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!
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
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
A community development practitioner started a new job and was asked to work with a small isolated rural community which for many years had been viewed as a ‘difficult’ area by local professionals. She was told that people from that area/small council estate were ‘useless’ and didn’t have the energy or the motivation to get anything done on their own behalf – ‘they could not be trusted to bring crisps for a xmas party’
At her first meeting with the small group of locals who bothered to turn up to the very run down church hall, the door was locked and everyone just stood there waiting for the door to open. The new worker stood there and chatted along with the rest of them – and thought that maybe she could offer to go and find the key. However, she decided not to do that and thought that she would wait and see what happened next. After about half an hour someone said maybe we should go and get the key…and someone went off to get it and they all went in and had their meeting.
At the end of the meeting, someone suggested that they decided in advance who needed to get the key next time there was a meeting. From this small beginning grew a £0.5m new community centre and childcare project with the people in that community taking responsibility for their initiative.
They had been viewed as passive and dependant by local professionals and consequently had been ‘done to’ not ‘worked with’. All the power had been kept in the hands of the professionals.
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.
Over the past couple of years we have been having conversations at changes about establishing some sort of charitable arm. Our rationale for this was to have a consistent and dependable route through which some of the strands of our work could operate and to capitalise on the sustainable nature of the work that clients have commissioned in the past. By this, I mean things like the Women Take Part learning programmes and Voice and echo in practice. Over the years, we have trained up many people to be able to engage with – and in some cases – to deliver these frameworks, working in empowering ways and making a difference. In our minds, a charitable organisation could provide a structure through which these could continue, without dependency on a commissioning process and under the guidance of a Board comprising some of those very people who could take them forward.
The waters are very muddied for consultants to do this sort of thing and there is a lot of suspicion around, about this being just a matter of semantics so that private agencies can reap the benefits of both private and charitable sectors for their own ends. In fact, this is something that has concerned us for quite some time, as our competitors have increasingly changed to become Community Interest Companies or Social Enterprises.
Ultimately, we decided that a charitable arm was not for us and would not achieve what we were trying to do. We still haven’t worked out what might but keep checking us out – you never know! In the meantime, our conversations have turned more toward a structured recognition of the voluntary work that we do in changes’ time. One of our aims when we got together in 2005 was to be able to undertake voluntary work i.e. literally to be able to afford to do so: meaning time rather than money.
At the moment, in particular, this is keeping us very busy indeed! At the national level, Sue is Chair of CDX which is currently going through the motions of winding up, Sal is Co-Chair of Urban Forum which is experiencing major change. Both are drawing increasingly on Trustees. Locally, Jill is involved in her local neighbourhood planning group and Sal is on the board of AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin. Here is a bit from each of us about what we are up to, why we got involved and what this voluntary activity adds to our work at changes.
Jill: At present my voluntary work is mainly with my local neighbourhood planning group. We are a small group of residents aiming to talk with people and groups in our area about future plans for this part of the town. We were chosen to be a neighbourhood planning ‘front runner’ and, of the five in Shropshire, we are the only community group as the rest are either parish or town councils. I am also involved in a ‘Friends of the Library’ group. I decided to get involved in the neighbourhood planning group for two reasons; firstly, to get to know a different group of people in the area where I live and, secondly, to find out what’s going on locally and influence decisions collectively. I’ve found it so useful from a changes’ point of view to have a grass roots experience of how aspects of the Localism Act filter through layers of local government and to be able to link this to my understanding of Localism policy and strategy. This local involvement also reminds me about how inequalities are reproduced in community groups – how gender, age, class and so on, shape people’s expectations of involvement – and how community isn’t always a benign force for the collective good. It’s a timely reminder that personal is political.
Sue: I am currently Chair of CDX, a national independent organisation that promotes and supports community development in all its guises. It’s a membership organisation that seeks to build networks and to influence policy makers to understand the value of working with people in local communities so that they can transform their lives. I’m involved because this is what I believe in passionately and thought that I had something to contribute, partly because the underpinning values and principles of community development are also at the heart of the work that we do as changes.
From the point of view of changes it means that we keep up to date with what’s going on and, keep our connections in the real world of community development and also in the real world of those who want to use a community development approach to their work but are not sure how. We are continually thinking about how to demystify ‘community development’ and encourage people to adopt ways of working that are empowering for everyone. I’ve only been on the Board of Trustees for about 18 months and sadly that time has seen a complete pulling out of any funding for CDX from national government, and banishment from the national tables where discussions happen that are supposed to influence government policy. We don’t know what the future holds for community development networking but, watch this space and we’ll let you know
Sal: I am in my 6th year as a trustee at Urban Forum and have been Co-Chair for a rollercoaster 2 years, following a spell as Acting Chair and 3 years as Vice-Chair. I got involved because I wanted to get a different insight into the national scene and because I thought I could offer a different sort of input to the organisation – bringing my community development experience in. One thing that happened quite quickly – and to my surprise – was an interest in Board relationships. This includes how Boards function as a whole, how to encourage an active board, how to utilise the skills of those on the board and the relationship between the board and CEO – and staff. This interest has continued and spills into my voluntary activity at AgeUK Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin where I am currently looking at the different ways that we could share information about trustee strengths in a way which makes this information useful – not only to the board – but to the organisation more widely. The value to changes feels enormous. As with Jill and Sue, this on the ground experience in a non-paid role provides its own unique reality which then feeds what I do at work. I wouldn’t be without it.
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/
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