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Facilitating community involvement: practical guidance for practitioners and policy makers

This paper provides practical guidance for practitioners and policy makers on how to get the community involved. It draws on the review 'What works in community involvement in Area Based Initiatives (ABIs)', which was commissioned by the Home Office to evaluate the impact of community involvement in ABIs.

- Summary of the review 'What works in community involvement in ABIs'
- Good Practice tips in creating effective community involvement
- Good practice tips in creating effective community involvement under specific circumstances
- Potential obstacles to community participation and effective community involvement

Title: Facilitating community involvement: practical guidance for practitioners and policy makers  
Author: Christine Sylvest Larsen
Series: Development and Practice Report 27 (On-line report 53/04)
Date published: October 2004
Number of pages: 14 (On-line report 90)

Brief summary of the reviews findings

The results showed that there are no simple ways to increase community involvement. It is important to consider the local context for each initiative (e.g. previous history and patterns of community involvement, the characteristics of people targeted for involvement and controversial issues in the area, such as a threat to a service)

The impact of community engagement on ABIs wasn't clear but evidence suggested that it had a more positive than negative effect on improving public services and strategies, on personal and community development and on a greater sense of inclusion, self-respect and self-esteem among the members of the local community.

Practices that are effective in improving community involvement

Although the impact community involvement had on ABIs isn't clear there was some general consensus on what worked. These included:

  • Identifying local circumstances that may present barriers to effective community involvement (e.g. lack of transport infrastructure) and acting on these

  • Acknowledging the diversity of local communities and developing both targeted and universal strategies to reach all members of the local community including traditionally 'hard to reach' groups such as women, young people, people with a disability and members of minority ethnic groups

  • Publicising and raising the awareness of the initiative among all members of the local community

  • Involving local residents in the management of the project

  • Providing a variety of opportunities for training and support for local people and professionals

  • Using regular evaluation of the initiative as a tool to identify barriers to community involvement and actions to address these

  • Establishing effective ways of partnership working between statutory and non-statutory agencies and the local community.

Good Practice tips in creating effective community involvement

Many factors are vital to facilitating and sustaining community involvement in ABIs. Short summaries of each of these is given below.

Project Management

Many forms of involvement were judged successful. These ranged from membership of committees and boards, through service user groups, the employment of local people as permanent staff or session workers, to direct community control of projects or services.

Training and Capacity Building

  • Training and capacity building should take place locally, so that local residents don't have to travel

  • Formal training is usually more effective at developing strategic skills where as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) such as video can be effective in developing both self-confidence and the capacity to express local issues in imaginative and engaging ways

Information and Publicity

In order to increase community involvement you must:

  • make all people in the area aware of the initiative (e.g. leaflets, advertisements)

  • provide information on what ABIs will offer local residents so that they can see the direct impact the initiative will have on their own lives

  • keep those local residents who are not directly involved in the ABI informed of the active involvement of some of their local peers

  • ensure that consultation events and community forum meetings as well as report progresses are advertised to everyone.

Evaluation of the progress of ABIs

Evaluation will help to measure not only the impact but also the processes by which the ABI works and thereby unravel the best methods of improving community involvement.

A good evaluation will therefore be carried out with the help of community members, at key stages during the initiative.

Good practice tips in creating effective community involvement under specific circumstances

Certain practices seemed to be particularly effective in facilitating community engagement in ABIs under specific circumstances. These were:

Working Practices

Partnership Working

Successful community involvement is best achieved if:

  • agendas are not fixed in advance so that partnerships consisting of local residents can have a say. Meetings should also be run more flexibly to allow more time for discussion, cutting down rapid decision-making and relying less on jargon in order to facilitate community representatives

  • all stakeholders work together to draw up a common 'vision statement' of what the project is trying to achieve

  • the partnership keeps the local residents informed on both project successes and failures and is honest about the amount of effect it may have, the costs of different activities and the likely time-scale for seeing meaningful change

  • partnerships encourage sharing of resources with other programmes by working in partnership with existing projects operating in the area

  • the initiative is supported by local leaders who have a degree of independence from the organising or sponsoring body

  • local businesses are drawn into the partnership

  • fun days, information fairs and conferences etc, can engage those members of the community not represented by formal structures of the partnership. 

Geographical Locations

Rural initiatives

It is important to take into account the low population and be aware of the potential problems this can cause. For example, the possible lack of identification between neighbouring rural communities, which may result in a lack of co-operation between these areas, and the lack of transport infrastructure. This can be overcome by organising or covering the costs of travel for residents in rural areas.

Diversity/ inclusion

Under represented groups in ABIs include women, ethnic minorities, people from socio-economic backgrounds, disabled people, young people and homeless people.

Effective methods of involving these groups are given in the report.

Specific Interest Groups

Young People

Community involvement of young people can be improved by providing a visible and relatively formal channel for involving and communicating with young people such as a well-organised and well-resourced youth forum or youth council.

Disabled

Barriers to the participation of disabled people need to be removed. Suggestions for how to achieve this are given in the report.

Minority Ethnic Groups

Effective engagement with faith communities usually requires local professionals who have a thorough knowledge about faith issues and therefore can respond sensitively to challenges in reconciling religious and secular conflicts without excluding members of faith communities.

Potential obstacles to community participation and effective community involvement

Factors that may present obstacles to greater community involvement include:

  • the local residents' lack of time or interest in the activities of the initiative (e.g. interested in housing and young peoples prospects but not in economic development, employment or training)

  • the provision of separate channels for involvement for particular groups (e.g. those with a particular age or ethnicity) can be worthwhile but they require a lot of support

  • poor results from earlier activities in previous ABIs in the same area

  • a rigid agenda set in advance, which is not open to the influence of community involvement and consultation

  • increased pressure 'out of hours' on local residents

  • a small number of local people that nearly always dominate community involvement can deter others to take part

  • lack of sufficient funding

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Last update: Thursday, July 24, 2008