The process of community organising involves finding out what people care about by speaking to them directly, building networks and relationships with the intention of acting collectively, and eventually acting together to challenge power in order to bring about social change.
Those involved in community organising can be those who feel disempowered and/or left out of the political process, for example those in low-income households. It is a power building process which has coherent long term strategies for achieving change.
Whilst devolved local government cannot direct community organisers to address particular issues or goals (because this runs against the principle that the issues should be determined by community members) local government can, choose to engage with community organisers and create spaces in which they listen to their ideas, for example mayoral or councillor hearings. Cornwall Council has established a dedicated Communities and Devolution Team which works with communities to develop devolution proposals. The Council also works closely with Town and Parish Councils, this is key, especially in a dispersed and rural area such as Cornwall. They place a significant role in citizen engagement and community organising. These networks create an environment and forum for citizens to raise issues and concerns that can be fed directly back into the organisation.
Community organising can be used before and after a devolution deal has been agreed. Pre-deal, the focus will be on the overlap between the community's priorities and the potential changes devolution could offer the area. Post-deal, the focus shifts towards whether and how devolved powers are used in the interests of communities.
This approach is easy to implement if there are existing networks of individuals and organisations practicing community organising. Where there are not existing community organising networks, devolved local government may convene meetings to scope whether a network could be set up by a local voluntary organisation.
Relying as it does on personal relationships and 1:1 meetings, community organising is better suited to the local level, but this can vary with the size of the community networks accessible. Combined authorities can work with organisations like Citizens UK who already work at local- and city- level across the country engaging with faith institutions, community groups and directly with citizens through ‘listening campaigns'.
Costs greatly depend on the nature of the engagement. If local authorities are working alongside an established organisation with its own resources, the only cost will be time. If the local authority wants to direct a new project they will have to pay the appropriate costs.
Key considerations from a devolution perspective
- Draws on existing networks of community organisers across the devolved area, and create spaces in which their ideas can be listened to;
- Can be done both before and after a devolution deal has been agreed;
- Better suited to a more local level, but that can vary with the size of the community networks available;
- Costs vary depending on the nature of the engagement, but tend to be economical because of the use of existing community networks.
First steps in working with community organisers
- Identifying existing community organising networks, along with key community organisations and leaders across the devolved landscape;
- Speak to local authority service providers and explore which areas would most benefit from community organising around devolution topics. These may be areas with low levels of political engagement, or places that will be especially affected by changes offered by devolution, for example by transport networks or housing developments;
- Speak to those identified as key community organisations and leaders.
London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Assembly 2016: large scale exercise in community-led policy development and scrutiny organised by Citizen's UK.
Lambeth Council Financial Resilience Strategy: community organisers hired to run a local listening campaign to prepare for the introduction of Universal Credit affecting around 40,000 residents.
Nottinghamshire Police Force Preventing Demand Strategy: the hiring of a community organiser in an official capacity to help police look for new ways of engaging with disaffected communities.