Community development

Women, leadership and power – IACD 2014

International Association for Community Development Conference – Glasgow 2014: Community Is The Answer
Report from a workshop – Women, leadership and power; Equalities, social justice and community development

 

This WomenLC6workshop, facilitated by changes/Working for Change hoped to develop some of the themes that emerged from changes’ workshop at the prior Lisbon conference, where the focus was on women and transformational leadership[1]. At the Glasgow conference, we sought to create a vibrant space to encourage challenging and insightful conversations around women, leadership and power.  We planned for group discussion, versus lecture, and ambitiously sought to address these complex questions and ideas in our brief 90 minute session.  To facilitate group discussion, we split participants into groups using fruit – pomegranates, pineapples, and grapes.

changes were pleased to support the attendance of six women at the conference from the cohort of women from the African Diaspora they were working with at the time around leadership.[2] We were excited for opportunities to have discussions around power, leadership and change; benefitting women looking to develop their leadership confidence and become more active in community, public or global life. This seemed assured, as the discussions in the leadership programme were directly related to the theme for day two of conference – harnessing the wealth of communities.  This theme complimented our collaborative efforts with our Diaspora leadership programme, offering opportunities to share experiences in the journeys and challenges faced around leadership for self, family, community and wider society.  Traditionally,  the assumed identity of a ‘leader’ is male, therefore, there are important discussions around gender and power that must accompany a process of women recognizing themselves, and being recognized as leaders (hence the term “transformative” in our session).  Freeing up the wealth that women offer their communities requires these complex discussions of gender, power, and leadership, and we focused on these ideas during our session.

A participant in the session, Lucy Mayes of Heart Works Australia, wrote a blog entry about the workshop for the September edition of the Australian Journal of Community Development.

More pointedly, we were interested in how Lucy described the discussions in the session, and the way she highlighted the visions participants had vis-à-vis the potential contributions the increased involvement of women could bring to community development:

So what, in the opinion of the pomegranates, would it look like in a world where women aren’t valued, equal and valuing themselves? It didn’t, as you would know, take too much imagination (please note, these lists came out of a five minute brainstorm with a small group of people and are only scratching the surface of where these excellent questions might take us). There would, we decided, be: breakdown of family units; family violence; stagnant development; loss of skills to society; compromised mental health, spiritual health, general health and children’s health; lack of representation and democratic c deficit; and disempowered communities. One comedian added that nothing at all would happen.

And if we (women) were more involved in creating the wealth, what might that look like? We decided there would be: more checks and balances in the system; more focus on social justice, social services, human rights and environmental protection; families and communities would be healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually; there would be more diverse economies and increased family income; balanced leadership and increased collaborative decision making; women and children would be safer; compassion and sensitivity would be given higher value; we would enjoy a more holistic world; there would be better emotional health for both men and women; and there would be a better balance between the domestic economy and the wealth economy.

Lucy speaks to the negative ways our gendered binary plays out in community development.  When one gender is pushed to an extreme, limited in how it may be expressed, the other side of that binary system is equally limited: the more women’s gendered expectations (beauty, servitude, passive behaviour) are narrowed, the more men’s oppositional gendered expectations (masculine appearance, dominance, active leadership) are narrowed as well.  In terms of leadership, the more men are pushed into the limelight as leaders, and their gendered traits valued as conditions of leadership, the more women are pushed out, and devalued when they adopt leadership behaviours.WomenLC5
It is in these ways that gender is shaped by our daily interactions, creating the context for how women, girls, men, and boys live their lives.  Strict gendered expectations limit the expressions for everyone.  Women may be left out of leadership decision-making, their needs unacknowledged.  Men who do not adopt masculine behaviour, or who show more passive traits may be limited in their communities as well.  Cultural assumptions of who is a leader, and whose voices are important to be considered, are formed with notions of gender normative behaviour.

Normative behaviour extends into issues of sexuality, race, class, and nationality.  The concept of “intersectionality” describes the dynamic that individuals may experience multiple differences that define them in cultural or social categories that are non-normative, or out of step with the most valued traits.  This could include people of colour in a society dominated by white leaders, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual in a world defined by hetero-normativity (the assumption that all people couple with only differently sexed partners).  Minority religious practices may also be a contributor to issues of intersectionality, as a factor for exclusion, repression, or marginalization in economy, society, or community life.  As practitioners and academics in community development, the heart of our work is to recognize those differences and work toward equality, as our field understands that societies are enriched by our differences.  This is the backbone of social justice.

Developing leaders, then, becomes a process of social change – addressing social roles, conducting social activities. Leadership is not something you do by yourself – it is essentially social and interpersonal.  Creating leaders means working with people to identify their differences, honour their experiences, and teach self-awareness that allows for growth beyond social norms and expectations.  Enacting leadership within communities is a process of challenging individual view of the self, challenging other’s views, as well as challenging social views of what defines a leader. These are all foundational to creating a context for change.

Along those lines, workshop participants identified that we need the following conditions to facilitate women’s leadership development (click on photo to enlarge).

Women_LC1

To create the conditions needed to harness the potential wealth women bring to communities and society, there is a need for individual, community and institutional responses; we have to question how we think, what we think and what we do. We all have roles to play where we can start to do things differently; in our families, community organisations and in wider institutions.

We are eager to continue these conversations by asking, how can we:

  • Engage men and women in these conversations
  • Challenge media representation of women
  • Look for alternative positive role models of active influential women
  • Encourage collaboration between men and women
  • Question structures that favour a ‘male style’ of working
  • Explore solutions and conversational styles together
  • Offer childcare and avoid token women at the table

Further, we are looking to how we can have these conversations and push these important and critical issues of gender and difference using community development processes.

[1] We aim to increase the pool of women who make a pivotal difference; women who influence change as well as inspire and support others to find their ‘leader within’. http://www.iacdglobal.org/publications-and-resources/conference-reports/lisbon-papers

[2] Funded through Common Ground Initiative https://www.gov.uk/international-development-funding/common-ground-initiative-cgi

 

Note on contributors

Co-authorship of this piece by:

Jill Bedford, Director changesuk

Holly Scheib, PhD MPH MSW, Director, Sage Consulting, USA

…with timely contribution from Lucy Mayes, Heart Works, Australia

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Voice is back in our midst

Following our last blog post we have facilitated the Away Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly it worked really well – using Voice (a framework in the Axis of Influence series) to frame the day was fantastic and we had forgotten how enjoyable it is – so very rewarding. its flexible

Voice took about 3 years to develop in full and there was a great deal of agony in its development, as we tried to get it ‘right’. It has all paid off – it is so easy to use and the outcomes are really heart-warming.

So – what difference does it make?

  • For a start off – it is all there – it is all written up with suggested discussion points and suggested/example activities – so all you need to do is pick and choose the bits that are appropriate for the event you are facilitating. We always reckon it takes about the same amount of time to plan a facilitated session as it does to deliver this so having the Voice Resource pack at hand more than halved that time to plan.
  • Secondly it gave a real coherence to the programme, forcing a focus on developing the group to influence – everything they do is about influence and it is so easy to get caught up in the distinct parts e.g. developing a communication strategy or developing a promotions strategy. Using the Steps in Voice these tasks happen but there is a subtle difference in the way we look at it – the starting point. For example – we wanted to start talking about how we would go about developing a promotional strategy. The temptation here is to start thinking about the different methods of promotion: magazines, websites, social media, leaflets, radio etc etc. Voice took us a different route – Step 9 ‘Know How to influence’ suggests that we look at the different ways in which influence happens – more subtly – through:

1.Whispering – in the ears of influential people – private discussions which represent issues,
opinion and priorities through a more influential other.
2. Shouting – which could be about passion, bullying or frustration. It is not usually viewed as
an effective form of influence but it can reap rewards
3. Negotiating – this is about sitting around the right ‘table’ (where relevant discussions are
happening and decisions being made) at the right time, having all the information, skills and
organisation you need in order to be an equal.
4. Taking action – encouraging members to play active roles which are related to and which
highlight the issues.
5. Being part of a bigger network – joining with others, for example Neighbourhood Watch
benefits from an even wider network – it is part of national neighbourhood watch and
receives support, information and greater strength in numbers.
6. Shaming – drawing attention to poor decision making or embarrassing those who are not
listening or taking account of people’s views
Extract from Voice Resource Pack Part 2 – in the Axis of Influence series, changes 2009

Internal externalFrom this point, we could start to think about examples in the room and start discussing which are most appropriate for the group – and when – and why. From this point it becomes pretty apparent which methods might be most effective with different audiences. It was a challenging and very enjoyable way to do it!

So – our Voice resources are dusted off and sitting in the middle of the changes office once more. Needless to say this has spurred us on and they will be back in action this weekend at our residential ‘ Women, leadership & Change’ programme.

We are quite excited to recall that we trained about 1000 people to work with Voice – many have changed jobs, changed sector and been made redundant and the momentum for Voice, along with a huge amount of great work, was lost. Perhaps now is the time to start feeding it in again, to nudge and remind people about this and other fabulous resources designed to challenge the power differential between communities and the state – between the voluntary sector and the state – and between communities and the voluntary sector.

Since our last blog we have gently started reintroducing Voice as a subject for discussion and consideration. This is a continuance of that.

We have always said that people need facilitation skills and proper training to work with Voice – we still believe this. Long ago we made the first part of the Resource Pack available to download for free – have a look

  • Handy Guide – Part 1 of the Voice Resource Pack – this provides the basics of Voice so you can have a go with it. If you want to do more, orResource pack use it in different ways, then we strongly advise that you get in touch with us to discuss how – we have been developing some useful resources.

If you are interested in reading more about Voice then check out these articles:

changes offers a specific course to help local people with facilitation skills who are already working with groups to learn how to work with Voice. We call this ‘Voice facilitator training’ and we are the only providers. The course is complemented by a comprehensive resource pack and networking opportunities.

We also offer training in facilitation skills – get in touch!

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Thursday, November 20th, 2014 Community development, Community influence

So easy to write an Away Day programme!

Yesterday I sat down to write a programme for an Away Day. The group is a local community group focusing on improving the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans people in later life – particularly in the context of health and social care. The aims of the Away Day are for members of the Action Group to get to know each other better, to explore the contacts and connections that people are carrying round in their heads so we can start mapping routes in to the health sectors and to share ideas about how to develop a promotional strategy.

After about 30 mins sitting in front of my laptop with a sketchy plan in front of me I suddenly had a brainwave – and felt a little foolish that I hadvoice resource packvoice resource pack not thought of it before. Of course – the Voice framework in the Axis of Influence series offers a whole load of discussion questions and activities which could look a bit like an Away Day programme. I have to admit to hunting around a bit before I found my own copy of the resource pack – it is a long time since I have made reference to it – when the Government changed and money was pulled out of local authorities and the voluntary sector resulting in huge levels of redundancy, job change, job insecurity – the capacity, interest and investment in community groups being supported to influence nose-dived and my Voice resource pack went into a cupboard.

nature of influenceI realised that the remit for the day is of course all about influence – and that the Voice framework is designed to help groups to develop internally as well as influence externally – perfect – there must be something in the pack that has already been tried and tested, rather than starting from scratch. Putting the programme together was a dream once I realised this and all the activities are there – all I had to do was select what would work best for this group!

So – here we go:

Voice – Step 2 Know Why You Want to Influence

we will start the day looking at what the group has achieved and what the individuals get from being a part of it

we will then look at who makes the decisions that affect the lives of older LGBT people, leading into a look at the health & social care structures in the County.

from this we want to start looking at people!Vertical

Voice – Step 7 Know who to influence

with the context in mind from the first part of the day, we will start drawing a map of what/who each member of the group knows, where personal contacts might lie and who needs to be targeted to build relationships or connections

we bring in the group’s strategic aims at this point to ensure that the people being identified are in the relevant context for what the group wants to achieve and we start looking at what these people may want to hear so the group can be a bit canny about future approaches.

Voice Step 9 Know how to influence

its flexiblethis Step in Voice offers ideas about the questions I can ask the group to help develop ideas for a promotional strategy. It suggests the different ways that influence happens and suggests activities where members of the group share examples of these – from their own experience or something they have heard about. This can then lead into a discussion about the different media that can be used to take messages forward. There is always a tendency for people to focus on this media when discussing promotional strategies – we seem naturally inclined to list media methods: magazines, facebook, leaflets – rather than starting with the most effective technique to adopt – be it whispering messages in the ears of influential people, demonstrating in a crowd, negotiating our way in to sit around an influential table …

Voice reminds us to do this and then to agree the practical and complementary ways in which to carry the words to different audiences.

 

I have forgotten what a joy it is to work with Voice and how much I personally used to get from facilitating sessions – I am reminded how it always does something, it always gets discussions going and is a very rewarding experience so I am looking forward to the Away Day and bringing it all back to life! Oh, and I estimate that, using Voice to plan this session has saved me about 3 hours planning time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Voice and with no access to the resource pack (which comes with a training course), you can work through some of the thinking behind it for FREE with no strings attached by logging into our sister-site online resource: changes Foundations

Of course, a Voice needs an echo to be fully rounded ….. but that’s another story!

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Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 Community development, Uncategorized

A Charter for Community Development & Health

changes has been involved in the development of The Charter for Community Development in Health. It is a call to action for CCGs, local authorities and Health and Well-Being Boards to develop, support and commission community development. It is also a call to government and NHS England to create the conditions to make that as easy as possible.

You can read the Charter here: A-CHARTER-FOR-COMMUNITY-DEVELOPMENT-IN-HEALTH(1)

We hope people and agencies will see this Charter as both a challenge and a solution to making it easier to improve equitable access to health for all.

The Charter addresses all those with decision-making power at local and national levels, as well as those with a duty and role to influence those decision-makers – organisations like Healthwatch and Governors of Foundation Trusts. The approach championed by this charter will help them in the delivery of their duties to local people, which includes consultation and engagement more broadly as well as their new duties around the social determinants, quality of life, isolation, reducing obesity, mental health and premature mortality.

The Charter will be launched in London on 9th July – if you’d like to attend contact: rebecca.riffel@salixconsulting.com

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Friday, June 27th, 2014 Community development

Rooms for Hire – a community development story

A manager of a community centre commissions trainers to provide a range of classes and activities for older people using the centre. The manager wants to make sure that the centre offers a community development approach to what they do. To achieve this, the manager draws up a ‘statement of expectation’ which she discusses with the trainers and which becomes a criteria for commissioning. The manager uses the 5 community empowerment dimensions to frame this statement and arranges to have regular review sessions with trainers.

It is about putting the values of Community Development into action

Statement of expectation:

It is expected that trainers working on these premises will adopt a community development approach to their work. By this, we mean that you will work in ways which…

Learning Recognise the existing skill levels of individuals, ensures that everyone knows what is expected of them.Recognise the increase in skills needed to undertake the activity and share your knowledge and experience with others.Make people feel good about themselves and encourage people to believe that they can ‘do it’. This is about the ‘confident’ dimension … working in a way which increases people’s skills, knowledge and confidence and instils in the a belief that they can make a difference
Equality Make you aware of who is contributing in sessions, who is not and why.Make you aware that running the class/session in particular ways excludes some people from taking part and you take steps to address this.Recognises, appreciates and builds on the differences and similarities of those taking part. Challenges discriminatory language and behaviour This is about the ‘inclusive’ dimension …. working in a way which recognises that discrimination exists, promotes equality of opportunity and good relations between groups and challenges inequality and exclusion
Participation Encourages people to come together in groups, to share their own experiences, knowledge and skillsIdentifies common interests in the group and arrange activities around theseEncourages people to undertake group projects requiring a range of skills which recognise the strengths within the group This is about the ‘organised’ dimension … working in a way which brings people together around common issues and concerns in organisations and groups that are open, democratic and accountable
Cooperation Illustrate how the activities you are working with link to others so that groups join and work together on wider, connected projectsThe group you are working with understand how their activity links into the wider world, for example an exercise class could link to food & nutrition, yoga or dance This is about the ‘cooperative’ dimension … working in a way which builds positive relationships across groups, identifies common messages, develops and maintains links to national bodies and promotes partnership working
Social Justice Provide opportunities and encouragement to the group to make suggestions in the development of the class/session, to suggest ideas and structures for future classes, resources and facilities. This is about the ‘influential’ dimension … working in a way which encourages and equips communities to take part and influence decisions, services and activities

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Thursday, February 28th, 2013 Community development, Community empowerment

Gobstopper day – a community development story

Going back a while now, but this is one of those memories that just stays with you: I was due to deliver some training to AgeUK staff, on the publication I had written about putting community development into practice.

Sal

Sal

It was in Huddersfield and I had made the journey up from Shropshire the night before and got to the venue bright and early. I waited a while, but only one participant turned up – let’s call him Mick! It transpired that a lorry full of gob-stoppers had overturned on the M62 so the only person who travelled by public transport ended up in a one-to-one session with me! I didn’t even know they still made gob-stoppers, but they were a blessing in some ways as the two of us had the luxury of spending the whole day together – real quality time.We put the next few hours to good use – sharing experiences and stories and trying to find some practical solutions.

Mick worked as a ‘leisure and fitness coordinator’. One day, he was visited by 4 women (aged 70+) who told him that they wanted a Tai Chi exercise class to go to. They had talked to other people in their age group and it was a popular idea.

Mick wanted to make sure that anything he arranged was ‘community-led’ so he talked to these women – and others – about the best day of the week, time and location, to hold the classes and he arranged for a trained instructor to deliver them.

The first week was great – about 50 people turned up and seemed to engage happily with the activity.
The following week wasn’t as popular, but was still good, and attracted about 30 older people to the session.
Week 3 was very disappointing and barely made it to double figures, with a downward spiral from there-on-in.

Mick was dispirited and just could not work out what had gone wrong, as he had met the request that came from the older people themselves and consulted them on the practicalities. I asked him if – when the women had first approached him – he had asked them why they wanted Tai Chi classes ……

  • Was it primarily about exercise and fitness?
  • Was it about relaxation?
  • Was it about socialising?
  • Was it about learning something new?
  • Was it to fill a gap in the timetable?
  • Was it because someone had recommended Tai Chi as something to try?
  • Or because there had been a television programme about it?
  • Or because the neighbouring area had Tai Chi classes?
  • Or something else …?

Mick didn’t know, but we could both see that it mattered. We could see a really clear link between process and outcome.

In Mick’s example – his process of checking with older people was great but he didn’t have a clear outcome i.e. he didn’t know why he was doing it, other than people had asked him to. Crucially,  we didn’t know WHY this group of people wanted Tai Chi classes, what they hoped to get from them, and so he had never considered, or checked, if that was likely to happen. Huge learning for us both.

Mick and I back-tracked a bit to think about what might happen if we tackled both process and outcome. It made sense to start by thinking about the outcome – what older people want to happen as a result of the activity. We practised with the outcome that “older people network socially and learn more from each other”.

Once we had this in the bag, we discussed ways that this might be achieved. e.g. doing things which will bring people together, encouraging them to talk to each other, creating an atmosphere where people will share ideas and develop trust in each other. To achieve these things, we thought we needed to stimulate discussion and debate, get people interested in others – thinking about their similarities and differences.

Since that day, I have heard about some very successful Tai Chi classes for older people. But I have also heard about quite a few which started and then folded – and some of the reasons I have been given are:

  • It can be pretty strenuous for older people – so, if they are after gentle exercise, it may not necessarily the best activity.
  • It can be delivered ina way which is quite individualised, so if people want a social activity to share with others, it may not necessarily the best activity.
  • Tai Chi instructors are very disciplined, so if they deliver in this way and people want an informal, relaxed atmosphere, it may not necessarily be the best activity.

Sticking with the Tai Chi example: if Tai Chi is seen to be strenuous, individualised and disciplined – how could it be delivered in a way which achieves outcomes about networking socially and learning from each other? Sessions could include:

  • information about why people practice Tai Chi, the health benefits and the range of movements included
  • discussion about Tai Chi, exploring people’s knowledge and experience of China and other martial arts, what makes movements easier to do and what might make them more difficult for some people
  • work in small groups, to support each other to understand and practice the movements, encourage people to share their experiences of Tai Chi – and the benefits they have recognised
  • visits to other places practicing different types of martial arts, and to a variety of other venues to learn about different ways of exercising
  • encouragement to, and opportunity for, older people to shape the direction of the sessions, voicing their interests and requirements and making suggestions for future sessions and other activities

We identified these five different, but inter-linked, ideas by working through the five community empowerment dimensions – which were really helpful

It was a fine day!

Having avoided the gobstoppers, sadly Mick later suffered on the way home as Leeds Train Station was hit by a tornado – it was quite day!

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The key – a community development story

A community development practitioner started a new job and was asked to work with a small isolated rural community which for many years had been viewed as a ‘difficult’ area by local professionals. She was told that people from that area/small council estate were ‘useless’ and didn’t have the energy or the motivation to get anything done on their own behalf – ‘they could not be trusted to bring crisps for a xmas party’

At her first meeting with the small group of locals who bothered to turn up to the very run down church hall, the door was locked and everyone just stood there waiting for the door to open. The new worker stood there and chatted along with the rest of them – and thought that maybe she could offer to go and find the key. However, she decided not to do that and thought that she would wait and see what happened next. After about half an hour someone said maybe we should go and get the key…and someone went off to get it and they all went in and had their meeting.

At the end of the meeting, someone suggested that they decided in advance who needed to get the key next time there was a meeting. From this small beginning grew a £0.5m new community centre and childcare project with the people in that community taking responsibility for their initiative.

They had been viewed as passive and dependant by local professionals and consequently had been ‘done to’ not ‘worked with’. All the power had been kept in the hands of the professionals.

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Community leadership / active citizenship

Our community leadership and active citizenship development work started in Wolverhampton in 1998 through a women’s community development and health project, when the focus moved from running workshops on ‘dealing with the menopause’ and ‘how to be a mother and stay sane’ to working out how women can influence the decisions that affect their lives. It evolved from a series of workshops around women and leadership which, by 1998 had expanded to include a programme of training, practical support and mentoring. The first accredited ‘course’ of this type began in January 2000 and it focused on women’s own experiences and opinions whilst setting out to explore local, national and European decision making structures.

Funding came from a variety of sources – Health Action Zones, National Lottery, Barrow Cadbury Trust – to develop ideas around women becoming more active in community and public life through using a community development approach, countering the notion of elevating a few women as community leaders to talk on behalf of others, engaging with civic structures as a token (and not necessarily particularly representative) voice for women. A key aim of the programme was to encourage women from a whole range of backgrounds to speak out and make their voices heard in whatever context is most appropriate and relevant to them.

The success of the pilot courses led to further developments around the main topics – citizenship, democracy, leadership and participation – and then to an invitation by the Home Office Active Learning for Active Citizenship (ALAC) programme to showcase the IMPACT! approach as a creative learning initiative (2004-06). We commissioned our own evaluation of the Impact! initiative to identify what it was that made the difference.

The experience of Impact! contributed substantially to the development of the Framework for Active Learning for Active Citizenship; the document was jointly written by Jill Bedford from Impact! and Helen Marsh from London Civic Forum and launched by CLG in November 2006. The Framework was subsequently named the Take Part Framework and the original group of seven ALAC projects became the Take Part network. The ALAC initiative was evaluated by Professor Marj Mayo and Alison Rooke from Goldsmiths College and their findings, including comments about IMPACT! are available at takepart.org.

changes was asked to present a paper to the Expert seminar on citizenship and belonging – part of the Commission of Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (2008). The focus was ‘Moving on up: the role of lifelong learning in women’s journeys to active citizenship’.

In 2008, changes started working with Dosti, WVSC and Wolverhampton Council to develop a Take Part Pathfinder in the Black Country: funded through CLG (2008 – 2011) Details are below:

Purpose of the Initiative
To increase the level of influence people and communities have over the decisions that affect their lives and that this influence is shaped by the values of participation, co-operation, social justice, equality and diversity.

Delivery outline
The initiative encompassed work with individuals and communities as well as pubic sector organisations and agencies. There were five main delivery strands:

  1. Learning and support to build skills and confidence, within a community context – this would include active shared learning leading to community leadership; increased individual and collective voices, action and influence. This included courses, support network, buddying scheme, and information on opportunities for civic and civil involvement.
  2. Initiatives for community and voluntary groups and networks around monitoring and increasing their capacity to influence. This used Voice, one of the Axes of Influence, which was researched and developed in Dudley.
  3. Initiatives for public sector agencies to assess their openness to community influence using Echo.
  4. Joint dialogue across sectors and boroughs on themes of active critical citizenship, community empowerment, involvement and engagement.
  5. A pool of local facilitators developed and supported through training, shadowing and provision of materials

Women Take Part
During 2007 members of changes were approached by Government Equalities Office and Communities and Local Government to undertake research on under represented women in public life. This was called Women Take Part and built directly on the work of Impact! and other Take Part hubs. The Women Take Part (WTP) research was funded by the Government Equalities Office (2007 – 2008) to examine the participation of women, in particular under-represented women, in governance and decision making, in both community and public life. Women Take Part collected information about two sides of the story: ‘what works’ in terms of approaches, initiatives and learning models that encourage different groups of women to become more involved, and ‘what needs to happen’ so that structures, policies and organisations work in ways that encourage the recruitment and support of more women.

The report (published September 2008) provides a summary of the research findings and guidance on models and approaches which can be used to encourage, equip and support women. It is a resource which can be used by agencies, to extract information and ideas to inform delivery of relevant performance targets. The report draws upon research and knowledge which confirm and articulate the inequalities surrounding women’s active participation in public life. The need to develop and grow the ‘pool’ of women available for civil participation and civic engagement is emphasised. Despite being researched and written in 2008 the report and the framework developed from the research is increasingly relevant in 2013.

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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