Community engagement

And a phoenix ….

We have been quiet for a long time – heads down as we experience the challenge to community engagement in the face of austerity. Perhaps it wasn’t the first target for cuts but it didn’t take long for Local Authority resources to be pulled out of supporting communities to flourish. ‘Short-sited’ we thought and we knew a time would come when this would change – it could be 10 years, who knows.

We are just beginning to get the first smell of change – something in the air to suggest that the tide is turning, so we thought we’d make a note here to keep track. Cautious optimism ….

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Monday, September 5th, 2016 Community engagement

Reaping what we sow

The time that we spent last year grappling with the notion of community engagement and ‘value for money’ is standing us in good stead at the moment. We wrote it up and posted it on our website where it was spotted by Sue Groom, Neighbourhood & Community Services Director at Severnside Housing. Sue was drawn to the notion of being able to identify and articulate the value of Severnside’s Neighbourhood and Community work in a way which spoke to different audiences. Consequently we have been working with Sue and her team to develop a framework which, once complete, they will be able to use how they choose. Part of our remit was to create something that was not dependent on outside help for future use and, although it is just at the testing stage, we believe we have achieved just that. More news to follow…

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Monday, April 14th, 2014 Community engagement

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

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

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

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Apathy or intentional exclusion?

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

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Sunday, June 16th, 2013 Community engagement

Community engagement: method, technique or tool

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

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

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

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

  • brainstorm / thought shower
  • carousel
  • rounds 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm ….

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Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 Community engagement

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

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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Reflective Practice – on the tin

We are delighted to launch our second online resource in the changes ‘On the Tin’ series – this one is designed to help community engagement practitioners to reflect on their practice and you can find it HERE

Work your way through the resource and find out what reflective practice means to different people; how it can help you and your practice – and download resources to help you give it a go.

As with our debut On the Tin resource: Working in Inclusive Ways, this is an easy to read, practical guide – and we’d love to hear what you think about it

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Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 Community engagement

Community engagement – value for money?

At a recent team meeting we found ourselves talking about value for money – not surprising perhaps in a time when everyone is trying to buy twice as much with half the resources they used to have. Our conversations strayed around a bit and always came back to the same no-brainer: if we work in empowering ways, we are so much more likely to have greater outcomes for more people = value for money put in!

And … if we are working with others then we are engaging in some manner or form – and we don’t want to get too distracted here by definitions of engagement. It all started to link up so – what started as a bit of a gripe about the dreadful ways in which some people communicate (or in fact don’t communicate – thinking about a recent experience of trying to sell a flat here and the untold frustration of some solicitors and estate agents) it seems completely ridiculous not to invest in an empowered workforce who understand how to work in empowering ways.

What started out as a conversation about developing some sort of generic guide to help this process ended (temporarily) as a completely re-written page on our website, so that’s a result. There is more thinking to be done and more/new/updated stories to add but for now – after 3 days of banging our heads together – we have the page!

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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013 Community empowerment, Community engagement

Resource launch – Working in Inclusive Ways

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

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

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

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

http://inclusiononthetin.wordpress.com/

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