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 ….
International Association for Community Development Conference – Glasgow 2014: Community Is The Answer
Report from a workshop – Women, leadership and power; Equalities, social justice and community development
This workshop, facilitated by changes/Working for Change hoped to develop some of the themes that emerged from changes’ workshop at the prior Lisbon conference, where the focus was on women and transformational leadership. At the Glasgow conference, we sought to create a vibrant space to encourage challenging and insightful conversations around women, leadership and power. We planned for group discussion, versus lecture, and ambitiously sought to address these complex questions and ideas in our brief 90 minute session. To facilitate group discussion, we split participants into groups using fruit – pomegranates, pineapples, and grapes.
changes were pleased to support the attendance of six women at the conference from the cohort of women from the African Diaspora they were working with at the time around leadership. We were excited for opportunities to have discussions around power, leadership and change; benefitting women looking to develop their leadership confidence and become more active in community, public or global life. This seemed assured, as the discussions in the leadership programme were directly related to the theme for day two of conference – harnessing the wealth of communities. This theme complimented our collaborative efforts with our Diaspora leadership programme, offering opportunities to share experiences in the journeys and challenges faced around leadership for self, family, community and wider society. Traditionally, the assumed identity of a ‘leader’ is male, therefore, there are important discussions around gender and power that must accompany a process of women recognizing themselves, and being recognized as leaders (hence the term “transformative” in our session). Freeing up the wealth that women offer their communities requires these complex discussions of gender, power, and leadership, and we focused on these ideas during our session.
A participant in the session, Lucy Mayes of Heart Works Australia, wrote a blog entry about the workshop for the September edition of the Australian Journal of Community Development.
More pointedly, we were interested in how Lucy described the discussions in the session, and the way she highlighted the visions participants had vis-à-vis the potential contributions the increased involvement of women could bring to community development:
So what, in the opinion of the pomegranates, would it look like in a world where women aren’t valued, equal and valuing themselves? It didn’t, as you would know, take too much imagination (please note, these lists came out of a five minute brainstorm with a small group of people and are only scratching the surface of where these excellent questions might take us). There would, we decided, be: breakdown of family units; family violence; stagnant development; loss of skills to society; compromised mental health, spiritual health, general health and children’s health; lack of representation and democratic c deficit; and disempowered communities. One comedian added that nothing at all would happen.
And if we (women) were more involved in creating the wealth, what might that look like? We decided there would be: more checks and balances in the system; more focus on social justice, social services, human rights and environmental protection; families and communities would be healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually; there would be more diverse economies and increased family income; balanced leadership and increased collaborative decision making; women and children would be safer; compassion and sensitivity would be given higher value; we would enjoy a more holistic world; there would be better emotional health for both men and women; and there would be a better balance between the domestic economy and the wealth economy.
Lucy speaks to the negative ways our gendered binary plays out in community development. When one gender is pushed to an extreme, limited in how it may be expressed, the other side of that binary system is equally limited: the more women’s gendered expectations (beauty, servitude, passive behaviour) are narrowed, the more men’s oppositional gendered expectations (masculine appearance, dominance, active leadership) are narrowed as well. In terms of leadership, the more men are pushed into the limelight as leaders, and their gendered traits valued as conditions of leadership, the more women are pushed out, and devalued when they adopt leadership behaviours.
It is in these ways that gender is shaped by our daily interactions, creating the context for how women, girls, men, and boys live their lives. Strict gendered expectations limit the expressions for everyone. Women may be left out of leadership decision-making, their needs unacknowledged. Men who do not adopt masculine behaviour, or who show more passive traits may be limited in their communities as well. Cultural assumptions of who is a leader, and whose voices are important to be considered, are formed with notions of gender normative behaviour.
Normative behaviour extends into issues of sexuality, race, class, and nationality. The concept of “intersectionality” describes the dynamic that individuals may experience multiple differences that define them in cultural or social categories that are non-normative, or out of step with the most valued traits. This could include people of colour in a society dominated by white leaders, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual in a world defined by hetero-normativity (the assumption that all people couple with only differently sexed partners). Minority religious practices may also be a contributor to issues of intersectionality, as a factor for exclusion, repression, or marginalization in economy, society, or community life. As practitioners and academics in community development, the heart of our work is to recognize those differences and work toward equality, as our field understands that societies are enriched by our differences. This is the backbone of social justice.
Developing leaders, then, becomes a process of social change – addressing social roles, conducting social activities. Leadership is not something you do by yourself – it is essentially social and interpersonal. Creating leaders means working with people to identify their differences, honour their experiences, and teach self-awareness that allows for growth beyond social norms and expectations. Enacting leadership within communities is a process of challenging individual view of the self, challenging other’s views, as well as challenging social views of what defines a leader. These are all foundational to creating a context for change.
Along those lines, workshop participants identified that we need the following conditions to facilitate women’s leadership development (click on photo to enlarge).
To create the conditions needed to harness the potential wealth women bring to communities and society, there is a need for individual, community and institutional responses; we have to question how we think, what we think and what we do. We all have roles to play where we can start to do things differently; in our families, community organisations and in wider institutions.
We are eager to continue these conversations by asking, how can we:
- Engage men and women in these conversations
- Challenge media representation of women
- Look for alternative positive role models of active influential women
- Encourage collaboration between men and women
- Question structures that favour a ‘male style’ of working
- Explore solutions and conversational styles together
- Offer childcare and avoid token women at the table
Further, we are looking to how we can have these conversations and push these important and critical issues of gender and difference using community development processes.
 We aim to increase the pool of women who make a pivotal difference; women who influence change as well as inspire and support others to find their ‘leader within’. http://www.iacdglobal.org/publications-and-resources/conference-reports/lisbon-papers
 Funded through Common Ground Initiative https://www.gov.uk/international-development-funding/common-ground-initiative-cgi
Note on contributors
Co-authorship of this piece by:
Jill Bedford, Director changesuk
Holly Scheib, PhD MPH MSW, Director, Sage Consulting, USA
…with timely contribution from Lucy Mayes, Heart Works, Australia
Following our last blog post we have facilitated the Away Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly it worked really well – using Voice (a framework in the Axis of Influence series) to frame the day was fantastic and we had forgotten how enjoyable it is – so very rewarding.
Voice took about 3 years to develop in full and there was a great deal of agony in its development, as we tried to get it ‘right’. It has all paid off – it is so easy to use and the outcomes are really heart-warming.
So – what difference does it make?
- For a start off – it is all there – it is all written up with suggested discussion points and suggested/example activities – so all you need to do is pick and choose the bits that are appropriate for the event you are facilitating. We always reckon it takes about the same amount of time to plan a facilitated session as it does to deliver this so having the Voice Resource pack at hand more than halved that time to plan.
- Secondly it gave a real coherence to the programme, forcing a focus on developing the group to influence – everything they do is about influence and it is so easy to get caught up in the distinct parts e.g. developing a communication strategy or developing a promotions strategy. Using the Steps in Voice these tasks happen but there is a subtle difference in the way we look at it – the starting point. For example – we wanted to start talking about how we would go about developing a promotional strategy. The temptation here is to start thinking about the different methods of promotion: magazines, websites, social media, leaflets, radio etc etc. Voice took us a different route – Step 9 ‘Know How to influence’ suggests that we look at the different ways in which influence happens – more subtly – through:
1.Whispering – in the ears of influential people – private discussions which represent issues,
opinion and priorities through a more influential other.
2. Shouting – which could be about passion, bullying or frustration. It is not usually viewed as
an effective form of influence but it can reap rewards
3. Negotiating – this is about sitting around the right ‘table’ (where relevant discussions are
happening and decisions being made) at the right time, having all the information, skills and
organisation you need in order to be an equal.
4. Taking action – encouraging members to play active roles which are related to and which
highlight the issues.
5. Being part of a bigger network – joining with others, for example Neighbourhood Watch
benefits from an even wider network – it is part of national neighbourhood watch and
receives support, information and greater strength in numbers.
6. Shaming – drawing attention to poor decision making or embarrassing those who are not
listening or taking account of people’s views
Extract from Voice Resource Pack Part 2 – in the Axis of Influence series, changes 2009
From this point, we could start to think about examples in the room and start discussing which are most appropriate for the group – and when – and why. From this point it becomes pretty apparent which methods might be most effective with different audiences. It was a challenging and very enjoyable way to do it!
So – our Voice resources are dusted off and sitting in the middle of the changes office once more. Needless to say this has spurred us on and they will be back in action this weekend at our residential ‘ Women, leadership & Change’ programme.
We are quite excited to recall that we trained about 1000 people to work with Voice – many have changed jobs, changed sector and been made redundant and the momentum for Voice, along with a huge amount of great work, was lost. Perhaps now is the time to start feeding it in again, to nudge and remind people about this and other fabulous resources designed to challenge the power differential between communities and the state – between the voluntary sector and the state – and between communities and the voluntary sector.
Since our last blog we have gently started reintroducing Voice as a subject for discussion and consideration. This is a continuance of that.
We have always said that people need facilitation skills and proper training to work with Voice – we still believe this. Long ago we made the first part of the Resource Pack available to download for free – have a look
- Handy Guide – Part 1 of the Voice Resource Pack – this provides the basics of Voice so you can have a go with it. If you want to do more, or use it in different ways, then we strongly advise that you get in touch with us to discuss how – we have been developing some useful resources.
If you are interested in reading more about Voice then check out these articles:
- The Lisbon Papers – see from page 42
- Community Development Journal (International Journal article on Voice when it was called the ‘Axis of Influence’)
- NCVO newsletter (Case study article of Voice when it was called the ‘Axis of Influence’)
changes offers a specific course to help local people with facilitation skills who are already working with groups to learn how to work with Voice. We call this ‘Voice facilitator training’ and we are the only providers. The course is complemented by a comprehensive resource pack and networking opportunities.
We also offer training in facilitation skills – get in touch!
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…
This is a true story which illustrates what we were talking about in our last post.
Householders on a residential street were in conflict over the placement of a new bus stop and shelter. The rumour going around was that the original proposal ‘to locate the stop and shelter in front of number 46’ had been opposed by the householder at 46 and so it had been moved to a site outside number 72.
The residents at number 72 opposed this ‘new proposal’ vehemently and were joined in their opposition by neighbours on either side and for some distance up and down the street. Conflict arose between the resident at number 46 and a large number of householders in opposition to the revised plans. This conflict persisted for some time .. until it suddenly stopped. The deciding factor was a facilitated meeting of residents, with support for number 46 to attend. Discussions ensued and it transpired that number 46 had ‘good reason’ to oppose the original location for the bus stop and shelter – they had already applied to have a disabled parking bay in front of their property and were awaiting the results of their application; all they had done was bring this to the attention of the Transport Officer and left it at that – there had been no petitioning, no lobbying, no active opposition.
As it was, the residents discussed various options and concluded that the proposed position, outside number 72 was indeed the most appropriate. The residents of number 72 were in agreement and could see some other advantages of this position. The plans proceeded unopposed! Residents on the street recognised that they had jumped to some conclusions and felt the benefits of the discussion and joint decision-making.
While we were in the midst of delivering a series of one-day community engagement courses for The Wildlife Trust some years ago, we suddenly realised that we couldn’t train on ‘community engagement’ without putting a real practical emphasis on the ‘community’ bit – and getting to grips with what that means in different contexts.
One of our participants was asking why she repeatedly struggled to engage local residents in a green space project. She had gone door to door and asked people about their level of interest and received a generally positive response, but nobody ever turned up to take part in arranged activities. This account prompted the following story, to try to explain what was happening:
“As a neighbourhood example – imagine a street of 16 houses. You want to gain an understanding of the issues and ideas for improvements from the local ‘community’. If you knock on all 16 doors you may get a general idea of common dissatisfaction around street lighting or rubbish collection but if you dig deeper you are likely to get up to 16 different responses about bigger issues and frustratingly conflicting suggestions for ways forward.
In this example, there is little or no existing ‘community’ – imagine if you brought the 16 households together to discuss their ideas and suggestions – provided a forum for them to work together to agree the major issues and the most promising way forward – with knowledge about how your agency could support the work … you will get much more coherent, ‘sophisticated’ and workable information and a relationship will have started to develop. There is also much more onus on you to be very clear about why you want to engage with this neighbourhood in the first place and recognition of the skills required to do so.
Crucially, community engagement is about ‘communities’ – not about individuals. One assumption is that communities already exist and are just waiting to be approached and ‘engaged’ but just because a statutory agency may identify a particular community or neighbourhood – doesn’t mean that the people identifying as that community, or living in a particular area, have any collective understanding of the issues you want to prioritise or the primary needs of their area”.
If you are interested in the challenge of illustrating the value for money of community engagement then you could check out our webpage on community engagement
Short sessions in Shrewsbury: 10am – 1pm on 23rd October, 6th November and 20th November 2013
This set of 3 sessions will include:
- making space for yourself
- saying no when you want to
- managing difficult situations
- hearing things that are hard to hear
- telling people things that are hard to say
There are 6 places available at £90 each. Participants will need to come to all three mornings
Please contact email@example.com to book
This is the first of changes’ mini-morsels – a series of short sessions, an informal, nice experience with a cup of tea and a biscuit!
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