Organising For The Big Society


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Presentation delivered by Sam Sparrow, Head of the Volunteer Unit at Catch22 and Linda Roberts, Senior Researcher at OPM on community organising in disadvantaged communities.

Looks at findings from OPM/Catch22/Turning Point report on community organising and the Big Society, "The new neighbourhood army".

Delivered at Public Policy Briefing event on 03/02/2011

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  • I’m here to talk about a recent paper my company, OPM, published in conjunction with Catch 22 and Turning Point (who I know are presenting later today) at the end of last year. The paper was written in response to talk of community organising, by the new government, and in particular their situating community organising within the Big Society. It combined our research findings - which included an evaluation of the last government’s Connecting Communities project and more recently an evaluation of the Take Part programme which is a community empowerment project delivered through the Community Development Foundation - with practical delivery experience of leading charities (Catch22 and Turning Point) in the community, particularly looking at their experiences of working with individuals in disadvantaged areas. Following that structure, I am going to introduce the vision for community organising from what we understand from government policy so far, give an overview of the history of community organising and outline some of the practical challenges to the scheme. I’ll then hand over to Sam who will talk about the ways in which Catch 22 work with vulnerable young people and why these learnings can support the implementation of schemes in a more inclusive way.
  • In disadvantaged communities, these challenges are magnified, and additional problems can surface in relation to personal and community capacity, support structures, finance and social structures. These are principles to bear in mind. Lack of social cohesion – you often find disadvantaged communities are also fragmented and polarised, who lack the skills and space to come together to discuss common problems or issues. Who facilitates this? If it is the community organiser they need to have a good knowledge or be embedded in one or more of these communities. Lack of capacity of voluntary and community sector bodies - may struggle to support organising due to financial cuts and closures, whereas before they may have stepped into this role. Some people face multiple disadvantages in becoming organisers or engaging with organisers: confidence, language, disabilities, financial support, literacy, age etc
  • Our services are tailored to develop the people we work with into better functioning members of the community – they offer opportunities for people to meet long term social and economic outcomes, and in turn make them feel like they can contribute. History of participation and building services and programmes from the bottom up, and lessons can be learnt here about not taking a top down approach to any sort of programme of activity where you need all members of the community to engage. Talk about CSC – designing own programme of space transformation in communities means a greater range of community members engage and get involved – examples of fantastic intergenerational action taking place, and these channels can already be used for community organising type activity Talk about NCS – social mixing (youth service, above average fsm school, private/selective school, religious/ethnic group, arts cultural group, disability) NCS gets young people to embed themselves in the community and understand needs – then undertake social action that they have planned. Social action project as precursor to getting more engaged in community life – only a short step away from community organising and they have already built their individual capacity – shame not to see lessons learnt from NCS pilots applied to community organising model.
  • Map and understand communities – what are the different need and who are the different communities? Where do they overlap? Is there shared or common interests? How do you access them? Who is already active in some way? Widen the definition of what a community organiser is because in disadvantaged communities it isn’t always self selecting. Recruitment needs to be multi channel and sophisticated - with outreach. Engaging with different parts of the community and finding “recruitment agents” that work on the ground in communities and have the expertise is vital (as per NCS model) Appropriate training - needs to reflect the variety of starting points that people will have and the skills required in that particular community, not a one size fits all approach Building a respectful, open and engaging leadership culture – elected members, encouraging all sectors of the community to get involved, holding meetings at times when people are able to attend, and consider spreading meetings across times of days or areas of community
  • Organising For The Big Society

    1. 1. Community organising in the Big Society 3 February 2011 Linda Roberts , OPM Sam Sparrow, Catch22
    2. 2. Community organising – the Government’s vision <ul><li>To create a “Neighbourhood army” of 5,000 full-time, professional community organisers </li></ul><ul><li>The role will be to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Identify gaps or failings in services provided by the state </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mobilise community support to tackle these gaps or failings locally </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Help people to start groups and charities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Liaise with civil society organisations, the state and the community </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Help to secure funding for local activities and their own work </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Enhance social capital, strengthen interactions between all parts of the community and result in relevant local change </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Tendered for a national partner to support organisers and first group of recruits to begin training in April 11… </li></ul>
    3. 3. Broad concepts of community organising <ul><li>The concept of community organising is not new! </li></ul><ul><li>It draws upon the thinking of radicals from well over 50 years ago – Alinsky in Chicago </li></ul><ul><li>While distinct, there are overlaps between community organising and other approaches and interventions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Community development, community empowerment, action research, community building, community activism </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Defining features: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Collective action to influence decision making </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Empowering those who don’t have a voice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Provision of independent voice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Change may require conflict </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Challenges facing organising <ul><li>What are they going to organise? </li></ul><ul><li>How will conflict be managed? </li></ul><ul><li>How will they be recruited? How can equalities be assured? How do we ensure that organisers are credible at the local level? </li></ul><ul><li>Who is accountable, and how will accountabilities be managed? </li></ul><ul><li>Where is funding to support it? </li></ul><ul><li>What about those that don’t have the time to spare? </li></ul>
    5. 5. Organising in disadvantaged communities <ul><li>Lower levels of volunteering in some communities </li></ul><ul><li>Low levels of social capital </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of social cohesion </li></ul><ul><li>Capacity issues in voluntary and community sector </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple disadvantages are experienced both personally and in the community </li></ul>
    6. 6. Disadvantaged communities – principles into practice at Catch22 <ul><li>Services are tailored to develop the people we work with into better functioning members of the community </li></ul><ul><li>Community Space Challenge – allowing participants from all areas of the community to design and carry out their own form of social action </li></ul><ul><li>National Citizens Service – required element is that each cohort is “socially mixed” </li></ul><ul><li>Programmes exist to build capacity of young people to engage with communities – need to develop this model </li></ul>
    7. 7. Making community organising work <ul><li>Map and understand communities </li></ul><ul><li>Recruitment needs to be multi channel and sophisticated </li></ul><ul><li>Appropriate training </li></ul><ul><li>Building a respectful, open and engaging leadership culture </li></ul><ul><li>Sustained and intensive support </li></ul>
    8. 8. Continue the debate… <ul><li>Twitter hashtag: #communityorg </li></ul><ul><li>@OPMnetwork </li></ul><ul><li>OPM blog: </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>