Everyone wants to involve the local community in services, projects and local initiatives. But…
What does this actually mean in practice?
How can we, as professionals in the sector, ensure that we are providing an effective and attractive menu of participation options for people to take up?
How can we measure the effectiveness of our participation strategy?
We have developed the following model/framework to identify and explain what we see to be the different core archetypes of community participation. It can be applied at all scales and in all sectors; from a national perspective explaining the concept of how individuals can participate in the Big Society, to a local level, in a school looking to increase parent engagement, or a local authority wanting to address anti-social behaviour.
So, what does it mean to participate in your community?
We think it means you are doing one of these 7 things:
- You react to things that happen and say when things go badly, or when they go well.
- Examples of this could be calling up to report a burnt out car, telling your child’s school that they are being bullied, or writing to thank the nurses at the hospital who gave such wonderful care to your mother
- You respond when asked for your view or opinion
- Examples of this could be filling in a survey about your area, attending a community meeting, being part of a focus group, voting, or having any conversation with someone who works in your area, when you are asked: “what do you think about….”
- You operate at a strategic level and influence policy, projects or organisations
- Examples of this could be being a parent governor at a school, being on your local tenants association or being a trustee of a charity
- You support projects and schemes that are already happening
- Examples of this could be volunteering at the local charity shop, doing your recycling, being a special constable, or staying at the nursery for stop and play sessions
- You generate new projects, organisations or initiatives, based on seeing something is missing
- Examples of this could be being a social entrepreneur and setting up your own organisation, to establishing a free school, to starting a new project within your organisation
- You engage, catalyze, connect or encourage others
- Examples of this could be network building, introducing two people (or organisations together) or facilitating and engaging others to be a part of a project, or to change their mind
- You help out by doing things
- Examples of this could be assiting your elderly neighbour with her shopping, or taking a pot of soup around to someone who is ill, or picking up some litter off the street. The difference between this type and being supportive is that this is informal, not on behalf of an organisation or programme.
All of these things help to build community.
All of them can apply as much to organisations as to individuals; in life and online.
This is not a hierarchy where one way of participating is better than another.
It is not a progression where one way leads to another.
What we know, is that at different times, for different issues, we all will contribute and participate in our communities in different ways. This is because at different moments in our lives, different things are important to us, we have different opportunities and interact with different people.
We use these archetypal models in all our community engagement and community building projects. We find the following benefits from using it:
- Assessment of Opportunities: The model can be used as a framework for assessing the participation offer being made to a community. Gaps can be identified and filled. The model can be used to create a menu of opportunities that means there can be “something for everyone.”
- Targeting: It enables us to devise engagement plans that are targeted, based on how someone might participate rather than purely by demographics. Even if engaging just one type, eg generators, there are sub-categories – they are not a homogeneous group (eg experienced and inexperienced generators). The model gives a framework to identify and engage sub-groups by looking at the needs of the individual.
- Support: Different types of participation have different needs that have to be met to ensure effective and sustained involvement. By using the model we can identify and target support where it is needed, and design systems that make this happen. For example, for people to be able to be supportive they need to know what local schemes and projects exisit for them to be a part of.
- Appreciation: It encourages the appreciation and valuing of all the different types of participation, rather than focusing on just one type. For example, reactive participation is almost always seen as complaining. Adopting this model can change the way people think and therefore act, so that someone calling up to complain about something being broken could be treated as a community member who is actively engaging with the council, and be valued for it, rather than being related to as a nuisance complainer.
- Shared Understanding and Language for Partnership Working: the model creates a shared language that supports partnership working in engagement. For example, one person could tell another that they were seeking to engage people to be generative, rather than supportive, and there would be a clear understanding of what was meant for the collaboration.
If genuine and widespread community participation is wanted, then a vital role for government (central and local) and for third sector organisations, should be to ensure that there is a very wide range of opportunities, in each of these areas for people to participate.
And, if we, as individuals want to be involved and help to build our communities, then all we have to do is step up, and do more of the things that we can do.
It really is that simple.