We recently convened a group of senior leaders for a discussion on engaging and empowering communities. We wanted to share some of that discussion and insight with you.
Local government has for years accepted the idea that its role needs to be focused on facilitation rather than control, supporting change through ‘place leadership’ that builds on and shapes community assets rather than increasing direct service provision.
The pace, quality and scale of the community response as the country moved into lockdown was unmistakable. Individuals and groups — long-standing and new — have become a firm part of the wider response team valued by residents, local authorities and charities alike. The question now is, how do we (all) sustain this?
Bringing together a group of leaders across local government for a breakfast sharing session, a key emerging theme was that we’ve seen positioning overtime where many of those involved in — or passionate about — change find themselves either in the communities domain or in the organisation and institution domain. And the touchpoint between those two positions is often far too thin, each delivering important, but often fragmented, impact.
In many ways, our organisations and local partnerships don’t exist as they did before this crisis. In this discussion, attendees agreed that the pandemic and emergency response has changed the ways people and groups work together, both within public institutions and communities. More than ever, organisations and local partnerships should be seen as communities of people connected physically or virtually around purpose and place.
The pandemic has shown on a large scale what many of us closer to community engagement have long known — that communities instinctively act when called upon. Many turned to their expertise and convening power for practical support and reach — whether for getting your medication if you are shielding or, as a council, trying to understand how best to direct resources. As we saw, areas with impactful hyperlocal organisations, from town and parish councils to well-established sports clubs and food banks, were often able to respond better, quicker and more consistently during the crisis.
A shared ambition that came through loud and clear at this event was that public institutions must continue to engage effectively with community groups as they look to recovery, creating a future where shared forms of decision-making and transparent ways of working — together with enabling technology — accelerates community organising, shares power between communities and the people we elect to better represent our interests.