How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
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Organizing for local support and action
I work with a local 'town team' organization, whose goal is to help the local community improve. Our strapline is 'better together' and we want to make the town and area 'a great place to live, work and visit'.
Our challenge is that other local groups are rather inward-looking, concerned about their own affairs and unwilling to take the larger picture or look out into the future. Changing minds happens at every meeting and we need to be careful to keep our stakeholders happy. When you live in a small town, you can easily alienate many people with one bit of carelessness.
We were having the classic 'who are we' discussion the other day and I summarized the possible organizational role into an increasing level of complexity.
1a. Facilitating conversations. We did this in bringing together various groups from the county council to disability and cycling people to discuss a project to repave the high street. To be successful, this requires that we achieved a position of trust, sitting between all parties, which means not giving preference to any one, of helping everyone to be heard and holding back those who want to dominate. Facilitation in general means holding lots of conversations, helping people speak and listen to others. It means holding back your own
1b. Local activism. In some work we have taken the position of experts and cheerleaders. For example in the high street project, some of our members pushed for particular solutions. Contrary to the facilitation role, this may mean being partisan. It may lead some people we work with to not want future involvement with us. It may mean other groups feel we are treading on their turf. This oppositional dynamic means activism requires lots of energy to push through resistance, wear down the opposition and enthuse others to join in. There also seems a choice between this and facilitation. While we could do both, the dynamics of trust would make this difficult.
2. Volunteer projects. The easy way to get things done is to do them yourself. A simple example was when we got together to clean up a rather tatty car park. This role needs far less interaction with others, other than to find people to help and ensuring any opposition is minimized. It is a good way to get successes under the belt and evidence that we are a force for good. People like to associate with success, making this approach a good way to attract other volunteers.
3. Funded projects. In making improvements around the town, some things will need money, for anything from a bit of cement to paying for contractors to do major work. We did a presentation day for the town that needed money to hire the hall, print literature and so on. We would also like to do bigger things, from improving sports facilities to setting up a catering college. To do this means finding and managing money. It means understanding grant systems, how to apply for funds and keeping the funders happy as you use their money. This needs a prudent organization with the systems and expertize to attract and handle funds.
4. Managed projects. A step beyond getting funding which typically goes straight to a supplier, is to become more involved in the project, actively managing what is going on. We have not got to this as yet, but other town teams are doing such activities and it becomes necessary when funded projects require more active involvement. When you are a volunteer, becoming a manager can increase significantly the time you need to spend on the project, especially if you are managing the activities of other people. It turns helping when you can to working as you must. Even if you employ a professional project manager, you still need to manage the work of this person. It typically will require more formal project meetings, risk management, reporting and all the other aspects of managing projects.
5. Managed services. The highest level of activity that we have considered is in musing about the future, for example where local councils are seeking to divest responsibility for local assets such as parks and town buildings. In such cases the assets would be given to local trusts who would then become responsible for their upkeep. Managing projects is a short-term activity with a clear end goal. Managing services is ongoing work, quite possibly with permanent employees and contractors, and requires a long-term commitment.
Which path we take, whether to stay at the lower levels or reach into more active roles, will depend first on the energy and consequent commitment we can find.
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