Leadership

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

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

 

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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changes goes to Lisbon

We are delighted to have run 2 workshops at this year’s International Community Development Conference in Lisbon in July.

1 – Voice – in the Axis of Influence series.
This workshop brought a wider audience to Voice and gave people some of the background, impetus and stories they need to use publicly available resources for community benefit. It linked with a holistic model of change to illustrate the fit of ‘community’ with active citizens (individuals) and public agencies.

2 – Women & Transformational Leadership
In this workshop we shareed our ideas and practice around women and critical, transformative leadership, exploring how these ideas could be useful in other contexts and put it in the context of a model of change

It was great to hear about what other people are up to and we have developed a new GROUP on our networking site for International Exchange – check it out!

A copy of all the resources we took with us can be found here

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 Active citizenship, Community influence, Leadership