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)
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.
I’ve been working with Donna Roberts from Dudley MBC and Keeley Wright, a volunteer with Dudley CVS to review lots of different reports and notes from local activities to draw out ideas about how we could improve the ways that people and communities can have influence in response to changes in the public sector (such as the NHS and the council).
We would like to bring this together into a practical guide for colleagues, and have invited members of the online Our Society network to help us to do this. It’s free and simple to join the Our Society network, so if you’d like to get involved, here is the group for the development of the Guide (you will need to join the network and then the group in order to add comments).
Our Society: A Guide for Dudley is likely to include the following chapters:
- Introduction – policy context and drivers, local activity etc. and articulation of a vision and an approach
- Changing roles – describing new and emerging roles, skills required to undertake them, support which might be needed and practical steps to move forward
- Rethinking structures as networks and systems – evidence of this shift, local examples, online examples … and practical steps to shifting thinking
- Identifying existing and new social assets – approaches to recognising and mapping assets (by which we mean people and skills as well as bricks and mortar), examples, practical support and advice
- Methods – toolkits, frameworks, knowledge hub, and more
- Practical steps which Dudley can take towards an empowering response to public service reform, localism, ‘big society’ etc.
Please feel free to post comments and ideas here as well as to the Our Society network.
Time for a round up, as I haven’t managed to post here lately – which is all about to change as we launch in to lots of exciting activity. Here’s what the Our Society Planning Group have been working on:
Activity to test change and develop evidence
We’re keen to explore the real experiences of people involved in activity which relates to ideas in the government’s Localism Act. This includes groups which are moving towards taking over buildings, such as the Lye & Wollescote Cemetery Chapels project, and groups and people who are filling in gaps as public services are cut. An example would be Sarah Freeman, recognised at Dudley’s Volunteer Awards this year for providing a meals on wheels service in the area where she lives.
Working with senior decision-makers
The Dudley Community Partnership (DCP) Board meeting in September was cancelled, though we were able to run discussion sessions with members of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Partnership that month. Feedback from this and the DCP Board meeting in November will be posted to this site soon.
Visit from Cabinet Office
Neil Smith from the Office for Civil Society attended one of Dudley’s Our Society Planning Group meetings and shared information on the government’s Community Organiser programme and the Communities First programme, both of which are running in Dudley Borough (more information here).
Voluntary Sector Network event
Dudley’s Voluntary Sector network hosted an event in July which we contributed to and learned from. People at the event considered the Localism Bill, Asset Transfer and Community Rights. There are videos, photos, blog posts, tweet archives, useful links, and even a graphic recording of the event all at www.vsnjuly2011.posterous.com.
Celebrating community activity
Our approach to Our Society in Dudley Borough seeks to celebrate independent community action, so look out for inspiring stories which Dudley CVS’s Melissa Guest will be posting here over the coming months. Many local volunteers were recognised at Dudley’s annual Volunteer Awards in October.
Developing Dudley Council’s approach
Dudley Council now have a cross-department Our Society group considering the issues facing them as a local authority and how to respond to them within an Our Society approach.
Barriers to our approach
We’re starting to keep a record of barriers that we come across which prevent ideas under the Our Society banner moving forward, or moving forward in a consistent way. These include an absence or depletion of skills which we think are needed, to inconsistent arrangements in relation to, for example, leasing community buildings.
Being open and transparent, and involving YOU!
We hope that the videos and feedback we’ve posted here to date help to share what is happening in our meetings and meetings of Dudley Community Partnership’s Board. We’ve also uploaded Our Society Steering Group papers and links to event feedback and videos. We’ll be posting more regularly now as momentum gains. Later this week we’ll be sharing progress updates on our Community Rights Made Real project with Urban Forum. We invite anyone who is interested to add comments and get discussions going on this site.
We’ve set up a twitter account: @oursocdudley and we plan to circulate regular e-newsletters to stakeholders and subscribers. We may also set up a Facebook page if there is interest. We are planning a large face-to-face event in the Spring which will bring together a lot of what we have been working on and open it all out for a wider discussion and agreement on what steps we should take next in Dudley.
Part of this will involve developing a guide for Our Society, and will be doing this over the coming months in a collaborative way, through the Our Society national online network. It’s free and easy to join, we would love people from Dudley to be involved in the writing process, so please join the site and we’ll update you when the group gets going. Please do leave a comment or get in touch if you’d like to know more or get stuck with any of our online networking places.