Partnership working

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.

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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

 

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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!!!

Emerging work

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.

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

echo update

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

If you have not yet come across echo, but this raises your interest, you can find out more in our resources section and/or join us on our network.

echo update

echo, our framework to assess and develop public sector openness to influence, is now being tested in the West Midlands as part of the Improvement & Efficiency West Midlands ‘Learning to Deliver’ Programme.

It promises to have a relatively 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
  • as part of a broader action plan on delivering community engagement in a District over a three year period.
  • enhance understanding of engagement & empowerment.
  • contribute to an LAA NI4 Delivery Plan

If you have not yet come across echo, but this raises your interest, you can find out more in our resources section.