The Challenges of ‘Engaging Community Leaders’

I attended Leaders for Leeds this morning - a breakfast meeting that connects a group of people who are trying to work on achieving 'best city' outcomes, aka make Leeds a better place to live.  I jotted down a few notes, some taken from our conversations and some capturing thoughts that I didn't have time to express, and these form the basis of what I have written here. The theme of the session was 'Engaging Community Leaders' exploring the premise that Leaders for Leeds needs to get more and different people and perspectives into its network.  We were invited to explore what might need to happen for more community leaders to show up.  This raised a number of interesting issues in our conversation and the thoughts it prompted in me: What do we mean by community?  Geography? Interest group? Ethnic group? Faith based group? Age group?  Community is a weasel word.  We can utter it with gravity and credibility while conferring on it no specific meaning.  It is a broad signaller of intent, with no specific commitment or rationale attached.  I reckon what we actually mean by 'community' is often 'target population'.  Except Leaders for Leeds has no 'targets'.  We are not clear on whose voice we want in the room and why. … [Read more...]

Strengthening Bottom Up

Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society', people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done. The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development.  To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in. But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy…. Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as: Progress Schools Community Conversations Local Community Enterprise Accelerators (‘Elsies’) Innovation Labs and Results Factories These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks … [Read more...]

An imaginary open letter: To those who would ‘engage’ us…

To those who would 'engage' us... We are already engaged. We may not be engaged with you, or in what you think we should be engaged with, but none the less we ARE engaged. The things that we are engaged with offer us what we are looking for, perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Our chosen 'engagements' give us some combination of love, power and money. There is a fourth thing that some of us get from our preferred engagement, and that is freedom from pain. Freedom from the pain of hope denied. Freedom from the pain of optimism dashed. Freedom from the humiliation of yet another 'failure'. This pursuit of freedom from pain is what you label 'apathy'. We may choose to engage with you, and your agendas, if you offer us what we want. Unless we see possibilities for this our engagement with you is likely to be short lived and will change nothing. It might be enough for you to tick the box called 'community engagement', but little more.  Love and fun might attract us for a while, but it is making us powerful that keeps us engaged. Many of us who you find 'hard to reach' or 'difficult to engage' have 'been engaged' with people like you before. We have been sold false hope and have suffered the pain of having that … [Read more...]

Patient Opinions on NHS Services in Leeds

Patient Opinion is an excellent resource that is used to share feedback and experiences of NHS services in Leeds. Perhaps if more of us used it then NHS managers might have to take a little more notice. How about a campaign to encourage the use of Patient Opinion in Leeds? … [Read more...]

Some thoughts on Best City outcomes

The only test of 'best city' is not a position in a league table, but some very personal answers to a complex set of questions, which may include.... Is this the 'best city' for me and my loved ones? Is this the best place for me to make a life of fulfilment, dignity and pride? Will I find people that are willing to challenge and support me with compassion? Will I find opportunities to be stimulated, provoked and changed? Will I find it possible to connect with others with whom I share a common cause? Will I find the space and support to do my best work? Will I find myself in a political, social and cultural system that accepts my values and beliefs? Will it encourage the production of goods and services necessary for a becoming existence or will it do almost anything in pursuit of growth? Will it respect and nurture micro-enterprise, sole traders, makers, community groups and individual activists as much as it 'establishes proactive relationships' with 'large corporate employers'? Is this a place where I can help to shape a better future for my children and theirs? What kind of 'city development' processes would be necessary to allow the majority of us to be able to answer most of these … [Read more...]

To mentor… If you want to find yourself a great mentor, then in my experience best avoid those mentor matching services... … [Read more...]

Some Barriers to Engagement

What are the things that make 'engaging' harder than it need be?  Here is my personal starter for 10... Cost Location/Access Methods and practices that are culturally biassed Corporatism (I have become increasingly disengaged with the Olympics as it more becomes just a platform for Coca Cola, McDonalds and co.) Obfuscation ( the hiding of intended meaning) Procedural issues - closed meetings, delayed agendas, delayed minutes Fear - will I look a fool? Fear - will I make enemies? It will be a waste of time - engage or not - it makes no odds Emphasis on events over process (we consult or hold a focus group rather than engage in a dialogue over time) Language - use of jargon Language that is highly gendered or stereotyped Culture - lack of capacity to bring people in, to help them learn Any more...? Interested in how we can dismantle some of these barriers? … [Read more...]

Dismantling Barriers to Engagement

Engagement, co-creation, co-production consultation, and membership development all are high on the list of priorities for many.  Yet it can feel like an uphill battle to get beyond the usual suspects to establish a genuine engagement with the community. Are we beset by a tide of apathy? Or a complex web of cultural barriers that amount to intentional exclusion? Either way - what can we do personally and collectively to overcome these barriers to engagement and participation? To reduce them, undermine them, clamber over them? Is it possible to be disengaged - or are we just engaged in other things, with other folk?  Do we label people apathetic as a way of avoiding a real inspection of our own work? Apathy historically means 'free from pain'.  To what extent are choices not to engage sensible means of avoiding pain, disappointment and failure? How often is the 'engagement' that we are offered really in our own interest?  Or is it often more serving policy makers and service providers. Whether you are on 'the outside looking in', or on the inside, wondering why we don't engage... let's start looking for clues... I would welcome your comments, … [Read more...]

Getting to Grips with Social Finance – FREE TRAINING

Urban Forum has FREE places available on the following half-day seminar on Getting to Grips with Social Finance. 21st June 2012 in Wakefield Social Investment? Community Finance? Charity Bonds? Crowdfunding? What does it all mean and what does it have to do with us? In these times of austerity, public service transformation and changes to voluntary and community sector funding, there is a greater emphasis on new forms of financing social action through social investment. In a nutshell it's about using money to achieve both social outcomes or ‘returns', as well as financial ones. These seminars, organised with local and national partners, will: Provide an overview of social investment and community finance Share some practical examples of how new funding models can be used Discuss practical implications for community organisations Enable participants to explore how to assess whether social finance can work for them Signpost to available sources of support CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK YOUR FREE PLACE The Getting to Grips with Social Finance workshop programme is being supported by the Santander … [Read more...]

Working In Community Development Today…

Wheeler Hall in Leeds was packed for this conference, as busy as I have ever seen it, which I think reflects a couple of trends: the increasing interest of funders and policy makers in using community development to achieve their policy goals an increasing need to turn to our fellow citizens to tackle the small and big challenges in life as the impotence of governments becomes increasingly apparent. The conference opened with John Low from JRF providing a retrospective of his 40 year career in community development spanning major periods of work in Halton Moor, then Wrexham and finally Bradford, with an emphasis on highlighting strengths and weaknesses in different approaches to community development and importantly lessons that had been learned.  I am not attempting here to report what the various speakers actually said, as much as the thoughts that they triggered in my head with their words. John was attracted to community development because it seemed to offer a means of rebellion against his middle class up-bringing Work on Halton Moor, good though it was showed how the issues that caused poverty on the estate were not caused by anything on the estate.  The causes of poverty were not the poor or the … [Read more...]


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