Community empowerment is about motivated people actively engaged in making a difference to the places they know best. Residents need to know how they can get involved, and councils need to know how to help them do so. These methods and tools should help make engagement easier.
To help you think about what could work best in the situation you have to deal with, consider the following:
The organisation People and Participation have put together a process planner that helps you structure how you will use your community empowerment method or tool and in what stage of your project. Before you begin, you should consult this planner and map out exactly how you intend to use your chosen tool or method.
Community empowerment process planner - on the People and Participation website.
The table below gives an introduction to some community empowerment methods that have proved useful in different situations. You can follow the links from each to more information about how they work and when to use them.
There are many more methods than these and a good selection can be found on the People and Participation website. You can also find case study examples from councils who have successfully used some of these methods.
Area forums are meetings held in a locality, often facilitated by the local council. They may be formed for one-off purposes, or take place on a regular basis to keep people and communities involved. They may debate key topics, answer residents' questions on a face-to-face basis or have open agendas. Meetings may be attended by local councillors, together with senior representatives from local authorities, the police, primary care trusts (PCTs) and other local organisations depending on local need.
Find out more about area forums and community forums - on the People and Participation website
A 'design charrette' is an intensive, participative workshop that brings people from different disciplines and backgrounds together to explore options for a particular area or site. This method is especially useful for getting people involved in shaping or changing planning, transport, landscape or other major projects affecting their communities.
Find out more about design charettes - on the People and Participation website
Focus groups are guided discussions of a small group of citizens. They are normally one-off sessions although several may be run simultaneously in different locations.
Find out more about focus groups - on the People and Participation website
Online consultations seek people's opinions and expertise about important proposals or changes being made. They are especially useful when trying to make sure that the people who know most about the issue concerned have the chance to comment. By using the internet, an unlimited number of participants can be involved.
Find out more about online consultations - on the People and Participation website
Online forums are internet-based discussion areas where participants can post their views about topics and respond to other people's comments.
Find out more about online forums - on the People and Participation website
A form of survey that measures the opinion of a selected sample of people and counts their ‘votes'.
Find out more about opinion polls - on the People and Participation website
A world cafe uses an informal 'cafe setting' for participants to explore an issue in small groups. Discussions on particular aspects are held in rounds of 20 to 30 minutes, after which participants move on to new groups and new discussions. The method is good at generating new ideas about the issue, sharing experience and exploring action in real life situations. The event ends with a summary of all discussions that have taken place.
Find out more about world cafes - on the People and Participation website
Participatory appraisal (PA) is a 'family' of approaches that enable local people to identify their own priorities and make their own decisions about the future. The techniques were originally developed for use in rural areas and in developing countries, but because PA is very flexible and inclusive it is now used in many situations. It emphasises local knowledge and enables local people to do their own assessment, analysis, and planning, which makes it very effective in empowering communities.
Find out more about participatory appraisals - on the People and Participation website
Participatory budgeting (PB) is one member of the participatory appraisal family. PB directly involves local people in making decisions about how to spend a defined public budget. Local people discuss and vote on spending priorities, and they also have a role in overseeing the process. In its national strategy, the government expects all councils to have PB in place by 2012.
Find out more about participatory budgeting - on the Participatory Budgeting Unit website
Empowering communities in South Somerset
Participatory strategic planning (PSP) is another of the PA family. It is a way of bringing a community together to help them jointly explain and agree with each other how they want their community or organisation to develop over the next few years.
Find out more about participatory strategic planning - on the People and Participation website
Co-production refers to a way of working whereby decision makers and citizens, or service providers and users, work together to create a decision or a service which works for them all. The approach is based on the principle that the people most affected by a service are in the best position to help design it.
Find out more about co-production - on the People and Participation website
Ward coordination in Manchester
User panels are regular meetings of service users about the quality of a service or other related topics. They help to identify concerns and priorities they and others may have and can lead to the early identification of problems or ideas for improvements.
A variation on this method is the citizens' panel, where large numbers of residents regularly complete questionnaires about the quality of local services.
Find out more about user panels - on the People and Participation website
Citizens' juries consist of a small panel of non-specialists, modelled on the structure of a criminal jury. The group sets out to examine in detail something that local people have identified as being very important, and at the end they deliver a 'verdict'.
Find out more about citizens' juries - on the People and Participation website
A consensus conference is made up of a panel of citizens who question expert witnesses on a particular topic at a public conference. Their recommendations are then circulated widely.
Find out more about consensus conferences - on the People and Participation website
Councils are being encouraged to revitalise localities by passing derelict or unused buildings over to community control. This follows recommendations by the Quirk Review that showed the risks were worth it; that it empowered communities and that when all interested parties were working well together much could be gained.
Petitions help local people get their voices heard and are seen as important to stimulating debate. About one in five of us is likely to sign at least one petition during any given year. Under new proposals, local councils will have a duty to respond to petitions to encourage more local influence in council decisions.
Find out more about petitions and e-petitions - on the People and Participation website
Local charters are voluntary agreements between local people in a community, the local authority and other interested bodies about how best to meet the needs of the community. They help clarify relationships by writing down what has been decided, who does what, how decisions are made and what happens when things go wrong. They are not the same as contracts.
Local Government Improvement and Development has developed materials your council can use as part of a promotional campaign to encourage participation in local elections.
28 June 2012