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.
The initiative encompassed work with individuals and communities as well as pubic sector organisations and agencies. There were five main delivery strands:
- 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.
- 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.
- Initiatives for public sector agencies to assess their openness to community influence using Echo.
- Joint dialogue across sectors and boroughs on themes of active critical citizenship, community empowerment, involvement and engagement.
- 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.
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
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/
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.
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
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!!!
We are delighted to have run 2 workshops at this year’s International Community Development Conference in Lisbon in July.
1 – Voice – in the Axis of Influence series.
This workshop brought a wider audience to Voice and gave people some of the background, impetus and stories they need to use publicly available resources for community benefit. It linked with a holistic model of change to illustrate the fit of ‘community’ with active citizens (individuals) and public agencies.
2 – Women & Transformational Leadership
In this workshop we shareed our ideas and practice around women and critical, transformative leadership, exploring how these ideas could be useful in other contexts and put it in the context of a model of change
It was great to hear about what other people are up to and we have developed a new GROUP on our networking site for International Exchange – check it out!
A copy of all the resources we took with us can be found here
In amidst concerns that under-represented and small community groups will be left behind in a Big Society which focuses on individuals volunteering and a relatively small number of community organisers covering vast areas and agendas, we have two new – and exciting – emerging themes of work which may well help to take forward work which focuses on individuals, community groups – of all capacities – and the public sector. These are:
Elected Members – using Voice, echo and active citizenship frameworks to explore changing and complex roles in the light of Localism. We have been working with Parish, Town, Borough, City and County Councillors in different parts of the country and receiving very positive responses about how Voice and echo help them to structure conversations, see the wood amongst the trees and identify priorities.
Health Partnerships – using Voice and echo to build relationships with the community sector and voluntary sector, as well as individuals – creating partnerships to inform GP consortia in the new commissioning environment. Participants on Voice and echo courses have flagged up the potential here for systematic ways of working with sustainable outcomes. We are drafting up ideas and will get those out and about when they have a bit more detail to them.
Types of organisations working with Voice include community groups and networks; Third Sector Partnerships; Neighbourhood managers; LINKs; Development Trusts; Refugee Support Network; Equalities Forum. The types of things people are using it for:
• An annual health check
• To report progress and aims for the coming year
• To write funding bids
• To help Parish Councillors to recognise their role in engagement
• To recognise and appreciate what different partners bring to the table
• To develop constructive arguments to put to funders
• To become more influential!
Echo is being used by Town and Parish Councils to assess the position of Councillors in participative/representative democracy; to shape delivery of comprehensive community engagement strategies; to review participation structures in a Children’s Trust and for a Commissioning Board; to consider Housing management’s openness to community influence; to guide processes of community asset transfer.
Follow us on twitter for updates and information: @Salhampson
This took place 8th September in Birmingham and was a great day – very buzzy, and an opportunity for people who have taken part in Voice and/or echo facilitator training to share their experiences, hopes and ideas. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event. Many thanks to Dosti for hosting it, Vanessa Randle for the graphic recording and Sue Challis for the photographs which can be viewed on our networking site.
echo, our framework to assess and develop public sector openness to community influence is now being used within Local Strategic Partnerships, thematic sub-groups and public sector agencies.
It is the first framework that is easy to get .. it is a gentle challenge .. the first framework I have seen which is about cultural change
Developed in the West Midlands with support from the National Empowerment Parntership, Community Development Exchange, Improvement & Efficiency West Midlands (L2D programme), Wolverhampton Partnership and the Black Country Take Part Pathfinder we have now started running the first echo facilitator training courses. As with Voice, these are commissioned courses which may be opened up to wider audiences and which target people who are in aposition to facilitate discussions in their organisations
echo promises to have a wide application and has already been used to:
- help a Partnership Board to consider how genuinely open they are to community influence
- help inform proposals for improving the quality of community engagement across a locality
- increase awareness and understanding amongst key decision makers and influencers of the need to be open to influence and of what being open to influence looks like
- prioritise actions to move community engagement forward across a Partnership
- enhance understanding of engagement & empowerment.
- contribute to an LAA NI4 Delivery Plan
Blog archive by category
Blog archive by month
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- December 2011
- August 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- January 2011
- September 2010
- June 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- August 2009
- June 2009
- October 2008
- August 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- April 2008
- July 2007
- November 2006
- August 2006
- July 2006
- June 2006
- April 2006