Empowering Communities & making Change Happen: Imagine Event. NCVO, London
Policy seminar organised by the Imagine research project. The event invited members from the Department of Communities and Local Government and National Council for Voluntary Organisations and was supported by the ESRC. Researchers from a variety of Imagine projects, inlcuding my own PhD study, spoke of the findings from their projects.
Kate Pahl (Imagine PI) led the day with an intorduction to the Imagine Programme.
A world cafe style of discussion in the afternoon followed the morning presentations. Each table had a facilitator to prevent discussion being over-taken by the more dominant voices in the room. Having multiple sheets of paper on each table also allowed for 'quieter voices' to write down their thoughts individually. These were then gathered by organisers at the end of the day.
The three case-study groups in my own research highlight, not only the different types of engagement women participate within their communities, but also concerns about difference, lifestyle, ambition, power, and control within communities - often in relation to time. One of the findings I was keen to highlight was that of negotiations of time and method with people who are very busy: how this might be done, and what are the pragmatic decisions we make as researchers, around appropriate use of our own, and other people's time. There is value to visiting understandings of the 'right use of time' and heirarchies of how things should be done 'properly' or within boundaries of time restraints. The issue of power dynamics within co-production was raised by another speaker who suggested that researchers must be honest and accepting about power dynamics. It was therefor interesting to note, that even those with the greatest understanding of co-production and collaboration are not exempt from heirarchical structures and power dynamics relating to time.
Some of the findings from my research that I took to the event included:
- Women’s civic engagement and temporal experiences very often continue to circulate around the private – even when concerned with the public.
- Acknowledging tensions between the democratic impulse and the equality of members, and a desire that 'everyone has a voice and status', and the reality that to get things to work, the actual input between members is often unequal: while many people might want to 'lend a hand', sometimes, it takes someone a little bit special to get these projects of the ground.
- People have limited and unequal resources, and time; Not everyone wants to be fully involved, or participate all of the time. Sometimes, individuals just want to 'lend a hand'.
- Time has different value to different people, but women often understand other women's time restrictions, and temporal experiences - and are more inclined to be accepting of, both commitment to taking on a project - and what happens (to people's time) when crisis' hit.
- It is often the people who don't get involved who are most marginalised.
- Civic participation and activism needs to be nutured from where women are, from the bottom up.
- Small, local initiatives often work best for women.
- There is a risk of 'burn-out' when too much pressure is put on small community projects. Small 'under-the-radar' projects often prefer to remain autonomous... They can make their own 'time' commitments without fear of burning out.
- Asking how these groups can co-produce while remaining autonomous?
- It is important that we think about ways of engaging people - while also looking at the ways in which they are engaging with each other. It is crucial that we acknowledge the multiplicity of engagement within communities, so that we better understand how community projects can develop at a rate and speed and pace that connects all members with the process, with the futures of their communities, and with various levels that members require.
- Creative methods, including poetry, film and art produces a different data than that from more traditional methods and using both together provides a means to generate new kinds of knowledge.
(Image: Women, community and Volunteering. Highlighting the three groups of women in my research project. Rape Crisis, Women for Independence Clackmannanshire, and Tangled Boots Line Dancing group).
(Image 2: Slide from my own presentation discussing the use of creative arts methods in social sciences and community research)
Creative methods allow space where making becomes connecting: A space where our confidence in ourselves, our confidence to imagine and to think differently - especially about our futures and the future of our communities, can occur.
Booklet of Poetry
As an example of how findings can be shared in ways that allow audiences to access data differently and in a more thought provoking way, a (quickly created) booklet of poetry from my project also travelled down to London with me . It was pleasing to note that the booklet had disappeared by the end of the day.
Many thanks to the women in my study who allowed me to share their poems in this little booklet.
Other finding from the day
- Ask people what they know - rather than what they don't know. All communities have their own beliefs and ambitions rooted in their own knowledge and experience - knowledge that needs to be recognised and valued.
- Policy makers spoke of creating 'Community Champions', but how does this idea relate to structures and practices of decision making? Is this just another kind of structure?
- Lots of the problems being discussed are continuous, and repeated over time.
- Everyone is an expert of their own life - but when we include many voices in research and co-production, we hear experiences and expertise in stereo and get a much broader view of communities.
- Policy makers need to consider how their work can reposition communities and their knowledge so that they are not just passive recipients but agents for change... and also not as cost cutting agents for change.
- Government cuts to LA's may encourage communities to rise to the challenge where people pick up the slack, and infact expand(Foodbanks), however, while people are keen to play a role in designing and delivering services, there is a fear of burn out and being left in the lurch with too much repsonsibility.
- Some organisations feel let down and isolated, given 'tokenistic funding to take over (dilapidated) building under the guise of Assett transfer (and Community Empowerment Act in Scotland) - to create plans for services with no resources to implement them.
- A 'Communities of practice' approach is enabling successful partnerships in culturally and contextually diverse partnerships.
- Specific approaches, drawing on the Resilience Framework, have been developed that communities and individuals have used to promote their capacity to respond to adversity.
- History and culture matter - but these can be captured through arts and humanities methodologies, inlcuding oral history, writing, poetry, and visual methods.
Doing things 'right v doing things differently': Government policy makers were/are keen on evidence based co-production and empiricle evidence, rather than case studies.... However, what does this say about assumptions of 'doing things right or officially' when there are over 200 CC projects and case studies?
Many thanks also to Mariam Shah, and Zanib Rasool (MBE) for their discussion on empowering young women in communities. I look forward to attending one of your poetry days in Rotherham.
(I will add more to this blog entry as links/images are added to the Imagine website ).