Community engagement

On the tin – a series of practical resources

In August we posted a blog about some of the things we are working on. In this we mentioned some resources that we are playing with to get them ready for public consumption. The first of these is nearly ready and we will be launching it on 1st November 2012. It is in blog format – a bit like the Inspiring Democracy resource but branded to be part of a specifically practical series called ‘on the tin’. Each blog in the series focuses on a different aspect of  community engagement and the skills, knowledge and understanding that supports practice.

The first ‘on the tin’ blog is called Working In Inclusive Ways and leads you through information and questions to get you thinking. The sections are: Exploring Equalities, Barriers to Involvement, Stereotypes, Prejudice & Discrimination, Equality Skills and Handy Documents (which consists of a series of equalities related posts). Each section has comment boxes and we hope that people will post their feedback and/or their own information to add and build on the resource for others to use.

We had some deep and meaningful conversations about making this degree of work freely available online and made the decision to do so for a few reasons:

  • this information exists, it is something we have pulled together for various bits of work and it feels like such a waste to limit access to it if others may find it useful
  • the online world is the way to go these days and we benefit from other people’s resources where they have been generous enough to share. We wanted to do our bit to add to the fermentation pot
  • it offers us a way to showcase our work. Whilst some people will find the blog/s useful in their own right, others may see the potential for something similar but tailor-made. It is a competitive world out there and we think we have something to offer which is a bit different. Our online portfolio helps potential clients/commissioners to make their own minds up
  • we are quite nice people really and sharing makes us happy

We will be protecting each ‘on the tin’ resource with a Creative Commons licence which will be explained in each case – and we will be encouraging you to use the information, share it with others and tell us how you are getting on!

Put 1st November on your calendar to check out Working In Inclusive Ways – we will circulate the URL and look forward to your feedback. Following on its heels will be further ‘on the tin’ resources, including:

 

Tags: ,

Friday, October 26th, 2012 Community engagement, Equalities & Diversity

Neighbourhood Planning: in my own time

Jill has been having a think:

I’ve been doing some reflecting recently, as I’ve been involved in a neighbourhood planning group for about a year now, and I’ve come to some conclusions for myself that I want to share…

The area we cover is too large (10k people) with little sense of shared community, identity or networks. This is one reason why it has not been possible to get people involved from across the whole area- it isn’t meaningful to people, it isn’t local enough, we are not connected across our differences/boundaries. Community based groups have to be meaningful to people and build on existing networks and shared interests/identity – this is why we only have people from 2 areas. Keeping this wide focus makes the group structurally weak and creates a negative  feeling …(of failure at some level?)…which is insidious and affects the culture of the group

I don’t think that it is possible to make the group inclusive to all areas – even with a full time community development worker it would be hard and it would be through connecting people with similar interests and identities, not through geography. It won’t happen organically…

In order for neighbourhood planning to be worth doing there has to be a commitment from the local state (local authorities, fire, police, health, education etc) to create a shared route to influence. At present we have not got this. In fact, someone attended one of our meetings earlier this year to tell us that the council would definitely not support a formal neighbourhood development plan to emerge from our neighbourhood planning work. She told us that we would have to make the business case and persuade them. Not exactly fertile ground…

At present, we have little understanding of how we can shape the agenda once we have a neighbourhood plan. We have to choose whether to accept these boundaries laid down by the council or take a more challenging position and start a lobbying/advocacy process with them.

So on both fronts – community and council – it feel that there is not much support or commitment. This feels difficult to progress – very hard work for a very small group of people to take on. The group over the last year has operated very minimally and it feels like there isn’t a great deal of energy around, so do we have the energy to turn this around as it stands? I have limited time/energy outside work and family life for volunteering /activism and I want to use it for the greatest effect and there’s a lot to do out there at the moment.

I do think there is something positive to take from this – square up to these challenges, rather than plod on, and consider what to do to become productive and positive. For me – for a start,  it would be to:
reduce the geographical area we work with and focus on membership as part of our NP work
contact and call a meeting for the council, fire, police, health, education, transport and ask about their practical commitment to neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood influence.

Tags: , , , ,

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

 

A suite of resources – going ‘e’

… or perhaps it is a ‘nest’.

Over the past few years, we have consistently added online resources to help the people that we work with. Included in this are:

  • Our networking site – where anyone can sign in to network with others. Currently with over 250 members, the site has private groups for people who have taken part in particular training course, then open blogs and forums. There are monthly email updates to keep members in touch with new postings on the site
  • Policy Nutshell – originally set up to focus on health & social care this has now been broadened out to focus on all policy relating to community engagement. The idea is to capture the essence of changing policy and pull out the bits impacting on engagement with communities and post it all on the same site for ease of reference
  • Inspiring Democracy – a practical resource for local Councillors (which may also be of use and interest to VCS and Council officers) to change the way they work in response to changing policy – which basically means much more community engagement
  • Pinterest – where we have started to gather examples of our work, references to different aspects of our work and a selection of websites and resources we are looking at which may also be of interest to you
  • Core documents – this is the working title for an (as yet) incomplete online resource. It will draw together the common aspects of our frameworks – things like: exploring ‘what is community’, thinking about ‘community development’, exploring concepts of power, considering what we mean by ’empowerment’ and putting them together in a workbook format – watch this space for updates on how this is coming along, we hope to have it up and ready by the end of the year.

All in addition to this website which offers an overview of what we do, a bit about us and our clients, access to specific resources to download and signposts to the rest of it!

Saturday, August 11th, 2012 Community engagement

Community engagement – back on the agenda

We have recently had a few requests for ‘community engagement training’ which is music to our ears. We have never ceased to believe that ‘good’ community engagement takes skill and understanding so it is great to see this valued. We are now developing a two-day course which takes people through the different stages of planning, engaging and reviewing community engagement with a comprehensive resource pack to help people to put it all into practice. At the moment we are talking to people in the housing sector and local authorities and we believe that this will be useful for many others with just a little tweaking.

And this is not a million miles away from some work we have been doing in Dudley Borough.
More consultancy than training, this project ostensibly started out by looking at collaboration between the voluntary sector and the local authority in the name of efficiency. It became known as the MASH project (Managing Assets and Service Holistically), with a particular focus on ‘assets’ – viewing all partners as bringing something of value to the party – and making that the starting point. This can be quite a culture shock for some and it has been interesting to watch the [growing number of] people involved tussle with putting ‘assets’ at the forefront. When planning the latest session we were faced with trying to ensure that this wasn’t going to stray into just ‘any old collaboration’ but was distinctive and had its USP embedded. That was the point at which we started to see how the Community Empowerment Dimensions could help to keep it on track – and ensure it all hangs together. Taking that one step further we had a go at re-framing the Community Empowerment Dimensions to say – we (i.e. all the partners involved) collaborate in ways which mean that:
We are Confident
We recognise and increase the skills, knowledge and confidence of others.
We recognise our own skills.
We recognise when we have something to offer – and when we don’t

We are Inclusive
We recognise and value difference
We promote equality of opportunity
We promote good relations between individuals and groups

We are Organised
We encourage shared learning
We bring people together collectively: physically and/or virtually
We encourage and value group working and experience
We communicate effectively

We are Cooperative
We promote the value of long term collective change
We seek creative, complementary approaches
We know what we bring to a collaboration
We build on the assets of others

We are Influential
We know that what we do makes a difference, to individuals, to organisations and communities
We have a clear focus on broader outcomes and a plan to achieve these

These are not the be and end all, but a starting point from which people can build their own interpretations – and then check how they will put this in to practice. Voila, a work plan! It sounds easy but if that was the case everyone would be doing it. We all need to be prepared to put time and focus in

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Resource for councillors

The Inspiring Democracy programme has kept us busy for the first part of 2012 (see post below) and we now have the resource to share. We produced a blog rather than a paper report – this is new territory for us and feels like it opens doors to new opportunities. Check it out here: http://inspiringdemocracy.wordpress.com/

Tags: , , ,

Inspiring Democracy

We have spent the first part of 2012 immersed in this work, contracted by Locality and funded by DCLG. The eventual output will be some form of guidance for local Councillors to help them navigate the changing policy landscape – focusing on localism and community engagement. We have linked up with colleagues in 7 different areas: Bradford, Dudley, Lancashire, Shropshire, Solihull, Wiltshire, Wolverhampton – undertaking interviews and facilitating focus groups to get a handle on the opportunities and challenges of localism from the perspective of Elected Members and their relationships with the voluntary & community sector.

We have been talking to Elected Members, individuals active in their communities, community groups, voluntary sector organisations and Council officers.

Emerging themes may not be that surprising, as they group under considerations of: Elected Member roles, actually ‘doing’ localism, structures and processes, skills & awareness and communications. The content is fascinating – and complex – and we are busy with our research analysis. Next step will be to pull together a draft guide, try that out with colleagues and research participants and then brush it up for final submission in May.

We have been over-whelmed by the active support of our leads in each of the 7 areas and the level of interest generated by this work. There is clearly growing awareness that many Elected Members will need support to embrace a role involving community group development and support, with all that we know that entails.

Tags: , , ,

Policy nutshell

Check out our latest resource – the policy nutshell where we will bring you bite-size pieces of useful informaton about the changing landscape for health and social care with a community,  patient and service user/carer engagement flavour.

To produce this resource, we have teamed up with Jan Smithies who has spent the last 2 years with The Health Inequalities National Support Team (HINST) – which was part of a Government programme to support local areas to promote equality and tackle inequalities in access to healthcare.

Jan will be working with us to develop seminars and workshops which explain and explore the ever-changing and complex world of health and social care, including Joint Strategic Needs Assessments,  Health & Wellbeing Boards,  Joint Health & Wellbeing Strategies,  Clinical Commissioning Groups,  Integrated  Health & Social Care,  Local Authority Commissioning,  Public Health  transition,  tackling health inequalities and the development of HealthWatch.

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 Community engagement, Equalities & Diversity

A model of change

For many years – and involving many people –we have been working on ‘a model of change’, a way to understand HOW change happens in the world around us.

Einstein pointed out that ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you have always got’– so,

  • if the local community centre only meets the needs of half a dozen people, if everything stays the same it will continue to meet the needs of those half a dozen people and nobody else
  • if there is litter in the park and no action is taken to change it – there will still be litter in the park

And we all want different things to change – there are different things that bug us – or indeed inspire us.
This ‘model of change’ is our way of showing how we can get from a load of individuals who each have their own separate ideas, needs and interests and angsts – to a society where services and facilities are provided that meet the needs of the population as a whole. We call it a ‘whole area approach’.

If I go down a street of 16 houses, knock on each door and ask the householder what needs to change in their area to make it a better place to live, I will get 16 different answers, depending on their own circumstances:
• those with children may say something about better schools, play areas, youth clubs;
• other people may say their priorities are around faster internet access, or public transport to town, more allotments, a credit union, a community centre, local shops
The list is pretty endless but the point is that each household will have their own priorities based on their own circumstances and the things that they personally value (they will possibly all say something about dog mess!).

I can’t do much with 16 conflicting sets of priorities and will begin to wish I had never asked

Now – think again. Instead of going door to door, I bring all those 16 households together and FACILITATE a discussion – so, in an orderly way people express their priorities and consider the priorities of other people. Does house number 4 really mind about their play area when there is one round the corner? They may well reconsider this when they find out that House number 6 has prioritised drop kerbs because their son is a wheelchair user and struggles to navigate the streets.
In this scenario, we have started to consider other people’s needs in relation to our own – and in fact those drop kerbs will help lots of us: people with pushchairs, people with shopping trolleys, all of us with wheelie bins …

By bringing people together we can identify a much more informed and ‘sophisticated’ list of priorities (because, let’s face it – there is only so much money and resources to go round). There is a joint vision and people feel ownership of the idea and so are likely to put more effort in to taking it forward and making it happen.
Of course, it is not just the local people who need to be involved – if we are talking about drop kerbs then we need people from the Council – from Highways, perhaps from Parks Dept if we are going to be considering those options as well; perhaps local traders need to be involved
There are a whole range of ‘players’

Our ‘model of change’ recognises the connections between different parties and that actions taken by individuals have an effect on others. It also makes us think about WHO is getting involved and who isn’t – so we can guard against the loudest voices and make sure we don’t overlook the people and issues which tend to be forgotten – or ignored
So, there are connections between what I do, what you do, what my neighbour does, what the Council does – how we talk to each other (or not) – and there are connections with all of these and what voluntary sector organisations do – what community groups do – and how we all work together

Another example
Age Concern (now Age UK) runs a Hot Meals service which – everyone agrees – is an essential service for older people living in the area. The Council has stated that, despite the cuts, this is a service they want to protect and so they will continue to fund it.

Age Concern has its own mini-buses which they use for the Hot Meals Service and another local Voluntary Organisation has paid drivers who deliver it – the service runs like clockwork
However – the Council has cut funding to the other local Voluntary Organisation who have had to make redundancies – now there is no one to drive the mini-buses which deliver the Hot Meals Service.

Who needed to talk to whom?

So – where has all this got us?

What we have is:

a load of individuals – who need to know how to talk to each other, how to consider each other, who want things to change and who believe that they can play a role in that change – stick their own necks out – some of them, not all of them

Then we have voluntary sector organisations – and community groups – who need to know how to talk to each other and how to talk to their own staff and volunteers, who understand that when they take some action that things change for other people, they need to represent people properly, know who their members are and think about who is left out and the implications of that

Then we have the Council (or it might be the health trust, the police, the local traders association …. any ‘BODY’ which makes decisions) – who need to know what is going on, who needs what, how that will impact on others, how to communicate with their own staff and how staff communicate with each other, that staff can take decisions and respond to needs, they need to know what other people are doing and where their bit fits in

3 different sets of people – who connect with each other:
Individuals are  ‘variably active’ – some are ‘good citizens’ – do recycling, vote, are neighbourly; others get involved on various committees, on a community forum or as school governors or setting things up locally

Community groups and voluntary sector organisations are in various states of organisation – some are better than others at welcoming members or at talking to the Council or other agencies

Some ‘agencies’ are better at listening to communities (and/or individuals) than others

AND – we are all a bit muddled up – so that the people who work in agencies are also individuals – and they live in communities and take part in different activities

ALL of this is going on so we need some sort of ‘model of change’ that makes sense of it, recognises the relationships between these parties and helps us to do something about it – so that something changes!!!

All change

New Government, new model of Government, new terminology, new thinking, new initatives, Big Society, Community Organisers, cuts, new ways of working, threats to equalities groups, mergers, partnerships, voluntary and volunteering more than community. Explore these on our networking site