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Step One: Organizing the Effort

Practical Notes on Community Involvement

This information is a summary taken from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation web site: http://www.jrf.org.uk/ . It focuses on how UK communities can apply for national regeneration funds, however, much of the information is generally relevent.

I. INTRODUCTION 

Community involvement is not a 'bolt-on' or a cosmetic activity

  • Why involve the community?  

    Quite simply, because it produces better results. JRF research shows that, to date, the impact of community involvement on regeneration has generally been modest, and that commitment to community involvement has often been tokenistic. On the other hand, good practice in this field of work shows that:

    • Communities have a fresh perspective, and can often see the problems in new ways.

    • Community involvement helps to deliver programs which more accurately target local needs.

    • The resulting projects are more acceptable to the local community.

    • Program outputs which have been designed with input from local residents are likely to last longer because communities feel ownership of them.

    • The constructive involvement of communities in urban regeneration helps to build local organizational skills, making it easier to develop strong successor organizations.

    • Partnerships are here to stay - Government will insist on a demonstrably stronger role for communities within these partnerships.

    • Successful community involvement helps to revitalize democracy.

  • Not an easy option

Involving communities in regeneration is not an easy option. Some urban and rural communities are already well organized but many are not. In these cases, which may include city-wide initiatives, the building of capacity is slow and requires various types of support. It is important for partnerships to realize that community involvement is not a 'bolt-on' or a cosmetic activity: real community involvement involves compromise, sharing power, learning to cope with diversity, adjusting organizational cultures, understanding different styles of work, handling conflict constructively, and adjusting priorities and timetables.

These problems may be daunting at first. But, with persistence, they can be overcome and real benefits achieved. The aim of this paper is to provide the framework, with many practical examples, for developing effective Community Involvement Strategies.

II. GETTING STARTED

  • Adequate resources must be earmarked for early work  

  • How soon should the community be involved?

    As early as possible. SRB bids that do not demonstrate community involvement are unlikely to be successful. Partnerships must ensure that adequate resources are earmarked for this early work.  As SRB funds come on stream, dedicated officers should be appointed with responsibility for community involvement. When they need it, community groups should also have access to resources to appoint their own community workers or technical advisers.  

     

  • Understanding community needs and strengths

    An indispensable step for partnerships is to understand - from the standpoints of local residents - both the problems and the priorities for action in the target communities. They also need to map existing community organizations and develop an understanding, for each project, who the legitimate 'stakeholders' might be. At this stage, it can be helpful to initiate an honest dialogue about possible roles for the community, the levels of power to be devolved, and any limits to this.  

     

  • Start-up projects - the importance of early successes

    In communities that have been marginalized for many years, the confidence of local residents will often be at a low ebb and they may well be angry and frustrated. At an early stage, it can be helpful to encourage the community to take on some modest tangible projects that meet local needs, for example:

    • running a local five-a-side tournament;

    • organizing a trip to the seaside;

    • improving the route of the local bus;

    • pushing for repairs to the pavements on the estate.

All of these activities were actually carried out by local residents in the early stages of a community development project on the Halton Moor Estate in Leeds. This helped them to develop confidence and build relationships with professional agencies. Fun is an important ingredient and festivals or community arts projects are good ways of encouraging wide participation.

  • Community profiles

    Carrying out a community profile with local residents can be a very useful way of defining the needs of a particular population, as well as the resources and skills that exist within the community. For rural areas, a comparable approach is the Village Appraisal. Both techniques have the potential to involve the community actively.

    On North Tyneside's Meadowell Estate, in the lead-up to the City Challenge project, local residents carried out a skills survey on the estate, covering over 1,000 households, with financial support from the Council.

  • Developing a vision and action plans

    The process of developing a community vision for an area and feeding this into a bid for urban regeneration always takes time and resources. The DETR report, Involving Communities in Urban and Rural Regeneration, goes into many of these techniques in depth. Past experience has shown that the contribution of community groups significantly increases if they have access to independent advice (from a community worker, a consultant or a community architect) to help them develop a vision, priorities and action plans.

  • Developing a community vision

    It can be helpful to plan the work in the following three stages.

    • Street meetings, workshops or design days

      Using facilitators, these events aim to provide a friendly, informal atmosphere in which local residents can 'brainstorm' a range of ideas.

      Small meetings can be an excellent way to meet with young people. It is important to have clear feedback mechanisms from such events.  

    • Community planning events

      As ideas begin to solidify it can be useful to hold a longer event - like a community planning weekend  which brings together a large group of key stakeholders and transforms promising ideas into action plans, projects or even complete SRB delivery plans.

      In 1994, the North Hull Housing Action Trust held a series of community planning weekends, in different parts of the estate, to help solidify thinking within that program. The weekends included: workshops, walkabouts, presentations by guest speakers, question and answer sessions, dinners and social events. Models, drawings and displays were also used extensively to generate discussion. Leaflets summarizing the results of the weekend were circulated to all residents.

    • Exhibitions/open days/referendums

      Finally, it is important to gain wider public support for more detailed plans once these have been worked up. Holding open days with exhibitions in popular venues can be a good way of attracting interest. Alternatively a referendum or postal vote, with a door-to-door collection, has proved a good way of gauging the strength of local opinions. In either case, good publicity in the local media and community newsletters is essential.

III. INVOLVING THE COMMUNITY IN PARTNERSHIPS

 

  • Have the structures in place - and relationships clear - before project work starts Guidance for Single Regeneration Budget bids 

    Involving the community in partnerships requires time, resources and sensitivity. It is important to have the structures in place, and relationships clear, before project work starts. It is crucial too to achieve early clarity about when the community is being consulted and when it has the power to share decisions or to veto them. The new possibility within SRB of a 'year zero' in which no project spending is necessary, provides the ideal means to carry out the initial spadework in a thorough way.  

  • Agreeing the partnership structure

    Inevitably, partnership structures will vary according to local circumstances. But experience suggests that four key areas demand particular attention:

    • Developing structures to represent the community

      Any area, however small, will have a range of existing community groups. In larger program areas, the diversity will be much greater. A key first step is to develop a forum that can adequately represent this diversity. Representation is sometimes based on neighborhood, sometimes on communities of interest, and sometimes on both approaches. Forums have a variety of functions that can include:

      • electing representatives to the Board

      • nominating representatives to working parties and topic groups;

      • acting as a consultative group for the partnership;

      • managing staff and projects;

      • promoting particular interest groups within the community;

      • acting as a channel of information.

    Some areas appoint specialist forums. Tipton City Challenge had a youth forum and a multi-faith forum. It is important that the rights and responsibilities of each forum are clear, and that each has sufficient active membership and resources to operate effectively.

    • Community representation at Board level

      The key role of community representatives is to ensure all project sponsors have consulted the community in appropriate ways and that the views obtained are reflected in the Board's decisions.

      In Middlesbrough City Challenge, every project considered by the Board had been commented on by the community representative body: if they disapproved, the decision was put back for further discussion.

      To create community confidence it is preferable for the community to select representatives and for representatives to be able to discuss Board matters with the community. Rules on confidentiality should be agreed, but should encourage openness.  

    • Topic groups/implementation groups

      Below Board level, many partnerships establish 'topic' or 'implementation' groups, which mirror the core aims of the partnership. Usually, these are theme-based. Sometimes, as in the case of Sunderland City Challenge which is based on nine local authority estates, the implementation are organized around geographical areas. These sub-groups of the Board allow further opportunities for community representatives to play a key role in designing, implementing and monitoring projects.  

    • Making meetings community-friendly

      At all levels of the partnership structure, it is very important that meetings should be conducted in a style that community partners are comfortable with. Attention should be paid to:

      • the time of day set for meetings;

      • the language used in meetings;

      • the level of formality to be adopted at meetings;

      • the possibility of larger meetings being broken down at certain points into smaller groups, to facilitate    participation;

      • the most appropriate venues; transport; childcare arrangements; and any translation services that may be needed.

IV. INVOLVING THE COMMUNITY IN PROJECT DELIVERY

The most dynamic forms of community participation come about when the community owns or controls programs or projects.

In Devonport, near Plymouth, the residents of the Pembroke Street Estate played a leading role in the Estate Action-funded refurbishment of their estate; this led in turn to the formation of a Tenant Management Organization run by the residents and employing several of their number. But the project also encompassed a wider vision which included the economic transformation of the surrounding Dockland areas.

Deptford City Challenge had a block fund called 'Deptford Dividend', with £3m available over five years. The Dividend was promoted through the Community Forum. In York Regeneration Partnership, the Community Forum makes the key recommendation on who the Community Fund grants should go to.

Community block funds can be a useful technique for building capacity and experience within the community, but care should be taken to ensure that they do not divert the community's attention away from the bigger spending decisions on the partnership. SRB Round 5 specifically provides for resources to be earmarked to support projects led by communities.

  • Training and Resourcing

    Effective partnership working and community involvement require training and other resources, for both the community partner and the other partners.  

    • Resourcing key community groups

      Community groups need office space, telephones, an administrative budget and, if they are to perform on equal terms with other partners, access to professional expertise (legal, financial, etc.).

    • Tackling the steep learning curve for community representatives

      Community representatives need a jargon-free induction to the demands of partnership work which covers:

    • program administration processes, including financial administration;

    • legal frameworks and responsibilities;

    • maintaining accountability

    • basic assertiveness, including public speaking;

    • support to help individuals grow into their representative, leadership, or 'social entrepreneur' roles.

    •  Getting professional agencies up to speed on community issues

      • For professionals, learning to work in equal partnerships with communities - learning to listen and respect their views - is of central importance: in the past, many have failed to make this important first step. At times, separate training is appropriate; but increasingly, joint training sessions between residents and professionals have proved successful.
      • For both residents and professionals, a range of good training techniques already exists including: group-based training, courses, action-based learning, mentoring, placements, exchange visits, and conferences/seminars.  

  • Encouraging flexibility

    It is important for community groups involved in project work to be protected from (or helped with) any undue administrative burdens. Drawing down money should also be made as straightforward as possible. Most bureaucracy arises from conditions imposed by partnerships on individual projects, not from government rules.

Finally, programs involving the community tend to deliver better results when they are allowed to be creative and flexible. The benefits of partnership working should increase over time and there must be scope for amending projects and programs to allow fresh ideas to be incorporated.

V. CREATING STRONG LOCAL ORGANISATIONS WITH THEIR OWN ASSETS

Every partnership needs a forward strategy

  • Forward strategies and successor bodies

    Every partnership needs a forward strategy. In the JRF report, Made to Last, Geoff Fordham suggested four key requirements for effective forward strategies:

  • incorporate the forward strategy into partnership planning at the outset;

  • handle the actual timing of withdrawal with care, wherever possible dovetailing into new funding programs;

  • consider sustainability when funding individual projects - joint ventures with other agencies, including the community, are more likely to survive;

  • identify, and start developing, appropriate successor organizations as early as possible. An existing local organization may well provide the basis for an effective successor organization.

Successor bodies can take many forms: some promising models are examined in more detail in the box.

  • Models for successor bodies

    • Development Trusts.

      In their report Here to Stay, the Development Trusts Association define development trusts as "community-based organizations working for the sustainable regeneration of their area through a mixture of economic, environmental, social and cultural initiatives". Some have assets of over £200k and employ a large number of professional staff, while others are small and operate largely by voluntary efforts.  

      The Manor and Castle Development Trust in Sheffield grew out of community-led projects in the 1980s. The Trust, a partnership between the local authority, the community and the private sector, secured £16.6m from SRB Round 3 as part of a local regeneration package. As part of this package, over a seven-year period, 1,000 homes will be built, 750 new jobs created, and many new and existing projects will be supported and developed

      • Neighborhood management.

        Forward strategies that can access mainstream local authority programs are more likely to prove sustainable. One good example is Tenant Management Organizations (for example, the Estate Management Boards on the Belle Isle and Halton Moor Estates in Leeds). These are local organizations, managing large budgets and sometimes staff, and giving residents a key role in managing estates.

      • Area Co-ordination.

        Is a form of multi-agency neighborhood management that has been adopted over a range of disadvantaged urban areas in Coventry. In each area, the local authority has appointed a senior officer who co-ordinates the work of the major service departments in the locality. Residents are also involved and, through joint work with professionals, develop annual action plans to tackle local problems. Areas of work include: health, family support, and community safety.

        Another form of neighborhood management is achieved by the multi-agency Estate Agreement piloted on two York estates (Bell Farm and Foxwood) with JRF support. In the Bell Farm agreement, local residents negotiated service agreements with: community policing; housing; jobs and training; the local adventure playground; leisure services for children and adults; street cleaning; and the dog warden. The Agreement is managed by an ongoing monitoring group consisting of residents and professionals.  

      • Other economic development organizations.

        In the last few years around 400 Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) have been set up in the UK, involving 35,000 people. LETS are groups of people who co-operate to exchange goods and service; offers and requests are listed in a LETS directory, a form of 'neighborhood ‘Yellow Pages'.

        A credit union is a mutual co-operative, owned and run by its members, offering accessible savings and low interest loans. Community credit unions tend to be more successful if they are based in existing community initiatives. There is also evidence that local authority development work has often been the key to successful credit unions at the local level. 

VI. DEVELOPING A SUPPORT INFRASTRUCTURE TO SUSTAIN COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS 

  • The question of long-term support should be tackled at the earliest possible stage

    Although SRB (and other Government initiatives) provide a welcome means of building capacity in deprived communities, there remain problems. There is still a lack of funding to support community efforts in the pre-bid phase. And, as short-term initiatives draw to a close, there is the question of who will provide long-term support for community organizations. The reality is that organizations in the community sector often hit troughs and, at these times, will need extra support in order to stave off decline or collapse. These potential difficulties need to be recognized, and planned for, at the earliest possible stage. In local authorities with several regeneration programs, Regeneration Units with dedicated staff can respond to these needs. This section looks at how ongoing support can be given.

  • Existing resources 

    What resources already exist for providing ongoing support to the community sector? At the local level, most local authorities have budgets for grant-aid to community organizations and many employ community development workers. They can also offer various types of help in kind. 

    Locally based organizations such as housing organizations, faith organizations and schools also have resources that can help capacity building. Other resources are available from charitable trusts, voluntary sector organizations and private business.  

  • Developing a more integrated support infrastructure

    Better value could be achieved from all these resources, particularly at the city level, if they were used in a more strategic manner. There is some evidence that more 'joined-up' ways of delivering support are being developed:

    • Training networks are beginning to emerge from the community sector itself.  With SRB funding, a Community Work Training Company in West Yorkshire has developed a range of accredited community work skills courses aimed at people who are active in their communities and in their community work. The networking of community groups is one of the support systems offered.

    • Some agencies are developing free-standing programs, funded by SRB, which are wholly concerned with strengthening the community's role in regeneration.  The Pan London Community Regeneration Consortium is a voluntary sector partnership, funded by SRB, with the aim of enabling London voluntary and community organizations to play an even greater role in community partnerships and assisting local regeneration partnerships to become more responsive to the needs of local communities. The West Midlands Black Voluntary Sector Regional Regeneration Network carries out a similar role across six local authorities. Its role is to increase interaction between regeneration agencies and the black voluntary sector and to attract additional resources into the region, particularly from black voluntary organizations.

    • In response to the Government's announcement of a National Regeneration Strategy and the Local Government White Paper, there is potential for local authorities and other partners at the local level to realign their priorities for capacity building.   Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has a Regeneration Division with a Director of Regeneration who sits alongside other Directors in the Corporate Management Team. The same Unit oversees community development and supports the voluntary sector within the Borough and, in addition to a number of area-based regeneration schemes, operates a special SRB-funded Community Capacity Building Project.

Useful links could also be made with longer-term techniques for citizen involvement, such as ‘'neighborhood visioning', piloted in Bristol. The creation of broader strategies, in these and other ways, is crucial in order to prevent partnership and initiative 'overload'.

  • Pre-bid resources

    It is widely acknowledged that existing resources for capacity building are not sufficient to cover need. A particular problem is the building of community capacity in disadvantaged areas prior to the bidding process. The JRF and other organizations have called for a National Community Resource Fund to be created by government with other partners (for example, the National Lottery and the private sector). Such a fund, with £10m per annum, could help local organizations in deprived areas to: develop visions and action plans for their neighborhoods; provide smaller scale funding for confidence building start-up projects; and provide residents with access to initial training.

VII. MONITORING PROGRESS

Without monitoring, token community involvement could take the place of real participation

  • Why evaluate community involvement?

    Because evaluation can provide ways of checking that the Community Involvement Strategy is going according to plan and that money invested in this has been well spent. In most cases the community, with fewer resources, is the weaker partner. Without a monitoring of progress, there is a danger that community priorities could be sidelined or that token community involvement could take the place of real participation by local residents. Throughout the monitoring process, full account must be taken of the community's views.  

  • A framework for evaluating community involvement and capacity building

    • Partnership strategy

      Every partnership should be required to produce a Community Involvement Strategy. The strategy would define concrete outputs, as well as processes for community involvement.

       

    • Quantifiable outputs

      Many of these concrete outputs are already defined in the SRB guidance and they include the numbers of: new tenant management organizations; new community facilities; voluntary organizations supported; individuals involved in voluntary work; community enterprise start-ups; capacity building initiatives carried out. There is scope to add further outputs: for example, the proportion of schemes supported where the community is an active partner.

  • 'Softer' outputs

    Many outputs of capacity building relate to the quality of the process rather than to numerical outputs. Ways must be found of monitoring key events and processes to show how they worked (or not) for local people. This could be achieved by using monitoring forms or by independent evaluation.

Some (though not all) of these processes are captured in the assessment criteria for bids in the SRB guidance. However, it is equally important that process measures are included alongside numerical outputs in the measures to be used in monitoring annual Delivery Plans. Without this, monitoring of community involvement and capacity building within partnerships will remain incomplete, and performance will certainly suffer as a result.

  • Monitoring by partners and government

    The adoption of the procedures suggested above would allow for the more accurate monitoring and regulation of community involvement and capacity building within urban regeneration partnerships. This would allow monitoring in three ways:

    • The Government Regional Office (the RDA after April 1999) would be able to assess partnerships' Community Involvement Strategies and suggest changes or amendments.

    • Partnerships could carry out their own monitoring, wherever possible involving independent evaluators and feeding their insights back into the partnership.

    • Assessment of both numerical outputs and processes of community involvement would become part of the annual reporting procedure by partnerships to Government Regional Offices

 

 

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