Working in Neighbourhoods

The following is from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) page on their new publication Working in neighbourhoods, active citizenship and localism, which I picked up from Lambeth Council’s Cooperative Toolkit blog.

What can we learn from working in neighbourhoods?

Neighbourhood working can help to deliver Localism policies, good partnership working, more active citizenship and civic responsibility, and get local councillors to play strong community leadership roles.

JRF’s Working in Neighbourhoods project offers useful lessons for local authorities, neighbourhood practitioners, and communities, drawing on direct experience from practitioners in Bradford, and many other places. It found:

  • Neighbourhood workers are key to co-ordinate partners and services, broker agreements and solve problems creatively.
  • Active citizenship could be strengthened by tapping into the pool of ‘willing localists’.
  • Transferring more control to communities requires new mechanisms to share risk and reward between public sector bodies and communities.
  • Councillors can play a community leadership role, and be honest with constituents, tackle difficult issues head-on, and mobilise the wider community.
  • Central government could offer support, guidance and leadership for action at the local level on the shared challenges facing local public sector organisations and local government

Reading the summary report I was interested in a finding about the need for consistent yet flexible structures in neighbourhoods.

Consistent structures mean agencies know they exist, are delegated to attend, and can build relationships. But consistency needs to be delicately balanced by some flexibility, for example when to have meetings, and who attends. flexibility means meetings have a clear purpose, are held when needed, and have the right people there.

This balancing act is something which we face in Our Society work in Dudley. Another finding which echoes what we are thinking about in Our Society work is the need for skilled individuals.

Skilled individuals, with ‘local knowledge’. organisations often focus on the structures, but it is also the people within them that make a difference. one lesson from the WIN project was that people’s skills were based on their ‘local knowledge’. Local knowledge was gained through experience, and/or talking to local people and front-line workers, as well as being ‘out and about’ in neighbourhoods. 

The findings in relation to the role of local councillors will is of relevance to the Inspiring Democracy activity we’ve been involved in.

Download the summary report (12 pages)

Download the full report (80 pages)


MASH Lab Launch!

Tuesday 17 April will see the launch of Dudley’s MASH Lab.  This has evolved from the OUr Society: Our Solutions research and discussions which have taken place and which led to thinking which we call MASH: Managing Assets and Services Holistically. The ideas have been committed to by senior decision makers in Dudley Council

The purpose of the MASH Lab Launch is to share the thinking behind MASH and to collaboratively select a realistic number of areas of work to test in the MASH Lab over the next 8 months. Areas of work being considered will include:

  • Dudley Council organisational transformation and workforce development to be developed in collaboration with VCFS to ensure change in future relationships.
  • Dudley Council employee Volunteering Strategy to be refreshed in collaboration with VCFS to provide two-way benefits.
  • Dudley Council Compact champions to be revitalised to promote cross sector networking, connecting, problem-solving, and feedback.
  • Dudley Council staff to be given responsibility for online and social media communications to improve overall communications.
  • Dudley Council website to be refreshed to be more outward facing and user-friendly
  • Dudley Council to enable citizens and VCFS to let Dudley Council and others know about positive activities happening in local areas to be uploaded on line
  • Refreshed and or new collaborative forums / stakeholder groups where Dudley Council can involve VCFS and citizens in understanding pressures on services and budgets and explore solutions
  • A refreshed complaints process for Dudley Council where feedback on service improvement is encouraged – a dialogue.
  • Design of a new online (and possible offline) process for inviting suggestions from citizens and VCFS for service changes and co-production.
  • Dudley Council Engagement Strategy to be a catalyst for changing the way the council and VCFS work together – less consultation and more collaboration
  • Revision of Dudley Council commissioning approaches to include commissioning to local VCFS organisations
  • Dudley Council to develop a collaborative approach with VCFS to ‘Community Right to Challenge’
  • Collaborate learning to be gained from Climate Change group, including Transition Stourbridge, experience of influencing design and delivery of a re-use facility / shop within the new contract to run the LA Civic Amenity site, Stourbridge
  • Dudley Council and VCFS to collaboratively create a comprehensive ‘joint asset management policy’ to include:
  • Develop a process to identify opportunities for co-location of Dudley Council with VCFS and other organisations in shared buildings
  • Dudley Council and the VCFS to collaboratively develop an approach to the register for ‘assets of community value’, to gain relevant nominations, understanding and procedures.
  • Dudley Council and the VCFS to collaboratively develop an approach to Neighbourhood Planning, as connected closely to community asset management.
  • Dudley Council to collaboratively develop a corporate policy and approach for disposing of unwanted fittings, furniture and other smaller items from council buildings due to closures etc to VCFS groups

Invitations to the event are being circulated widely to community, voluntary and faith groups, and to selected officers in Dudley MBC so that there are links to the areas being considered.

The changing role of local councillors

On Wednesday a focus group session in Brierley Hill explored the changing role of local councillors in response to localism. Part of the Inspiring Democracy project, the ideas and reflections of the focus group members from community groups in Dudley borough will inform the production of a guide for elected members to be produced in April 2012. Some of the ideas and comments from the session shared on twitter have been Storified here.

In the clip below the focus group facilitator, Sue Gorbing, explains the Inspiring Democracy project and things to explore in the session:

And this clip is Phil Bamber, a participant, sharing what stood out in the discussion for him.

A meeting of minds

In February the Our Society Our Solutions Group  invited members of the Local Authority’s Corporate Board, and the Leader of the Council, to a joint meeting to explore the potential for collaborating on projects which would leave to assets and services in Dudley Borough being managed in a holistic way.  The meeting took place on Friday 24th February and was attended by Our Society Our Solutions Group members, Our Society Steering Group members and John Polychronakis (DMBC Chief Executive), Jane Porter (DMBC Acting Director of Children’s Service), Valerie Little (Director of Public Health) and John Millar (DMBC Director of the Urban Environment).

Photo of a colour wall chart drawn by Lorna with key points from the Community Rights Made Real research

Graphic wall chart highlighting activities and key messages arising from the Community Rights Made Real research

The objectives of meeting were:

  •  To share the work that the Our Society Our Solutions Group have been undertaking and to explore how it relates to the work of the Local Authority (specifically regarding Localism and transformation)
  • To propose and discuss a process for taking MASH (Managing Assets and Services Holistically) projects forward collaboratively
  • To agree who could initially be involved in MASH projects and when activities will take place.

A summary of main points and agreements from the meeting are provided below.

  • Our Society Our Solutions groups do not primarily want funding from Dudley Council, it is about collaboration, having good communication and dialogue and better sharing and using of resources together;
  • The Council is open to ideas from people and groups now and in future years regarding the efficient use of budgets and the provision of services, including collaboratively;
  • Regarding the Community Right to Challenge and consequent procurement process, the Council prefers to contract with smaller and more local organisation (e.g. VCSF organisations, local business, social enterprises) rather than giving contracts to large national organisations;
  • Contracting with VCFS organisations presents a different relationship dynamic that needs to be considered by voluntary organisations;
  • Our Society Our Solutions organisations want to show the value of their services to Dudley Council through methods that capture qualitative information, stories of success and  the positive changes made to peoples lives (rather than just statistics and ticking boxes);
  • The Council is supportive of voluntary organisations and council services being co-located within buildings to promote multi-use, collaboration and financial savings;
  • The Council’s Volunteering Strategy could be refreshed to move it in the direction of a networking / matching service to enable mutual exchange of skills / knowledge / time between voluntary and community groups and council staff (recognising the sensitivities around job displacement);
  • The Council supports the development of mechanisms to develop collaborative solutions to issues such as budget savings and service improvements;
  • All agreed that the Council cannot provide all the solutions to the issues we face and there must be an element of self-help.  It was recognised however, that citizens and community groups sometimes need support and removal of barriers to help themselves and that the council will still have a major role to play in providing unlocking this capacity.
  • Due to time constraints and the level of information exchange and discussion taken place, it was agreed that it would not be possible to make much progress with the second and third objective for the meeting, though this had some airing in the main body of the meeting.
  • John Polychronakis, Jane Porter, Valerie Little and John Millar suggested that they to come together again with the Our Society Our Solutions group to develop a joint plan to take forward a few important areas of work highlighted in the discussions. (A further meeting is planned for the second half of April and will be open to a wider group of participants.)

Photos and twitter discussion from the evening have been Storified here.

Cooperative Councils

Cooperative Councils have caught our eye here in the Our Society Planning Group. Lambeth Council have a great area on their website explaining aspects of their cooperative approach. We were particularly interested in their 7 key principles:

The cooperative council sets out seven key principles that provide direction for public services. They are:

Principle 1: The council as a strong community leader.

Principle 2: Providing services at the appropriate level personalised and community based.

Principle 3: Citizens and communities empowered to design and deliver services and play an active role in their local community.

Principle 4: Public services enabling residents to engage in civil society through employment opportunities.

Principle 5: A settlement between public services, our communities and the citizen (this is what we provide, this is what you do for yourself) underpinned by our desire for justice, fairness and responsibility.

Principle 6: Taking responsibility for services – regardless of where they are accessed or which agency provides them.

Principle 7: Simple, joined up and easy access to services – location and transaction i.e. “one place to do it all”, “one form, one time to do it all” – providing visible value for money.

Dudley Council have set up a Localism Steering group which will take forward activity in relation to changes through the Localism Act in relation to Planning, Housing, Governance, Community Rights,  and more. Our Society activity is also part of what the Localism Steering Group considers, and may help to shape the direction for public services and relationships between Dudley MBC and citizens and communities.

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