7 Top Tips For Supporting Citizen Driven Community Building – Part 1
Introduction to the series: When a Neighbourhood becomes a community.
In the busy world we find ourselves, there are wonderful examples of residents coming together to build strong, welcoming and vibrant communities. It is these pockets of energy, we believe, that are the foundations for building a better future together. As small groups of residents grow in confidence and members, they can begin to truly decide what matters to them and their community.
There are many examples of such community driven efforts from across the United Kingdom and beyond, (examples here) where small groups of residents begin to have deep conversations with their neighbours; an intentional conversations in which we weave a strong web of community life, and lay the foundations for taking inclusive action and building power by identifying, connecting and mobilising local assets. These are the folks who step up and get things going, but do it at the speed of trust; they are less concerned with single issues than how they can connect everyone’s gifts into collective yet disaggregated efforts. They are also concerned about community culture; not just the next community project. They initiate community-led action like a good host initiates a party.
For them, this is part of their day-to-day life. For want of a better description we have come to think of such small groups of residents, exactly as we see them behave: as local resident initiating groups. They may well be exhibiting leadership, although most of them do not relate to the label ‘leader’, they are primarily engaged in connectorship, as distinct from leadership.
The question for this blog series is how can agencies support such efforts in a way that does not overwhelm, replace, or undermine these citizen-led endeavours? In a sense this is a question that can only be answered by the residents themselves, and each neighbourhood will have a unique take on the what ‘support’ might look like. But, imagine having someone who acts like a caddy does with a golfer, they don’t do your neighbouring for you, anymore than they act as a proxy for you in your family life, but instead they support in the true sense, as a precipitator not a provider.
Over the next seven weeks we will share seven top tips for organisations that wish to precipitate asset-based community building efforts. These are not meant as prescriptions, but simply a good faith attempts to articulate what we have learned about the strategic and practical implications of doing community building in neighbourhoods.
The seven top tips we will explore over the next seven weeks are:
- Find a trusted local association with sufficient infrastructure to act as host of the work, including hosting a paid Community Animator and partnering with an initiating group of local residents.
- Start by making the invisible visible, don’t be helpful be interested.
- Effective community building goes at the speed of trust, not a funding cycle or an election cycle. Its messy slow and real. Generation, decades not years.
- Start with what’s strong to address what’s wrong and make what’s strong stronger.
- Community connectors are critical
- The optimum population size of a neighbourhood is 3,000 to 5,000 residents.
- The focus is on growing a culture of community not converting people to Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD).
Tip #1: Find local Host
Find a trusted local association to act as a host for the work. Across Europe, a growing number of public sector bodies and large third sector organisations have become favourably disposed to Asset-Based Community Driven efforts; some are actively attempting to precipitate such efforts through investment in community animation practices and innovative investment initiatives. That said if you are in such an organisation, it is important to recognise that your size while an advantage in so many ways, can be a decided disadvantage when it comes to supporting citizen-led efforts.
As E.F. Schumacher’s famous epigram reminds us, when it comes to community building ‘small is beautiful’, and we would add trust is everything. Hence if you are a philanthropic organisation, or operating in the public sector, indeed even if you are a large third sector organisation committed to the principle of doing no harm, we would advise you to grow alliances with much smaller mediating associations (that possess hybrid structures which mesh the best of associational life with a small (sufficient) amounts of institutional capacity), that are locally rooted in neighbourhoods.
These smaller mediating hybrid associations will display the following characteristics:
- Located/residing within the community where the ABCD efforts are to take place.
- Committed to the overall welfare of the community at large, not just focused on one theme or target group, albeit they may carry a torch for a particular concern, or focus, they work with the neighbourhood in all it facets: across age, across health, safety, economy, environment and culture.
- Connecting: Their primary work is in supporting local residents, and their associations, to build the capacity to discover and connect local assets.
- Power: they are interests in supporting local residents to build collective power from the grassroots up and the sidelines in.
- Hybrid: they are considered hybrid because they have enough structure to enable them to employ someone or manage a funding/investment arrangement, while also remaining sufficiently associational that they are directed and led by local residents, and are fundamentally trusted across the neighbourhood.
- Prospectors: They are in a position to discover ever widening groups of local residents who in turn are committed to weaving their neighbours together.
- Inclusionists: Thereafter, they can support a team of local residents to loosely organise into an initiating group of citizens who themselves are committed to hosting a new conversation at local level and paying particular attention around including local people who have been pushed to the margins.
- Lightening conductors: supporting the connection of community through a wide and diverse series of unscripted conversations and informal resident led initiatives, may ruffle a few feathers. This is especially evident amongst people who believe that all community business should be channeled through existing formal community structures, such as the Residents Association. It is critical that when such tensions arise that they are worked through in a constructive and inclusive way. This is an extremely important function of a host association.
Here are some examples of where you’ll find a host at neighbourhood level:
- Locally rooted businesses with desire to build community.
- GP Surgeries which believe that communities are health producing.
- Community Associations with a welcome for the stranger on the edge.
- Art organisations, that believe we are all artists, and the palette is the community.
- Care Homes that see themselves social landlords and recognise residents as contributors.
- Youth Organisations that appreciate it takes a village to raise a child
- Faith groups not exclusively caught up with congressional concerns.
- Schools that recognise we are continuous learners and that the neighbourhood is a library of knowledge and skills.
With a hand in the soil and a eye towards the stars, a host offers solid foundation for the growth of citizen-led endeavours.