Archive for 2013

Another community engagement story: the bus-stop

This is a true story which illustrates what we were talking about in our last post.

Householders on a residential street were in conflict over the placement of a new bus stop and shelter. The rumour going around was that the original proposal ‘to locate the stop and shelter in front of number 46’ had been opposed by the householder at 46 and so it had been moved to a site outside number 72.

The residents at number 72 opposed this ‘new proposal’ vehemently and were joined in their opposition by neighbours on either side and for some distance up and down the street. Conflict arose between the resident at number 46 and a large number of householders in opposition to the revised plans. This conflict persisted for some time .. until it suddenly stopped. The deciding factor was a facilitated meeting of residents, with support for number 46 to attend. Discussions ensued and it transpired that number 46 had ‘good reason’ to oppose the original location for the bus stop and shelter – they had already applied to have a disabled parking bay in front of their property and were awaiting the results of their application; all they had done was bring this to the attention of the Transport Officer and left it at that – there had been no petitioning, no lobbying, no active opposition.

As it was, the residents discussed various options and concluded that the proposed position, outside number 72 was indeed the most appropriate. The residents of number 72 were in agreement and could see some other advantages of this position. The plans proceeded unopposed! Residents on the street recognised that they had jumped to some conclusions and felt the benefits of the discussion and joint decision-making.

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Monday, November 4th, 2013 Uncategorized

A Community Engagement Story – sixteen houses

While we were in the midst of delivering a series of one-day community engagement courses for The Wildlife Trust some years ago, we suddenly realised that we couldn’t train on ‘community engagement’ without putting a real practical emphasis on the ‘community’ bit – and getting to grips with what that means in different contexts.

One of our participants was asking why she repeatedly struggled to engage local residents in a green space project. She had gone door to door and asked people about their level of interest and received a generally positive response, but nobody ever turned up to take part in arranged activities. This account prompted the following story, to try to explain what was happening:

“As a neighbourhood example – imagine a street of 16 houses. You want to gain an understanding of the issues and ideas for improvements from the local ‘community’. If you knock on all 16 doors you may get a general idea of common dissatisfaction around street lighting or rubbish collection but if you dig deeper you are likely to get up to 16 different responses about bigger issues and frustratingly conflicting suggestions for ways forward.

In this example, there is little or no existing ‘community’ – imagine if you brought the 16 households together to discuss their ideas and suggestions – provided a forum for them to work together to agree the major issues and the most promising way forward – with knowledge about how your agency could support the work … you will get much more coherent, ‘sophisticated’ and workable information and a relationship will have started to develop. There is also much more onus on you to be very clear about why you want to engage with this neighbourhood in the first place and recognition of the skills required to do so.

Crucially, community engagement is about ‘communities’ – not about individuals. One assumption is that communities already exist and are just waiting to be approached and ‘engaged’ but just because a statutory agency may identify a particular community or neighbourhood – doesn’t mean that the people identifying as that community, or living in a particular area, have any collective understanding of the issues you want to prioritise or the primary needs of their area”.

 

If you are interested in the challenge of illustrating the value for money of community engagement then you could check out our webpage on community engagement

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Monday, November 4th, 2013 Uncategorized

Making assertiveness work for you – an opportunity for women

Short sessions in Shrewsbury: 10am – 1pm on 23rd October, 6th November  and 20th November  2013

This set of 3 sessions will include:

  • making space for yourself
  • saying no when you want to
  • managing difficult situations
  • hearing things that are hard to hear
  • telling people things that are hard to say

There are 6 places available at £90 each. Participants will need to come to all three mornings

Please contact hello@changesuk.net to book

 

This is the first of changes’ mini-morsels – a series of short sessions, an informal, nice experience with a cup of tea and a biscuit!

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 Uncategorized

New online resource – ‘pick up and think’ – call it distance learning!

getting startedOver the past couple of years we have been working on a new, interactive resource. The idea was to try to bring together the many hours of thinking and grappling we have done to make something coherent of our work in, with and related to communities. There have been so many valuable conversations with colleagues and we have had the luxury of digging deep to ensure that the understandings which underpin all of our work make sense and add value – huge value. Having done all that it didn’t feel right to keep it to ourselves. Initially the idea was to develop a learning resource – as a pre-runner to our training courses. In the event this has turned into something a bit different, a lighter touch maybe. It is certainly an introduction to thinking about community and should be useful to anyone engaging with communities, in whatever capacity. have a look – tell us what you think. We encourage people to answer the questions where they arise – you can then refer back to your answers as you work your way through. It also means that we can collect information from a range of people to feed into future research and writings – a return on investment! http://www.changesfoundations.net/

Chapters include: Community development, community empowerment, Exploring influence, What is Community, Power, Equalities, social justice & human rights

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Apathy or intentional exclusion?

A thought-provoking TED talk which explores how the very way that our public institutions ‘advertise’ excludes the people affected by their actions. It is Canadian and yet uncannily familiar!

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Sunday, June 16th, 2013 Community engagement

How it feels to be disempowered

I have just been revisiting some notes from one of our echo sessions where we start by exploring the concept of ’empowerment’ so people get a grip on why it is important to work in empowering ways and what this means in practice, it gives everyone the chance to discuss their differing views of the term and come up with ways to explain it.

One way to do this is to turn it around and ask people to think about when they have felt disempowered – what did they feel like? The results can be quite powerful and, on this occasion the group said:

Unloved, excluded, helpless, over-looked, disenfranchised, outsider, low self-worth, silenced, worthless.

They took all of these words, added a few others and turned it into a powerful piece of poetry which they then fed back to the main group to express how it feels to be disempowered:

Have you ever felt helpless, with a low self-worth,a complete outsideroverlooked and excluded?
Organisational silence – they just won’t understand
I’m left feeling under-valuedworthless and unloved
Underneath all this, I am disenfranchised
I need to be heard

What a message to people working with communities, or employing people – or just communicating with people! Of course, we would counter this by suggesting the Community Empowerment Dimensions as a framework to turn this around.

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Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 Community empowerment, Leadership

Employee engagement

I come back to this every now and again and today is one of those days. There was an article in the Guardian a year or so ago, reporting on the Global Workforce Survey and evidencing the lack of engagement amongst employees – on a massive scale.

Barely one-fifth (21%) of the 90,000 employees surveyed (in 18 countries) were truly engaged in their work, in the sense that they would ”go the extra mile” for their employer. Nearly four out of 10 (38%) were mostly or entirely disengaged, while the rest were in the tepid middle….

The survey covered many of the key factors that determine workplace engagement, including the ability to participate in decision making, the encouragement given for innovative thinking, the availability of skill-enhancing job assignments, and the interest shown by senior executives in employee well-being.

It struck me at the time that the Community Empowerment Dimensions we talk so much about have something very simple and effective to offer. They help us (and employers) to understand how we can work in more empowering ways which:

  • build people’s confidence
  • include rather than exclude
  • are open, democratic and accountable
  • build positive relationships, identify common messages, develop and maintain links and promote partnership working
  • encourage and equip people to take part and influence

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to try this out, hear and share a few stories? It just seems madness not to!

Ning1This people empowerment, improved approaches to working has always been with me and – as an aside – I was given a precious text many years ago by a fellow consultant: The Spirited Business: success stories of soul friendly companies. It is worth a look if you can find a copy!

 

 

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Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 Community empowerment, Leadership

Community engagement: method, technique or tool

Thinking about community engagement – what it means, how we do it and what we need to help us to do it (bearing in mind that definitions which are too specific can be ultimately unhelpful). We’ve been thinking about this and wondering if we get a bit confused – mixing up community engagement methods, with techniques and tools. Give this a go:

Specific engagement ‘methods’ are the things we invite people to, or set up in order to encourage dialogue, for example:

  • structured and semi-structured interviews
  • focus groups
  • a fun day 

Specific engagement ‘techniques’ are the things we use to ‘shape’ the group once we have got them there – the way in which we collect the information, for example:

  • brainstorm / thought shower
  • carousel
  • rounds 

Specific engagement ‘tools’ are the ‘gadgets’ that we can use to help us make sense of information:

  • pinpoint
  • Edward de Bono’s 6 thinking hats
  • weather symbols

When I posed this on our networking site,  Lorna Prescott observed that

the tools and techniques are the sorts of things which are picked up in generic facilitation skills training and would be found in publications/websites about participatory working, facilitation and so on. So if people are after that sort of thing they should be looking for facilitation skills training, as it’s not just about the tools or techniques, it’s understanding how a facilitator uses them – their relationship with the group etc.

Some of the ‘methods’ category are approaches which I think often require specific training and support to use, such as interviewing and focus group skills. And for which some basic facilitation skills and experience are usually helpful as a building block. ….. It would be interesting to know if people who want ‘engagement methods training’ are trained facilitators or not. And if not, what sort of access people have to facilitation skills training and whether it would be seen by their managers as relevant training

A colleague suggests to us that requests for facilitation skills training are relatively infrequent and yet they have been asked several times to train people in planning and running focus groups when these people, though not fault of their own, lack the basic understanding of and experience in using facilitation skills to be able to confidently run such a group.

Hmmmm ….

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 Community engagement

Active citizenship – how does that happen?

Here is some feedback from participants on our Take Part (Active Citizen) Learning Programme – for me it makes a strong case for recognising the particular skills needed to really make a difference in our current climate of localism – how to make the best of it. All of this has come back a bit since a recent visit to Holland to discuss Democratic Dialogue. The programme has been run very successfully with women who are interested in becoming more active in community (and public) life. It consists of 9 days, a residential and ‘field visits’ to the House of Commons and, where the budget is available, a valuable trip to the European Parliament in Brussels.

We asked participants what they had learned during the Take Part Programme, this gives a better overview of the course than we could ever hope to do!

Looking at our own communities and how we can become involved, standing up for them and making them better for everyone. This helped me to identify my own self in the community and how I can play a part in influencing the decision making process to my area a better place to live. Also how important citizenship is, how we are all part of ‘it’ and identifying what we are in our community (and country) and what role we have to play. This made me realise that I didn’t want to be an individual or active citizen, but a critical citizen, I feel that I want to stand up and make my voice heard and to play a part, collectively, in the decision making process.

I now know how important human rights legislation is and how it is able to stand up for everybody, regardless of who they are. How different charters of rights can be so different and also similar.

The course helped me to become a better communicator – realising where my weaknesses were and working on them and turning them into strengths. I said at the beginning of the course (I think even at the taster session) that I felt uncomfortable being a communicator, although I did identify my weakness of being too self-critical – always thinking that people listening to me were trying to find fault when really they were just listening. I believe that my communication skills have improved as the course progressed.

In group working I felt more confident as the course went on, being part of a group made me realise that each member is equal and we should encourage others to get involved and recognise and accept each other’s point of view. This became more apparent at the residential when we did a lot of work as small groups, identifying leadership and making group decisions, and how to work together. The ‘fantasy island’ exercise was a good example. Although this was great fun it had a serious side as it taught us how we would need to produce outcomes with limited resources by making collective decisions.

I know and understand more about becoming involved in making decisions and, in this session I identified 2 local organisations who I felt fitted into the examples given to us. The ‘X’ I considered was ‘The Clique’; and the ‘Y’ was the ‘Silent Consensus’ as I am a member of the ‘Y’ I now know that I have my part to play in making this group more influential and more forward thinking!

I am more aware of the structures of accountability in decision making (although some of those structures have already been abolished by the coalition government). I was surprised at how many levels there were and, at the bottom, what a long way up you have to go to influence more. One way of doing this effectively was by lobbying which I learned during the session on parliament. It was during this session when we watched live on TV at the case involving MPs and Lords being investigated for expense claims. I also found very interesting the relationship with the Houses of Commons and Lords and the Monarch – how this relationship had developed over time and how they are involved in the law-making process.

I also learned about leadership skills, what makes a good leader, how to be effective in leading a team, treating the group with respect and gaining respect in the process. This made me realise that being a leader isn’t about giving out orders but more about a leader of a group encouraging consensus, formulating decision making and standing by the decisions made and being supportive of the group.

I have appreciated during the course the importance of equality and equal rights. I have covered in my work this subject fairly well, but again this is something that I hadn’t asked myself about before and has made me realise how important this topic is within my community and beyond.

I believe, therefore, that I have become better equipped to enable me to be a better citizen. I have more understanding since I began the course and I have appreciated the way I have been encouraged to consider how I fit within the big picture that has become my community, country and the world”.

You can read more about our thinking on active citizenship here

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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 Active citizenship

More or less empowering ways to engage with communities?

Once upon a time, during facilitated sessions with the Dudley Community Engagement Working Group, we revisited the Ladder of Participation (we have been working with the Wilcox version for the last few years and this is the one we referred to in this session. Having said that, we have been harkening back to the original Sherry Arnstein version in recent times and it’d be interesting to do that more thoroughly and find out what that’s all about!)

Back to our workshop. We had been looking at community empowerment because the group was interested in developing empowering approaches to engagement in Dudley – and doing this in such a way that it was embedded for the future. We had been working with the 5 community empowerment dimensions and the discussions about engagement led us to think about the different ways in which engagement takes place. This is where the Ladder comes in.

We talked about how it was possible to engage in more (or less) empowering ways on all points of the ladder. Even when giving information it is possible to do it in a way which is more empowering than others. I am sure we have all experienced information with is not empowering  (perhaps a teacher at school who was scary – or bored; or turgid books to read) – and information which is more empowering (perhaps local newsletters, magazines, a spirited speaker at an event where we felt included).

This way of thinking led us to bring together the 5 community empowerment dimensions and the Ladder of Participation into a matrix

Dudley_matrix

Adding the 5 community empowerment dimensions into the mix, it is possible to illustrate how, at each of the 5 levels, there are different ways to approach this engagement – some of which are more empowering than others. This matrix was later taken up by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to use in their community engagement toolkit and only last week it rang huge bells when we whipped it out of our back pockets in a meeting!

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Monday, March 11th, 2013 Community empowerment, Community engagement