What was the Problem/Issue?
Community Councils were represented by two organisations whose remit was undergoing a period of change and the CPP wanted to ensure that it was still appropriate for them to be the sole Community representation. The CPP sent a survey to all Community Councils in early 2016 asking them if they felt they were adequately represented and how they felt representation could be strengthened.
On the strength of these results a consultation event was held for community organisations as well as Community Councils to inform them about the existing Community Planning Partnership, how it works and to hear their ideas about how the community could be represented at a strategic level within the partnership, and how communities can be more effectively involved in community planning.
This conversation took place at a time when the whole relationship between the Council, its community planning partners and local communities was being transformed through the work of Vibrant Communities, within the broader context of the community empowerment legislation. The focus was increasingly on an asset based approach; working with rather than for our communities; listening to them; valuing their knowledge, skills and experience; and most importantly, empowering them to shape the future development of their own, sustainable communities through the development of community led action plans. It was therefore essential to ensure that there was strong and effective community representation in the partnership’s strategic decision making structures.
Within this wider context, and informed by the results of the Community Councils’ survey and feedback from the consultation event, it was felt that it would be more effective for Communities if membership was widened out to include representation, not only from Community Councils, but also from Community Led Action Plan groups.
Theme: Community Planning and Empowerment
Through Vibrant Communities, all Community Councils were contacted with an outline of the purpose of the Community Planning Partnership and the contribution required from Community Representatives. Two representatives were identified one from the North of the Authority and one from the South.
The Community Action Plan Forum was provided with similar information and identified two representatives again one from the North and one from the South of the Authority.
What helped us to improve community participation?
All representatives were given an induction to ensure that they understood who was involved in the Partnership, what areas the CCP had responsibility for and what the expectations of the Community Representatives were.
The representatives worked with Vibrant Communities to develop a framework for communicating with Community Councils and the Forum. They were also allocated a worker who could support them between meetings to ensure that they understood what they had to do, assist them to share information with communities and offer support if necessary.
A member of CPP met with all representatives before meetings to go through the agenda and any supplementary papers. This ensures that everyone is aware of the areas to be discussed and has a stronger understanding of the information and the effect it may have on communities. They also have the opportunity to ask questions about anything they are unclear about in a more relaxed setting.
What were the barriers to improving community participation?
- Timing of meetings
- daytime does not suit those who work daytimes
- Information is received very close to the meeting so the reps may not always have enough time to consult the wider group in advance.
- It has been a steep learning curve for the representatives as they are involved in areas they may not have previous experience in. They can sometimes be overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork attached to one meeting.
The importance of ensuring that our committee reports and community updates contain less jargon and are more accessible – this is an ongoing area for improvement, but the focus is increasingly on reporting to and communicating with our communities, and our reporting materials/methods are being reviewed and adapted accordingly.
That truly empowered community representatives bring a fresh viewpoint to the strategic decision making forum and can provide a valuable and constructive challenge from a genuine community based perspective.
That effective community engagement supports and improves two way communication, both empowering communities to feed into the strategic decision making process and also, importantly, providing a conduit for the strategic direction to be shared with communities – closing the circle and ensuring a common ‘golden thread’ between all of our work to achieve improved outcomes across East Ayrshire.