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

How it feels to be disempowered

I have just been revisiting some notes from one of our echo sessions where we start by exploring the concept of ’empowerment’ so people get a grip on why it is important to work in empowering ways and what this means in practice, it gives everyone the chance to discuss their differing views of the term and come up with ways to explain it.

One way to do this is to turn it around and ask people to think about when they have felt disempowered – what did they feel like? The results can be quite powerful and, on this occasion the group said:

Unloved, excluded, helpless, over-looked, disenfranchised, outsider, low self-worth, silenced, worthless.

They took all of these words, added a few others and turned it into a powerful piece of poetry which they then fed back to the main group to express how it feels to be disempowered:

Have you ever felt helpless, with a low self-worth,a complete outsideroverlooked and excluded?
Organisational silence – they just won’t understand
I’m left feeling under-valuedworthless and unloved
Underneath all this, I am disenfranchised
I need to be heard

What a message to people working with communities, or employing people – or just communicating with people! Of course, we would counter this by suggesting the Community Empowerment Dimensions as a framework to turn this around.

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Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 Community empowerment, Leadership

Employee engagement

I come back to this every now and again and today is one of those days. There was an article in the Guardian a year or so ago, reporting on the Global Workforce Survey and evidencing the lack of engagement amongst employees – on a massive scale.

Barely one-fifth (21%) of the 90,000 employees surveyed (in 18 countries) were truly engaged in their work, in the sense that they would ”go the extra mile” for their employer. Nearly four out of 10 (38%) were mostly or entirely disengaged, while the rest were in the tepid middle….

The survey covered many of the key factors that determine workplace engagement, including the ability to participate in decision making, the encouragement given for innovative thinking, the availability of skill-enhancing job assignments, and the interest shown by senior executives in employee well-being.

It struck me at the time that the Community Empowerment Dimensions we talk so much about have something very simple and effective to offer. They help us (and employers) to understand how we can work in more empowering ways which:

  • build people’s confidence
  • include rather than exclude
  • are open, democratic and accountable
  • build positive relationships, identify common messages, develop and maintain links and promote partnership working
  • encourage and equip people to take part and influence

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to try this out, hear and share a few stories? It just seems madness not to!

Ning1This people empowerment, improved approaches to working has always been with me and – as an aside – I was given a precious text many years ago by a fellow consultant: The Spirited Business: success stories of soul friendly companies. It is worth a look if you can find a copy!

 

 

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Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 Community empowerment, Leadership

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

Active citizenship – how does that happen?

Here is some feedback from participants on our Take Part (Active Citizen) Learning Programme – for me it makes a strong case for recognising the particular skills needed to really make a difference in our current climate of localism – how to make the best of it. All of this has come back a bit since a recent visit to Holland to discuss Democratic Dialogue. The programme has been run very successfully with women who are interested in becoming more active in community (and public) life. It consists of 9 days, a residential and ‘field visits’ to the House of Commons and, where the budget is available, a valuable trip to the European Parliament in Brussels.

We asked participants what they had learned during the Take Part Programme, this gives a better overview of the course than we could ever hope to do!

Looking at our own communities and how we can become involved, standing up for them and making them better for everyone. This helped me to identify my own self in the community and how I can play a part in influencing the decision making process to my area a better place to live. Also how important citizenship is, how we are all part of ‘it’ and identifying what we are in our community (and country) and what role we have to play. This made me realise that I didn’t want to be an individual or active citizen, but a critical citizen, I feel that I want to stand up and make my voice heard and to play a part, collectively, in the decision making process.

I now know how important human rights legislation is and how it is able to stand up for everybody, regardless of who they are. How different charters of rights can be so different and also similar.

The course helped me to become a better communicator – realising where my weaknesses were and working on them and turning them into strengths. I said at the beginning of the course (I think even at the taster session) that I felt uncomfortable being a communicator, although I did identify my weakness of being too self-critical – always thinking that people listening to me were trying to find fault when really they were just listening. I believe that my communication skills have improved as the course progressed.

In group working I felt more confident as the course went on, being part of a group made me realise that each member is equal and we should encourage others to get involved and recognise and accept each other’s point of view. This became more apparent at the residential when we did a lot of work as small groups, identifying leadership and making group decisions, and how to work together. The ‘fantasy island’ exercise was a good example. Although this was great fun it had a serious side as it taught us how we would need to produce outcomes with limited resources by making collective decisions.

I know and understand more about becoming involved in making decisions and, in this session I identified 2 local organisations who I felt fitted into the examples given to us. The ‘X’ I considered was ‘The Clique’; and the ‘Y’ was the ‘Silent Consensus’ as I am a member of the ‘Y’ I now know that I have my part to play in making this group more influential and more forward thinking!

I am more aware of the structures of accountability in decision making (although some of those structures have already been abolished by the coalition government). I was surprised at how many levels there were and, at the bottom, what a long way up you have to go to influence more. One way of doing this effectively was by lobbying which I learned during the session on parliament. It was during this session when we watched live on TV at the case involving MPs and Lords being investigated for expense claims. I also found very interesting the relationship with the Houses of Commons and Lords and the Monarch – how this relationship had developed over time and how they are involved in the law-making process.

I also learned about leadership skills, what makes a good leader, how to be effective in leading a team, treating the group with respect and gaining respect in the process. This made me realise that being a leader isn’t about giving out orders but more about a leader of a group encouraging consensus, formulating decision making and standing by the decisions made and being supportive of the group.

I have appreciated during the course the importance of equality and equal rights. I have covered in my work this subject fairly well, but again this is something that I hadn’t asked myself about before and has made me realise how important this topic is within my community and beyond.

I believe, therefore, that I have become better equipped to enable me to be a better citizen. I have more understanding since I began the course and I have appreciated the way I have been encouraged to consider how I fit within the big picture that has become my community, country and the world”.

You can read more about our thinking on active citizenship here

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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 Active citizenship

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

Getting the whole story

This is a short story from one of our training sessions a while ago – it really ilustrates how ‘frameworks’ can help people!

Chris was a Social Exclusion Officer working for a local authority. He was based in the Policy Department and felt passionately that community empowerment was a key aspect of his work, although he couldn’t be specific about what that meant or how it manifested.

On top of this difficulty with defining the ‘what and where’ of community empowerment, Chris had also been struggling for quite some time to see how his role fitted – and complemented – the Community Education Department who saw themselves as the main protagonist of community empowerment.

Chris came along to one of our training courses on community empowerment and, as always, we introduced people to the 5 Community Empowerment Dimensions and showed how they can help him to understand what community empowerment is. For Chris, this was a major break-through – and very heartening for us to see someone get so much clarity from them. In Chris’s case,  he could see that the Community Education Department were concerned with just one of the five dimensions – the one about increasing skills, knowledge and confidence (which we call the ‘confident’ dimension), but they had no focus on – or remit to work on – the other 4 dimensions.

Chris could see that the other four dimensions: equality, organised collective working, cooperation and influence were all key parts of his role.

This meant that Chris was able to start up discussions with colleagues in Community Education about how they could work together to ensure they took an empowering approach to their work. It worked out really well and offered a platform for those officers to have those discussions – they could also see how their own departments fed into the authorities work in complementary ways.

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Monday, March 11th, 2013 Community empowerment

Rooms for Hire – a community development story

A manager of a community centre commissions trainers to provide a range of classes and activities for older people using the centre. The manager wants to make sure that the centre offers a community development approach to what they do. To achieve this, the manager draws up a ‘statement of expectation’ which she discusses with the trainers and which becomes a criteria for commissioning. The manager uses the 5 community empowerment dimensions to frame this statement and arranges to have regular review sessions with trainers.

It is about putting the values of Community Development into action

Statement of expectation:

It is expected that trainers working on these premises will adopt a community development approach to their work. By this, we mean that you will work in ways which…

Learning Recognise the existing skill levels of individuals, ensures that everyone knows what is expected of them.Recognise the increase in skills needed to undertake the activity and share your knowledge and experience with others.Make people feel good about themselves and encourage people to believe that they can ‘do it’. This is about the ‘confident’ dimension … working in a way which increases people’s skills, knowledge and confidence and instils in the a belief that they can make a difference
Equality Make you aware of who is contributing in sessions, who is not and why.Make you aware that running the class/session in particular ways excludes some people from taking part and you take steps to address this.Recognises, appreciates and builds on the differences and similarities of those taking part. Challenges discriminatory language and behaviour This is about the ‘inclusive’ dimension …. working in a way which recognises that discrimination exists, promotes equality of opportunity and good relations between groups and challenges inequality and exclusion
Participation Encourages people to come together in groups, to share their own experiences, knowledge and skillsIdentifies common interests in the group and arrange activities around theseEncourages people to undertake group projects requiring a range of skills which recognise the strengths within the group This is about the ‘organised’ dimension … working in a way which brings people together around common issues and concerns in organisations and groups that are open, democratic and accountable
Cooperation Illustrate how the activities you are working with link to others so that groups join and work together on wider, connected projectsThe group you are working with understand how their activity links into the wider world, for example an exercise class could link to food & nutrition, yoga or dance This is about the ‘cooperative’ dimension … working in a way which builds positive relationships across groups, identifies common messages, develops and maintains links to national bodies and promotes partnership working
Social Justice Provide opportunities and encouragement to the group to make suggestions in the development of the class/session, to suggest ideas and structures for future classes, resources and facilities. This is about the ‘influential’ dimension … working in a way which encourages and equips communities to take part and influence decisions, services and activities

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Thursday, February 28th, 2013 Community development, Community empowerment

Gobstopper day – a community development story

Going back a while now, but this is one of those memories that just stays with you: I was due to deliver some training to AgeUK staff, on the publication I had written about putting community development into practice.

Sal

Sal

It was in Huddersfield and I had made the journey up from Shropshire the night before and got to the venue bright and early. I waited a while, but only one participant turned up – let’s call him Mick! It transpired that a lorry full of gob-stoppers had overturned on the M62 so the only person who travelled by public transport ended up in a one-to-one session with me! I didn’t even know they still made gob-stoppers, but they were a blessing in some ways as the two of us had the luxury of spending the whole day together – real quality time.We put the next few hours to good use – sharing experiences and stories and trying to find some practical solutions.

Mick worked as a ‘leisure and fitness coordinator’. One day, he was visited by 4 women (aged 70+) who told him that they wanted a Tai Chi exercise class to go to. They had talked to other people in their age group and it was a popular idea.

Mick wanted to make sure that anything he arranged was ‘community-led’ so he talked to these women – and others – about the best day of the week, time and location, to hold the classes and he arranged for a trained instructor to deliver them.

The first week was great – about 50 people turned up and seemed to engage happily with the activity.
The following week wasn’t as popular, but was still good, and attracted about 30 older people to the session.
Week 3 was very disappointing and barely made it to double figures, with a downward spiral from there-on-in.

Mick was dispirited and just could not work out what had gone wrong, as he had met the request that came from the older people themselves and consulted them on the practicalities. I asked him if – when the women had first approached him – he had asked them why they wanted Tai Chi classes ……

  • Was it primarily about exercise and fitness?
  • Was it about relaxation?
  • Was it about socialising?
  • Was it about learning something new?
  • Was it to fill a gap in the timetable?
  • Was it because someone had recommended Tai Chi as something to try?
  • Or because there had been a television programme about it?
  • Or because the neighbouring area had Tai Chi classes?
  • Or something else …?

Mick didn’t know, but we could both see that it mattered. We could see a really clear link between process and outcome.

In Mick’s example – his process of checking with older people was great but he didn’t have a clear outcome i.e. he didn’t know why he was doing it, other than people had asked him to. Crucially,  we didn’t know WHY this group of people wanted Tai Chi classes, what they hoped to get from them, and so he had never considered, or checked, if that was likely to happen. Huge learning for us both.

Mick and I back-tracked a bit to think about what might happen if we tackled both process and outcome. It made sense to start by thinking about the outcome – what older people want to happen as a result of the activity. We practised with the outcome that “older people network socially and learn more from each other”.

Once we had this in the bag, we discussed ways that this might be achieved. e.g. doing things which will bring people together, encouraging them to talk to each other, creating an atmosphere where people will share ideas and develop trust in each other. To achieve these things, we thought we needed to stimulate discussion and debate, get people interested in others – thinking about their similarities and differences.

Since that day, I have heard about some very successful Tai Chi classes for older people. But I have also heard about quite a few which started and then folded – and some of the reasons I have been given are:

  • It can be pretty strenuous for older people – so, if they are after gentle exercise, it may not necessarily the best activity.
  • It can be delivered ina way which is quite individualised, so if people want a social activity to share with others, it may not necessarily the best activity.
  • Tai Chi instructors are very disciplined, so if they deliver in this way and people want an informal, relaxed atmosphere, it may not necessarily be the best activity.

Sticking with the Tai Chi example: if Tai Chi is seen to be strenuous, individualised and disciplined – how could it be delivered in a way which achieves outcomes about networking socially and learning from each other? Sessions could include:

  • information about why people practice Tai Chi, the health benefits and the range of movements included
  • discussion about Tai Chi, exploring people’s knowledge and experience of China and other martial arts, what makes movements easier to do and what might make them more difficult for some people
  • work in small groups, to support each other to understand and practice the movements, encourage people to share their experiences of Tai Chi – and the benefits they have recognised
  • visits to other places practicing different types of martial arts, and to a variety of other venues to learn about different ways of exercising
  • encouragement to, and opportunity for, older people to shape the direction of the sessions, voicing their interests and requirements and making suggestions for future sessions and other activities

We identified these five different, but inter-linked, ideas by working through the five community empowerment dimensions – which were really helpful

It was a fine day!

Having avoided the gobstoppers, sadly Mick later suffered on the way home as Leeds Train Station was hit by a tornado – it was quite day!

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