Definition of Community

This via Leeds own Max Farrar

By community I mean something that goes far beyond mere local community. The word, as we find it in much nineteenth and twentieth century thought encompasses all forms of relationship which are characterised by a high degree of personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitment, social cohesion, and continuity in time. Community is founded on man conceived in his wholeness rather than in one or another of the roles, taken separately, that he may hold in a social order. It draws its psychological strength from levels of motivation deeper than those of mere volition or interest, and it achieves its fulfillment in a submergence of individual will that is not possible in unions of mere convenience or rational assent. Community is a fusion of feeling and thought, of tradition and commitment, of membership and volition. It may be found in, or given symbolic expression by, locality, religion, nation, race, occupation, or crusade.

Nisbet, RA (1967) The Sociological Tradition London: Heinemann

Asset Based Development

I have just had an interesting twitter conversation with @asset_transfer the twitter feed for the Asset Transfer Unit.  They pointed me to this site call Building Community.

Lot’s of great work and some inspirational stories.

However, (and it is a big however) I think this goes to show how, in the UK at least, ‘asset’ has become synonymous with ‘building’.  And the process of ‘asset based development’ has become synonymous with asset (building) transfer from local authority ownership to social enterprise.  There is no doubt that this can be a part of an effective community development strategy.

But, it is not the only game in town.  And it can be an expensive game.  While the buildings may be sold for a pound, the cost of refurbishment frequently runs into millions.  Once developed sometimes these buildings continue to demand cash to keep them open as business plans don’t quite work out as anticipated and they may become cuckoos in our communities – sucking up investment as their funders claim they ‘cannot be allowed to fail’.  This is a ‘shadow side’ that occasionally becomes a very real, very expensive and very persistent problem.

What is more, listed building regulations sometimes mean that the refurbished buildings are not very green.

But the real problem is that in many of the communities that I work in lack of infrastructure is not the key challenge.  Buildings are not the barrier.  Lack of bricks and mortar for community use is not the bottleneck.  I am not against asset transfer.  In some communities, at the right time they are the perfect and logical step.

But when the bottle neck is not infrastructure but capability and confidence or ability to organise, then let’s not pretend that a new building always holds the key.  We may get a better return on our investment from good old community development work – using existing spaces in the community to bring people together and help them to organise for a better future.  Informal education and outreach work may be the best ways to develop the limiting assets of knowledge, skills and self belief.  I believe there are communities that would love to go down these more ‘people centred’ routes but for whom available investment is tied to the transfer of buildings.

So good luck to the Asset Transfer Unit.  But let’s remember that the principal assets in our communities are people and their potential.  Not run down buildings.  If we really want to  get a  return on our investment in asset based development then let’s at least consider putting that investment into the real assets – people.

There are other approaches to asset based community development that could be considered.  At the moment policy and funding in the UK tilts the playing field so heavily in favour of community ownership of bricks and  mortar that it is hard for the alternatives to get an airing.

But perhaps this is set to change?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…..

Complexity from Simplicity

This video provides a useful and at times very beautiful introduction to the topics of complexity and emergence – which offer us a very different way to think about our organisations and how we manage them.


and this one takes the journey a little further:


If you want to see how you can use these ideas to improve your leadership and management then do get in touch.

The Future of a Community…

What determines the future of a community?  Whether it becomes a place where most of its members live happy and fulfilled lives or ones that are full of misery and fear?

Does it depend on the decisions made by planners and politicians in national and local government? On what we might call ‘the planners paradigm’ where architects, planners, policy makers and property developers shape the places in which we live.

Or, does it depend on which entrepreneurs decide to operate in the community? On whether ‘Big Business’ comes to town or not?  On whether we can encourage enough of the creative class to join our community?  On what we might call ‘the entrepreneurial paradigm’ where the presence of many vibrant and creative entrepreneurs (that special breed) provide employment, products and services for those of us somehow less gifted?  Who create the wealth and taxes that provide the rest of us with our livelihoods and public services.

Or does it depend on the extent to which everyone is supported to recognise their passions and develop their capability to act in ways that make things better for themselves, their families, their community and the planet as a whole?  On the extent to which people are valued by others in the community and able to use the resources of knowledge and experience available to them to make progress?  What we might call ‘the capability paradigm’.

Of course all of these things have an impact.  If the planners provide poor infrastructure, or if big business hoovers up money from the community and filters it back to distant shareholders then it may be more difficult to develop a sustainable and vibrant community. But not impossible.

I believe that communities which learn how to respond to and support individuals and groups within their ranks who are seeking to make progress; who learn how to access, harness and develop capabilities and potentials will steadily become both more cohesive and harmonious.  That ‘the capability paradigm’ holds the most effective key to building great communities.  Communities that embrace it, and learn to master it, will be reported by those living in them as good places to be.  They will start to become wealthier and healthier than their more fragmented, less connected counterparts.

But most importantly they will become more fulfilling places to live.

Jumping on the Enterprise Coaching Bandwagon

Interesting to see how much effort is starting to go into selling qualifications and training to the enterprise coaching market.

SFEDI Enterprise are launching their Endorsed Award in Enterprise Coaching and ILM are pitching their coaching qualifications (other suppliers are available).

I am  not sure that now is the right time to be pursuing qualifications.  Of course it makes sense for the employers to have qualified staff, and it makes sense for coaches to have qualifications, but does it really serve the customer?  Will it support the reflective practice and development which our nascent profession demands?

Do we not risk converging too quickly on tried and tested methodologies?  On embedding lowest common denominator practices?  Do we not put the focus too early on ‘proving our competence’ rather than reflecting on and developing our practice?

Let’s avoid the bittersweet seduction of qualifications and instead pursue the development and recognition of methodologies that work in our communities, with our customers in our contexts.  Let’s avoid the one size fits all mentality and lets encourage innovation and creativity in pursuit of our full potential.

Reflections on the Enterprise Coaching Conference

The Enterprise Coaching conference held in Derby yesterday got me reflecting again on what I have learned from 20 years experience in working with enterprise coaches and people looking to make progress in their lives.  It also prompted me to re-read Ernesto Sirolli’s PhD thesis – available on the web here (PDF).

He suggests that 4 key principles should underpin the work of the enterprise coach (Sirolli calls them Enterprise Facilitators™ – a term on which he claims a trademark).  These principles are:

  1. Only work with individuals or communities that invite you.
  2. Never motivate individuals to do anything they do not wish to do.
  3. Trust that they are naturally drawn towards self-improvement.
  4. Have faith in community and the higher social needs that bond it together.

Each of these principles stems from an approach to providing help that is genuinely person centred and responsive rather than interventions designed to achieve the policy objectives of the state.

Sirolli argues compellingly that any violation of these 4 principles may lead to a self satisfying and self serving illusion of help but will in practice inhibit the long term development of an enterprise culture in the community.

Each of these 4 principles is worth significant reflection and its implications for our practice as coaches, and perhaps more importantly service designers and managers should be careful considered.

Here are a few questions to prompt the process:

  • What would you and your service need to be like so that the people that you wish to support w0uld actively and willingly seek out your support? What would you have achieved?  What would your reputation be like?  Would you use offers of money or marketing campaigns to win attention in the community?  If you only worked where people really invited you, would you have any work?  What would you have to do in order to start ‘winning invitations’?
  • If we do not motivate people then how can we help them to change?  Do they need our encouragement and motivation to pursue objectives that are in their own self interest?  What are the risks of motivating and initiating?
  • What would happen if we just trusted people to move in a direction that leads to self improvement?  If we rely on the development of a natural human instinct rather than imposing an external perspective of what constitutes progress will ANY of our clients move forward?  What might happen to our performance metrics if we really worked at the natural pace of the client?  What might happen in the long term to our effectiveness and impact – if we survive the short term problems?  What is the role of the enterprise coach in working with clients whose natural  inclination to self improvement has been somehow stalled?
  • Is it sufficient to just have ‘faith’ in the ‘higher social needs’ that bind community together or does our work require a more practical approach to developing the role of the community in supporting individuals who are looking to make progress?

Our work needs to be grounded on principles if it is to be effective.  It is not just about the techniques of coaching versus advising, mentoring or counselling.  It is not just about managerial pragmatism in pursuit of the narrowly economic objectives of most funders and policy makers.

It is about our role in engaging with individuals and communities on the agendas that matter most to them.

It is about how best we can help people to engage in the rich infrastructure of services and support that is already out there if they wish to use it.

It is about how we can influence the design and delivery of these services (including mainstream business support) to ensure that they are both cost effective and relevant.

But most importantly it is about how can provide consistent and long term relationships that people can trust enough to help them as they confront the risks and challenges that come with stepping outside of the comfort zone and continuing the journey of self improvement.

Encouraging people to start on these journeys with promises of help and support, and then withdrawing that help and support when funders and policy makers shift their priorities not only destroys trust in us but also leaves our clients high and dry.  If current funders are not willing or able to honour the long term commitments that serious endeavours to change the enterprise culture in communities requires then we perhaps need to find some new investors.

As George Derbyshire said – perhaps it is time to ‘Sack the Boss’.