Organisational culture, leadership and management style all play a key part in successful community action initiatives, along with attitudes, communication and securing buy-in from stakeholders, both internal and external.
Create a culture of sharing problems and developing community-focused solutions across the council:
- Create the environment for people across teams to bring problems and develop solutions in a shared space.
- Mentor and train staff from all service areas in successful engagement techniques – for example using community mentors, supported by training and secondments.
- Bring together information on resources, skills and assets available in the community, including community and voluntary groups and organisations, and make this available to staff in their planning.
- Understand the specific needs of different user groups – services need to be tailored to those needs rather than a top-down council approach.
Communicate the purpose of community action:
- Celebrate and communicate success stories, no matter how small – this helps to demonstrate why community action is important and how it can be achieved.
- Engage the community in a two-way conversation about their priorities and ensure this feeds directly into council planning – let local communities set the pace for change.
- Change perceptions locally about what councils and council services are there for – people are entitled to have a say and to feel ownership of what is provided.
- Use community action as a way to build the council's reputation locally: this is a key part of the business case.
- Separate out the financial case, but be open about the fact that community action can help councils to deal with financial challenge.
Have a community action plan that runs through all council services:
- Align the plan with one or more strategic priorities and show a clear commitment from the senior ranks and a strong political vision.
- Make community engagement a key responsibility in all job descriptions.
- Start small and build upwards: community action works most effectively in an environment where people are engaged, collaboration is fostered and everyone is clear about the purpose and benefits.
Look out for some common challenges and pitfalls:
- People may see community action simply as a way of getting the community to do the council's job.
- Get councillors from all political parties/groups on board.
- Shift people's thinking to ‘resident outcomes' rather than which agency will benefit from the action.
Questions for creating the right culture and leadership
- How does the project fit with corporate and service priorities and support an overall vision for greater participation in the design and delivery of services?
- Who will ‘champion' it at senior level?
- How will councillors be involved and supported to communicate the right message?
- Does the organisation have sufficient capacity to support the project in terms of resources, staffing and skills?
- What message does your work need to give to local people, and to staff, in order to shift attitudes towards active participation and engagement?
Resources and links
- Young Foundation (2010), What is an empowering authority? Community empowerment and organisational culture
- Dave Adamson (2010), ‘Community empowerment: identifying the barriers to purposeful citizen participation' in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, volume 30, issue 3/4