Community empowerment

An example of ‘Working in Empowering Ways’

Community Empowerment, as described by changes, can be understood by breaking it down into five distinct but inter-related dimensions. They illustrate that an empowered community is:
• confident
• inclusive
• organised
• cooperative
• influential

Each linked dimension can be interpreted as:
• process (working in ways which are empowering) and
• outcomes (empowered individuals, groups, organisations & communities)
The 5 dimensions make ‘community empowerment’ very practical and identifiable; they describe how the values of community development* can be put into action. SAND is a Shropshire-based initiative looking at the issues impacting on older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans people accessing health & social care services – it has an action group and is taking a community development approach which offers a fantastic example of the changes Community Empowerment Dimensions in action.

SAND stands for Safe Ageing No Discrimination. Below are the 5 Community Empowerment Dimensions, illustrated with stories about SAND practice.

Outcome: Confident communities – This is about putting the community development value around LEARNING into practice: recognising the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute and develop by taking action to tackle social, economic, political and environmental problems

To achieve this, we work in ways which increase people’s skills, knowledge and confidence – and instils a belief that they can make a difference
• members of the SAND action group have already changed their beliefs that it is worth trying to change things
• several members who have never campaigned as ‘out’ gay people now do
• SAND members are recognising and utilising their own skills and expertise
    Outcome: Inclusive communities – This is about putting the community development value around
    EQUALITY into practice: challenging the attitudes of individuals and the practices of institutions which discriminate and marginalise people

    To achieve this, we work in ways which recognise that discrimination exists, promote equality of opportunity and good relations between groups, challenging inequality and exclusion
    • SAND is all about challenging health and social care discriminatory practices
    • SAND is being invited to give presentations to providers and professionals e.g. solicitors for the elderly network, local advice and information advocacy forum
    • SAND has created a safe space for people to talk about their own experiences
    Outcome: Organised communities – This is about putting the community development value around PARTICIPATION into practice: facilitating democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives, based on full citizenship, autonomy and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience

    To achieve this, we work in ways which bring people together around common issues and concerns in organisations and groups that are open, democratic and accountable
    • SAND is an open and transparent group and aims to build slowly, developing a structure that works for SAND, rather than imposing a ready-made structure
    • SAND values the experiences of all members of the group and is building a sense of real community and solidarity
    • An action plan was developed via facilitated discussions

    Outcome: Co-operative communities – This is about putting the community development value around

    CO-OPERATION into practice: working together to identify and implement action based on mutual respect of diverse cultures and contributions

    To achieve this, we work in ways which build positive relationships across groups, identify common messages, develop and maintain links to national bodies and promote partnership working
    • SAND is building links with other local and national LGBT networks and initiatives
    • SAND is linking with other involved in relevant national research
    Outcome: Influential communities – This is about putting the community development value around SOCIAL JUSTICE into practice: enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their needs and have greater control over the decision making process which affect their lives

    To achieve this, we work in ways which encourage and equip communities to take part and influence decisions, services and activities
    • SAND is currently undertaking participative research funded via HealthWatch to influence health and social care provision locally
    • SAND intends to influence the debate around LGBT health and social care
    • SAND has high profile named supporters including Sandi Toksvig, Peter Tatchell and Tom Robinson
    SAND is in a unique position to gather information and evidence about what is happening to older LGBT people. The only way we can do this is by taking a community development approach, rather than seeing people as individual consumers of care. SAND is working through LGBT networks and contacts to connect with people and communities who are often hidden and marginalised (for very good reason). The aim is to facilitate safe spaces for people to define the issues that impact on them and develop collective solutions that are meaningful. SAND also wants to build social capital and develop supportive local community based solutions, as well as holding services to account.

    Something to illustate how important this approach is – in the whole of Shropshire out of at least 4000 LGBT older people over the age of 65 – SAND knows of only ONE person in a care home setting……who hasn’t come out to her carers! Where are the rest? Their needs are clearly not being met. For more information go to http://lgbtsand.wordpress.com

    *changes acknowledges that people express the values of community development in different ways. This interpretation is drawn from the Strategic Framework for Community Development, CDX 2000. Others may be found in the National Occupational Standards for Community Development Work.

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Monday, July 14th, 2014 Community empowerment

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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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

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

Getting the whole story

This is a short story from one of our training sessions a while ago – it really ilustrates how ‘frameworks’ can help people!

Chris was a Social Exclusion Officer working for a local authority. He was based in the Policy Department and felt passionately that community empowerment was a key aspect of his work, although he couldn’t be specific about what that meant or how it manifested.

On top of this difficulty with defining the ‘what and where’ of community empowerment, Chris had also been struggling for quite some time to see how his role fitted – and complemented – the Community Education Department who saw themselves as the main protagonist of community empowerment.

Chris came along to one of our training courses on community empowerment and, as always, we introduced people to the 5 Community Empowerment Dimensions and showed how they can help him to understand what community empowerment is. For Chris, this was a major break-through – and very heartening for us to see someone get so much clarity from them. In Chris’s case,  he could see that the Community Education Department were concerned with just one of the five dimensions – the one about increasing skills, knowledge and confidence (which we call the ‘confident’ dimension), but they had no focus on – or remit to work on – the other 4 dimensions.

Chris could see that the other four dimensions: equality, organised collective working, cooperation and influence were all key parts of his role.

This meant that Chris was able to start up discussions with colleagues in Community Education about how they could work together to ensure they took an empowering approach to their work. It worked out really well and offered a platform for those officers to have those discussions – they could also see how their own departments fed into the authorities work in complementary ways.

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Monday, March 11th, 2013 Community empowerment

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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