementary approaches
We know what we bring to a collaboration
We build on the assets of others

We are Influential
We know that what we do makes a difference, to individuals, to organisations and communities
We have a clear focus on broader outcomes and a plan to achieve these

These are not the be and end all, but a starting point from which people can build their own interpretations – and then check how they will put this in to practice. Voila, a work plan! It sounds easy but if that was the case everyone would be doing it. We all need to be prepared to put time and focus in

 

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Resource for councillors

The Inspiring Democracy programme has kept us busy for the first part of 2012 (see post below) and we now have the resource to share. We produced a blog rather than a paper report – this is new territory for us and feels like it opens doors to new opportunities. Check it out here: http://inspiringdemocracy.wordpress.com/

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Inspiring Democracy

We have spent the first part of 2012 immersed in this work, contracted by Locality and funded by DCLG. The eventual output will be some form of guidance for local Councillors to help them navigate the changing policy landscape – focusing on localism and community engagement. We have linked up with colleagues in 7 different areas: Bradford, Dudley, Lancashire, Shropshire, Solihull, Wiltshire, Wolverhampton – undertaking interviews and facilitating focus groups to get a handle on the opportunities and challenges of localism from the perspective of Elected Members and their relationships with the voluntary & community sector.

We have been talking to Elected Members, individuals active in their communities, community groups, voluntary sector organisations and Council officers.

Emerging themes may not be that surprising, as they group under considerations of: Elected Member roles, actually ‘doing’ localism, structures and processes, skills & awareness and communications. The content is fascinating – and complex – and we are busy with our research analysis. Next step will be to pull together a draft guide, try that out with colleagues and research participants and then brush it up for final submission in May.

We have been over-whelmed by the active support of our leads in each of the 7 areas and the level of interest generated by this work. There is clearly growing awareness that many Elected Members will need support to embrace a role involving community group development and support, with all that we know that entails.

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