practitioners

Voice is back in our midst

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. its flexible

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

Internal externalFrom 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, orResource pack 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:

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!

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Thursday, November 20th, 2014 Community development, Community influence

So easy to write an Away Day programme!

Yesterday I sat down to write a programme for an Away Day. The group is a local community group focusing on improving the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans people in later life – particularly in the context of health and social care. The aims of the Away Day are for members of the Action Group to get to know each other better, to explore the contacts and connections that people are carrying round in their heads so we can start mapping routes in to the health sectors and to share ideas about how to develop a promotional strategy.

After about 30 mins sitting in front of my laptop with a sketchy plan in front of me I suddenly had a brainwave – and felt a little foolish that I hadvoice resource packvoice resource pack not thought of it before. Of course – the Voice framework in the Axis of Influence series offers a whole load of discussion questions and activities which could look a bit like an Away Day programme. I have to admit to hunting around a bit before I found my own copy of the resource pack – it is a long time since I have made reference to it – when the Government changed and money was pulled out of local authorities and the voluntary sector resulting in huge levels of redundancy, job change, job insecurity – the capacity, interest and investment in community groups being supported to influence nose-dived and my Voice resource pack went into a cupboard.

nature of influenceI realised that the remit for the day is of course all about influence – and that the Voice framework is designed to help groups to develop internally as well as influence externally – perfect – there must be something in the pack that has already been tried and tested, rather than starting from scratch. Putting the programme together was a dream once I realised this and all the activities are there – all I had to do was select what would work best for this group!

So – here we go:

Voice – Step 2 Know Why You Want to Influence

we will start the day looking at what the group has achieved and what the individuals get from being a part of it

we will then look at who makes the decisions that affect the lives of older LGBT people, leading into a look at the health & social care structures in the County.

from this we want to start looking at people!Vertical

Voice – Step 7 Know who to influence

with the context in mind from the first part of the day, we will start drawing a map of what/who each member of the group knows, where personal contacts might lie and who needs to be targeted to build relationships or connections

we bring in the group’s strategic aims at this point to ensure that the people being identified are in the relevant context for what the group wants to achieve and we start looking at what these people may want to hear so the group can be a bit canny about future approaches.

Voice Step 9 Know how to influence

its flexiblethis Step in Voice offers ideas about the questions I can ask the group to help develop ideas for a promotional strategy. It suggests the different ways that influence happens and suggests activities where members of the group share examples of these – from their own experience or something they have heard about. This can then lead into a discussion about the different media that can be used to take messages forward. There is always a tendency for people to focus on this media when discussing promotional strategies – we seem naturally inclined to list media methods: magazines, facebook, leaflets – rather than starting with the most effective technique to adopt – be it whispering messages in the ears of influential people, demonstrating in a crowd, negotiating our way in to sit around an influential table …

Voice reminds us to do this and then to agree the practical and complementary ways in which to carry the words to different audiences.

 

I have forgotten what a joy it is to work with Voice and how much I personally used to get from facilitating sessions – I am reminded how it always does something, it always gets discussions going and is a very rewarding experience so I am looking forward to the Away Day and bringing it all back to life! Oh, and I estimate that, using Voice to plan this session has saved me about 3 hours planning time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Voice and with no access to the resource pack (which comes with a training course), you can work through some of the thinking behind it for FREE with no strings attached by logging into our sister-site online resource: changes Foundations

Of course, a Voice needs an echo to be fully rounded ….. but that’s another story!

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Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 Community development, Uncategorized

An example of ‘Working in Empowering Ways’

Community Empowerment, as described by changes, can be understood by breaking it down into five distinct but inter-related dimensions. They illustrate that an empowered community is:
• confident
• inclusive
• organised
• cooperative
• influential

Each linked dimension can be interpreted as:
• process (working in ways which are empowering) and
• outcomes (empowered individuals, groups, organisations & communities)
The 5 dimensions make ‘community empowerment’ very practical and identifiable; they describe how the values of community development* can be put into action. SAND is a Shropshire-based initiative looking at the issues impacting on older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans people accessing health & social care services – it has an action group and is taking a community development approach which offers a fantastic example of the changes Community Empowerment Dimensions in action.

SAND stands for Safe Ageing No Discrimination. Below are the 5 Community Empowerment Dimensions, illustrated with stories about SAND practice.

Outcome: Confident communities – This is about putting the community development value around LEARNING into practice: recognising the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute and develop by taking action to tackle social, economic, political and environmental problems

To achieve this, we work in ways which increase people’s skills, knowledge and confidence – and instils a belief that they can make a difference
• members of the SAND action group have already changed their beliefs that it is worth trying to change things
• several members who have never campaigned as ‘out’ gay people now do
• SAND members are recognising and utilising their own skills and expertise
    Outcome: Inclusive communities – This is about putting the community development value around
    EQUALITY into practice: challenging the attitudes of individuals and the practices of institutions which discriminate and marginalise people

    To achieve this, we work in ways which recognise that discrimination exists, promote equality of opportunity and good relations between groups, challenging inequality and exclusion
    • SAND is all about challenging health and social care discriminatory practices
    • SAND is being invited to give presentations to providers and professionals e.g. solicitors for the elderly network, local advice and information advocacy forum
    • SAND has created a safe space for people to talk about their own experiences
    Outcome: Organised communities – This is about putting the community development value around PARTICIPATION into practice: facilitating democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives, based on full citizenship, autonomy and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience

    To achieve this, we work in ways which bring people together around common issues and concerns in organisations and groups that are open, democratic and accountable
    • SAND is an open and transparent group and aims to build slowly, developing a structure that works for SAND, rather than imposing a ready-made structure
    • SAND values the experiences of all members of the group and is building a sense of real community and solidarity
    • An action plan was developed via facilitated discussions

    Outcome: Co-operative communities – This is about putting the community development value around

    CO-OPERATION into practice: working together to identify and implement action based on mutual respect of diverse cultures and contributions

    To achieve this, we work in ways which build positive relationships across groups, identify common messages, develop and maintain links to national bodies and promote partnership working
    • SAND is building links with other local and national LGBT networks and initiatives
    • SAND is linking with other involved in relevant national research
    Outcome: Influential communities – This is about putting the community development value around SOCIAL JUSTICE into practice: enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their needs and have greater control over the decision making process which affect their lives

    To achieve this, we work in ways which encourage and equip communities to take part and influence decisions, services and activities
    • SAND is currently undertaking participative research funded via HealthWatch to influence health and social care provision locally
    • SAND intends to influence the debate around LGBT health and social care
    • SAND has high profile named supporters including Sandi Toksvig, Peter Tatchell and Tom Robinson
    SAND is in a unique position to gather information and evidence about what is happening to older LGBT people. The only way we can do this is by taking a community development approach, rather than seeing people as individual consumers of care. SAND is working through LGBT networks and contacts to connect with people and communities who are often hidden and marginalised (for very good reason). The aim is to facilitate safe spaces for people to define the issues that impact on them and develop collective solutions that are meaningful. SAND also wants to build social capital and develop supportive local community based solutions, as well as holding services to account.

    Something to illustate how important this approach is – in the whole of Shropshire out of at least 4000 LGBT older people over the age of 65 – SAND knows of only ONE person in a care home setting……who hasn’t come out to her carers! Where are the rest? Their needs are clearly not being met. For more information go to http://lgbtsand.wordpress.com

    *changes acknowledges that people express the values of community development in different ways. This interpretation is drawn from the Strategic Framework for Community Development, CDX 2000. Others may be found in the National Occupational Standards for Community Development Work.

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Monday, July 14th, 2014 Community empowerment

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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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

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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The key – a community development story

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.

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Reflective Practice – on the tin

We are delighted to launch our second online resource in the changes ‘On the Tin’ series – this one is designed to help community engagement practitioners to reflect on their practice and you can find it HERE

Work your way through the resource and find out what reflective practice means to different people; how it can help you and your practice – and download resources to help you give it a go.

As with our debut On the Tin resource: Working in Inclusive Ways, this is an easy to read, practical guide – and we’d love to hear what you think about it

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Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 Community engagement

Resource launch – Working in Inclusive Ways

It is 1st November and we are delighted to launch our new resource – a publicly available blog designed for anyone who is planning and delivering community engagement at any level and in any context.

Working In Inclusive Ways explores the current equalities context, contains information, references, and food for thought about how your own practice impacts on ‘communities’. It contains information and ideas about:

  • national and local context for equalities, exclusion and diversity
  • key issues relating to equality and diversity in practice
  • attitudes to fairness and how that impacts on practice

Please go and have a look, share with your colleagues and leave comments on the blog. We are really interested in your feedback and experiences – both on the content and the format. This is the first in a series of practical resources that we plan to release – the next one will be on Reflective Practice. It will be in a similar style so we can take your comments on board and make it as accessible as possible.

http://inclusiononthetin.wordpress.com/

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Thursday, November 1st, 2012 Community engagement, Equalities & Diversity

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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