What is the process for evidencing outcomes when working with the community?

October 19, 2012

The principle objective of this series of projects was to learn about co-delivery of projects between council and community groups.  As a result, there was no  requirement for the project to demonstrate achievement of outcomes or to evidence sustainability in themselves.

To reduce bureaucratic burden, it was decided that project leads did not need to identify outputs and project deliverables at the outset, in favour of a more evolved organic approach to project delivery.  The only requirement tied to the funding provided was that progress and learning was recorded on the coop toolkit blog. Unfortunately, few project leads have been able to identify their learning about working with the council on the blog.

There is evidence of activity and success from these projects.  For example, Metropolitan Housing has agreed to fund youth activity at the St Martin’s community centre for a year, the poly tunnel has been sited on the Cherry Close on the Tulse Hill estate and is producing crop for local salad providers, and the BBQ bike has engaged  approximately 120 people and identified a number of skills shortage which will inform the development of future projects to address these skills-gaps. However, it may prove difficult to evaluate the outcomes or social value gained from these projects given that the absence of any criteria against which these successes and achievements can be measured.  This demonstrates that, while working with the community requires us to adapt our processes, this should not be to detriment of core values such as robustness, accountability and the need to evidence outcomes of projects.


The Civic Crowd

April 17, 2012

Just a quick post about a fantastic new website launched in the last week the Civic Crowd Map.

According to the site (see here- about us):

“The Civic Crowd aims to map amazing initiatives and ideas for citizen-powered change, providing an open public domain resource where people can:

  • SHARE the Projects they are working on and get feedback and Support from the community.
  • DISCUSS Ideas for improvements to their area and help realise them through local collaboration.
  • OFFER their skills and Support for the benefit of the community.
  • APPRECIATE great Projects or Ideas to express their gratitude and backing.
  • PROPOSE Actions they are willing to take to help others realise their Projects.
  • VOLUNTEER to Support each other to turn Proposals into reality.

The Civic Crowd is inspired by the Compendium for the Civic Economy, Hand Made, the Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe series, and the Britain’s 50 Top New Radicals project by The Observer and NESTA; but the map belongs to everyone…

This infrastructure was designed by 00:/Social Spaces, and Cassie Robinson. Special thanks to NESTA and the Hub Islington. The Civic Crowd is sponsored by Design Council.”

What a fantastic idea- it would be really great to see the excellent projects that are going on all over Lambeth on this map.


Future Thinking event – Cohesion and Resilience

April 2, 2012

Lambeth Council held the second in a series of ‘Future Thinking’ events at the Town Hall in Brixton on the 27th March. Future Thinking events allow people to share ideas across organisations and between professionals and residents, building capacity and stronger networks as we go.

The topic for this event was cohesion and resilience. Lambeth’s cooperative ambitions are founded on the idea that the council can work in partnership with residents, and that power can be devolved to communities, giving them greater freedom to shape their own lives. There is recognition, therefore, that a cooperative borough needs resilient communities that have the capacity to participate.

Most people will think of resilience as being able to bounce back from damaging events, but for Lambeth resilience means more than that. It means being flexible and having the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, be they evolutionary changes or sudden changes. This applies to both individuals as well as to communities. This event brought people together to discuss the strength of Lambeth communities, what resources there were to build cohesion and resilience, and what circumstances might threaten that resilience.

On the night it was a great turn out with a vibrant crowd who got involved in the workshops and listened to two superb and thought provoking presenters. First up was Nicola Bacon from the Young Foundation who presented findings from the Local Wellbeing Project, where they have explored the meaning of wellbeing and how is it best measured, delving deeper into communities rather than just looking at deprivation statistics. One of the key findings from their research is that an individual’s resilience is key to their wellbeing and the extent to which they are able to thrive. The Young Foundation have taken practical steps to pilot teaching resilience in schools with interesting results. On a larger scale, the YF have tried to understand why different communities with similar socio-economic profiles can have very different outcomes. They argue that policy that focuses on wellbeing and resilience can improve other outcomes such as educational achievement, community engagement and parenting support.

More information on Nicola’s research can be found here:  http://www.youngfoundation.org/publications/books/the-state-happiness-january-2010

The second presentation was by Max Wind-Cowie from Demos. He presented findings from research carried out on ‘pride and patriotism’, explaining that there is disconnect between political narratives of patriotism and ordinary citizens’ pride in Britain. Max explained how the data he had gathered suggested that pride does not come from top down narratives such as the royal family, or progressive values. Rather, modern British patriotism is founded in a emotional connection to the everyday acts, manners and kindnesses that British people see in themselves; pride and patriotism are hyper-local. This is important for those thinking about how to engage communities and boost participation. Those who love their country or their locality, for example, are likely to volunteer more and to trust their neighbours more than those who are either ambivalent or ashamed about Britain and their locality.

For more on his research, follow this link: http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/aplaceforpride

Between the two presentations we conducted two workshop exercises where we invited people to explore the themes of cohesion and resilience in more detail. Firstly we asked people to identify examples of community resilience in Lambeth, thinking about areas where it is strong, and where it is under threat due to changes in the political and economic landscape. We then invited people to record these examples on large maps of Lambeth, adding a geographic dimension.  Some of the examples identified were:

Strong examples

Examples under threat

  • Brixton Town Centre
  • Youth Services
  • Libraries
  • Green champions
  • Cultural centres
  • Parks
  • Charismatic individuals embedded in the local community
  • Brixton Markets
  • South Lambeth market
  • Bonnington Square
  • Local bloggers
  • Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre
  • Old Lillian Baylis site – activities for young people
  • South Lambeth Library
  • Community Freshview
  • ‘Friends of’ groups
  • Local forums
  • Churches and faith communities
  • South London theatre
  • West Norwood Feasts
  • Festival events
  • Vida Walsh Centre
  • Support networks
  • Small community organisations
  • Skate parks for younger people
  • Community Centres
  • Granville Arcade regeneration
  • The Cinema Museum
  • Bilingual nursery school in Clapham
  • Volunteering
  • St Michaels Fellowship services for pregnant teenagers
  • Faith groups that do not promote unity
  • Youth services
  • Lunch Clubs
  • Local forums
  • Connectors in community
  • Lambeth 2XL – now gone
  • Brixton town centre has not been developed enough, crime getting worse
  • Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group (public voice)
  • Libraries
  • Integrated care pilots
  • Large shops forcing small ones to close
  • Language barriers
  • Building links with young people
  • Deviant behaviour through social networks
  • Increase in homophobic attacks in the borough
  • Reduced public spending
  • No representation for young Somali people in Streatham
  • How are the new pool facilities involving people in their design and development?
  • Drugs taken outside bookies.
  • Loss of Streatham pool
  • Welfare reforms
  • Break up of Streatham between 3 constituency’s means that there is a loss of a community leader.

In the second workshop we asked people to discuss what it means to belong in Lambeth and how this is changing over time. Building on the examples identified in the first session, we asked what people thought Lambeth’s communities might look like in the future, and what can be done now to influence it. Participants recorded their conversations as a ‘postcard from the future’ to people in the present day, outlining what Lambeth is like in 2020 and what happened to get there. People were very imaginative with this and we got some interesting feedback, photos of these postcards can be seen below:

The next Future Thinking event will take place soon and the topic is Localism, and what this will mean on a practical level for both residents and public services. Invites will be sent out shortly. If you wish to discuss any aspect of this event in more detail, please contact Nathan Pierce in Lambeth Council on 0207 926 6917.


Communication

January 4, 2012

Part of cooperation must surely be telling voters about what’s happening in a way which addresses their needs and concerns. For coop or big society (bigsoc) to seem more than a cynical ploy to get us to sweep our own streets and run our own libraries, government must tell it like it is and in a way we can relate to.

My qualification for writing this is my being a council-tax payer and voter here in Oval-ward, and I hope I can help cooperative projects by suggesting ways in which they can inform the public about what they are doing. I suggest that this should be done in a way which accords with present trends and concerns in the areas of public spending, local government, the third sector, volunteering and localism.

Politicians may want to keep stretches of clear water between their parties’ ideas and others’, but Labour’s coop council and the government’s big society are both responses to the same situation and involve similar concepts.

The context for both coop and bigsoc is that of economic uncertainty, public spending constraints, protest (like the occupy-movement) and disorder (like the summer’s riots). Both coop and bigsoc movements also talk in terms of greater public involvement in:

  • decision-making about
  • delivery of

public services. I therefore suggest that coop/bigsoc projects talk to the public by referring to that context and to those concepts.

Promoters of projects understandably want to highlight those undertakings’ benefits and to namecheck the projects’ sponsors. The trouble with doing only  that is that a scheme can sound like just another government/quango plan with a snazzy (if incomprehensible) title. What it implies is: “here are some more government-funded agencies spending more of your money on something which may or may not benefit you”. It doesn’t really sound that cooperative, does it?

Coop/bigsoc projects can be better described in terms of:

  • how voters have been involved in deciding to do this thing
  • what practical contribution is being made by voters
  • what proportion of funding is from taxation and what proportion comes from individuals and business
  • how the project will deliver practical benefits and help with social cohesion
  • what the reader can do to get involved in this and/or similar projects.

For a project to be truly cooperative, involvement in decision-making can’t be restricted to voting for the council once every four years. However democratic things may be, Labour governs Lambeth with the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate. I suggest regular ward-based meetings, convened by councillors and reinforced through social media.

While funding may appear to come from independent organisations, communication needs to be transparent in terms of saying how much of the money actually comes from national government grants, council-tax and other sources which are really us taxpayers. I expect a lot of voters would be surprised to know how many charities rely significantly on state-funding.