Julian Dobson: Gather and share, gather and share

in community engagement

Eighth in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Julian Dobson (@JulianDobson) is director at Urban Pollinators Ltd, and co-founder of Our Society. He is also author of Living with Rats, founding editor of New Start magazine, Fellow of the RSA, and a voluntary board member at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. David Barrie of the British Council’s Creative Cities program said: “Behind the scenes of urban renewal in the UK, Julian is a major player, innovating social action, ideas around placemaking and bringing people together to make change in new, profitable, human ways.” Responding to my request that he share some of his favorite resources on “best practices” in community empowerment, Julian said “If I’d got my act together and responded earlier I’d say just what Kevin Harris has done – only he’s done it much better.” These are the sites he recommended for this series, and why:

Out of the Ordinary – A book by David Robinson, founder of Community Links in east London. It spells out his experience of and vision for relationship-based approaches to work with families, children and young people. The e-book is available as a free download. (You can read Julian’s review of this book here).

Incredible Edible Todmorden – A project rather than a resource, but its experience shows just what ordinary people can do to address environmental issues through the shared experience of growing and producing local food. The website gives a flavour of their vision, achievements and the reasons why they are attracting international interest.

Meanwhile Space – Another UK resource (sorry folks) but again highly relevant internationally, though the law is obviously applied differently in different countries. Meanwhile Space is a project that started with finding new uses for empty shops during the recession of 2008-9 and is continuing on a broader scale. It shows how local people can move in where retailers have failed and how temporary or ‘meanwhile’ projects (pop-up projects as they’re often known) can change the look and feel of an area and help prevent blight.

Any thoughts/stories on the practice of hoarding/sharing best practices?

Gather and share, gather and share.

Next up: Mathew Dryhurst of LikeMinded

How to build a neighborhood playground: recommended resources at KaBOOM! by Lisa Palmer

in community engagement

Seventh in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Lisa Palmer (@lattman) is Director for Corporate Partnerships at KaBOOM! where she encourages corporations to participate in making kids’ dreams come true by building the kind of playgrounds that inspired her to play, and dream, as a child.

Play Matters - Great ideas and examples for developing public partnerships around ensuring that children in communities nationwide have access to great places to play.

KaBOOM! Online Trainings – Online trainings and resources that teach folks a variety of topics about play, including how to build a playground from scratch to how to advocate for play in their community.  Trainings may also feature community gardens, working to Save Play, etc.

DIY Planner at kaboom.org – The comprehensive sections of the KaBOOM! Toolkit are designed to walk you through the process of how to create a community-build playspace. From fundraising to volunteer recruitment, the Toolkit can help you take your project from start to finish with over a decade’s worth of KaBOOM! knowledge, advice, and best practices in building playspaces.

The Toolkit is designed to work hand-in-hand with the KaBOOM! Project Planner. The new planner gives you a free Web site that helps you Plan each step of your project, Communicate with your team, Recruit local volunteers, Raise money, Get free advice from the professional playground builders at KaBOOM!, Connect with a community of people like you who are building playspaces around the country.

Happy building!

Next up: Julian Dobson

Neighborhood Problem Solver, from Colin Gallagher

in community engagement

Sixth in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Colin Gallagher served in the U.S. Peace Corps in El Salvador from 1998 to 2000. Since then he’d completed several local government assignments, including a civic engagement program for the City of Salinas in California. He founded the Civic Engagement and Dialogue Practitioners group on LinkedIn. A martial arts expert, he sometimes takes Community Empowerment literally. Colin writes:

Recommended resource: Neighborhood Problem Solver – Collaboratively authored by neighborhood groups, Anna Velazquez, Wayne Green, Jorge Rifa, Colin Gallagher, and Jesse Juarez, with the assistance of various staff of the City of Salinas, and the support of the Mayor and City Council of the City of Salinas, the Neighborhood Problem Solver provides a means for people in neighborhoods to address problems on their own, or jointly with their neighbors or with members of their local government. It shares key steps and guidance on how to organize and publicize, and gives easy access to local resources.

It is published on the City of Salinas website and was originally designed to be made available for a limited time in CD and print form, with training provided by City Neighborhood Services Coordinators. The current version is in need of an update, but it remains an excellent resource and is available in English and Spanish. While it is designed for people who live in Salinas, the basic format of the Problem Solver can be retooled and used for any city or locale if there is a dedicated group of citizens and and local government employees who are willing to author such a document and make it available to the public. Should you decide to develop your own Problem Solver, it is best that you engage local government and members of the public to collaborate on it, and to have it posted on a local government website. The act of working on you Problem Solver will itself enhance collaboration between local government and the public.

It’s notable that in the City of Salinas, a new Neighborhood Leadership Academy is in development, which involves the members of the public collaboratively co-creating their own curriculum and then implementing it to develop local neighborhood projects or ideas for the community that would become a reality. This sort of concept, in which the public develops curriculum, projects, ideas, programs, etc., and provides them to the local government or simply notifies the local government of what they are doing, as opposed to the other way around, is a very positive development in terms of participation and community involvement and is a classic example of where people can use something like the Neighborhood Problem Solver to help organize efforts for projects that flow out of a Neighborhood Leadership Academy.

Next up: Lisa Palmer of KaBOOM!

Power tools in Community Tool Box from Christina Holt

in community engagement

Fifth in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Christina Holt is Associate Director for Community Tool Box Services at Work Group for Community Health and Development. She got her MA in Child Development and Psychology, and her BA in Community Leadership Development, from the University of Kansas. Christina was a Research Associate at the KU Work Group, then served at Community Living Opportunities from 2004 to 2007, as Senior Administrator, Behavior Analyst, and Director of Behavioral Services and Family Enhancement.

Any thoughts/stories on the practice of hoarding/sharing best practices?

There are so many best practices and promising approaches to be shared; we have so much to learn from others who have gone before us in the work of transforming our communities. There are many wonderful web resources available to support comprehensive community develoment, as well as categorical efforts. Best wishes to those who are seeking to learn from others and create meaningful change in their own community!

Community Tool Box — Links to Databases of Best Practices – The Community Tool Box is a global resource for free information on essential skills for building healthy communities. It offers more than 7,000 pages of practical guidance in creating change and improvement (available in both English and Spanish).

The Tool Box exists to help connect people to ideas and resources to support their community-based efforts. Because of increased interest in using best practices and evidence-based approaches, the Tool Box offers a collection of links to free online databases that contain information on what works in addressing specific problems or goals related to community health and development.

Community Tool Box — Community InnovatorsAn abundance of innovative work is being undertaken across the globe to help communities improve their health and well-being, and there is a lot to be learned. Through the Out of the Box competition, more than 300 stories of community change emerged from 42 countries around the world.  These stories represent innovative approaches communities around the world have taken to address local issues and goals.

We hope that you find inspiration in these stories of change, and that you will check as additional stories from around the world are featured each week through the coming year.

Conditions that May Affect Success in Implementing Best Processes – This resource includes reflection questions and tools to enable “what works” to work, likely relevant to any evidence-based or promising approach being implemented.

The Community Guide: What Works to Promote Health – The Guide to Community Preventive Services is a free resource put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help you choose programs and policies to improve health in your community. Systematic reviews are used to answer questions such as: Which program and policy interventions have been proven effective? Are there effective interventions that are right for my community? What might effective interventions cost; what is the likely return on investment?

Next up: Colin Gallagher

Summer reading from the Harvard Graduate School of Design

in community engagement

Fourth in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Matthew Singh is a Systems Analyst at a prominent foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area, and as an AmeriCorps volunteer helped many nonprofits with technology and organizing. A grad of International Development Studies at UC Berkeley, he was accepted into Harvard University’s Masters program in Urban Planning, and chose to share these three books recommended by the faculty for summer reading:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs – This is one of the most important books in the field of urban planning. It is an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro – This book is recommended because it shows the operation of power and political influence in the context of urban governance. One of the most acclaimed books of our time, winner of both the Pulitzer and the Francis Parkman prizes, The Power Broker tells the hidden story behind the shaping (and mis-shaping) of twentieth-century New York.

Rethinking Federal Housing Policy: How to Make Housing Plentiful and Affordable by Joseph Gyourko and Edward L. Gleaser – Despite the recent drop in house prices, housing remains unaffordable for many ordinary Americans. Edward L. Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko explain why housing is so expensive in some areas and outline a plan for making it more affordable. They propose a comprehensive overhaul of federal housing policy – a radical rethinking of policy to allow housing markets to operate freely–and to make housing affordable and plentiful for the middle class and the poor.

Next up: Christina Holt of Community Tool Box

Knowledge-sharing resources from Diane Dyson

in community engagement

This is the third installment in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Diane Dyson (@Diane_Dyson) is Manager for Planning & Research at WoodGreen Community Services, and author of Belonging Community. She says there’s no real rhyme or reason to her selections, but thought that each of these were simply good examples of how knowledge-sharing can occur. So of course they’re mainly Canadian.

Any thoughts/stories on the practice of hoarding/sharing best practices?

There was some resistance when I wanted to publish the United Way Best Practice reviews. I believe, even the title “Best” is intimidating. Publishing your “best” only to later have it disproved is risky. I think that’s why we are seeing discussions of “promising” more.

Action for Neighbourhood Change/United Way Toronto – This list of various webresources was built to support the resident engagement work of United Way Toronto as part of its Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy. Knowledge exchange was an explicit part of the the BSNS strategy. I assembled this set of resources when I was a research analyst at United Way.

The final links on the page lead to two best practice pieces we commissioned, but had never shared publicly. They show, whether working with newcomer immigrants or youth, the best practice is to do “it” (basket-weaving, ping pong, etc.) for a while and to build a relationship while doing so.

Well Scotland – Lists range of literature reviews on topic of elements which promote a mentally healthy neighbourhood.

Health-evidence.ca – Resources to support evidence-based decision-making” in the health field. Has a very good resource list to other sites.

What Works – Good example of a useable, plain language web resource. This one is for educators in the U.S.A.

Promising Practices Catalogue/Imagine Canada - Imagine Canada is the voice for Canadian charities. It maintains an on-line searchable library, one section of which is dedicated to “promising practices.”

Next up: Matthew Singh

Best Practice resources from Richard Layman

in community engagement

This is the second installment in our Best practices in Community Empowerment series.

Richard Layman, author of  Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, is an urban/commercial district revitalization & transportation/mobility advocate and consultant, based in Washington, DC.

On the practice of hoarding/sharing best practices, Richard says: Most people think their communities are unique. Of course every place is unique. But for the most part, as systems, neighborhoods and cities operate similarly, regardless of location, although specifics vary depending on their place within their own metropolitan region, and whether or not the region is a strong or weak real estate market. By working with the ideas and best practices from other places, we can significantly reduce the time we need to improve our own places, and in turn we can contribute our learnings outward, to others in similar situations.

These are the Top 5 resources Richard recommends, and why:

Project for Public Spaces – PPS’s “How to Turn A Place Around” workshop and their “Place Game” (pdf) are great tools for improving the quality of life in communities, working from the ground up. Their monthly e-letter always has good articles.

Asset Based Community Development Institute – They publish a wide variety of workbooks (in print and online) about ground up community development that are focused on empowering people and harvesting social and organizational capital, not just money.

Community Economic Development Handbook by Mihalio Temali – Step by step guide to commercial district revitalization and local business development.

Smart Transportation Guidebook – Integrating land use and transportation planning is key to successful communities.  This guidebook provides a new framework for thinking about transportation (roads) in terms of land use context, whether the road serves the community or is important regionally, and roadside, roadway, and operating speed characteristics.

Bringing Buildings Back by Alan Mallach – This book focuses in a practical way on rebuilding value in neighborhoods and buildings, to counter disinvestment and abandonment.

This is a very short list of Richard’s favorite resources. He also sent me this link to a longer list he put together for a presentation he made last week for a workshop in Baltimore on placemaking and transit at the neighborhood level. Also check out all those links to great resources in his blog.

Next up: Diane Dyson

Best practice malpractice

in community engagement

I’d been asked to prepare a presentation for the “Someone’s Done That Already: the Best Practice of Using Best Practices” session of the June 2 Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp on Empowering Communities. So I reached out to a few friends who know far more about best practices in community empowerment than I do.

I told them my plan was to create a slide for each one who filled in an online questionnaire, and talk about the Top 3 to 5 resources that they’d recommend. Preferably, I said, the resources are available free online, but they could list resources in any medium.

I knew this little exercise was going to be fun when the first submission I got came from Kevin Harris, principal of Local Level, author of the Neighborhoods blog, with 20+ years working with residents and community development professionals, including years as an advisor to the UK government.

Here are the questions Kevin chose to answer:

1a: Name/Title/Author of Resource: Local people

1b: Link to resource (please include http://): Really quite close to where you are now

1c: Brief description of this resource. If you want to say why you recommend it, please do so.

Local people are quite capable of doing stuff if only those who have power that they shouldn’t have would get out of the way. This doesn’t mean that people don’t need services, run in a professional way, for which they rightly pay taxes. It means that those in positions of power need to address their own behaviour that disempowers ordinary people. This tends to be effected through bureaucratic procedures, references to regulations and health and safety conditions, excessive formalities in grant applications, inappropriate use of formal language, attention to their own work targets not community benefit, conveying a (completely false) sense of superiority, and a painful inability to see things from others’ point of view.

This box is for anything else you want to say.

Conceivably, perpetuating discussion about best practices might simply perpetuate the over-bureaucratisation (and unnecessary professionalisation) of community action. It could help to reflect on worst practices. The best community development role is sometimes to remove barriers, remain silent and/or just get out of the way.

Gee thanks, Kevin. And off we go! Next up: Richard Layman

Julian Dobson on “Out of the Ordinary” by David Robinson of Community Links

in community engagement

Last week I was in a conference room in the heart of London listening to some of our leading thinkers discussing the ‘enabling state’ – the formula, magic or otherwise, that would allow government to harness the power of civic action and let citizens reach their potential without the stifling hand of bureaucracy.

When I got home I found a slim book in the post. Entitled Out of the Ordinary, it’s David Robinson’s reflections on more than 30 years’ work in east London with Community Links. I’ve followed Community Links through some of those years, as I used to live down the road from them in Newham, and David and his colleagues contributed on many occasions to New Start magazine.

The pulse of Community Links is something the thinkers and policymakers need to share if they are to realise this vision of the enabling state. On virtually every page of David Robinson’s book is the word ‘relationship’.

Community Links works with children and young people, with families and those who struggle with poverty and unemployment. When someone encounters a Community Links worker or volunteer, it’s the start of a relationship. The organisation has a policy of ‘no wrong door’ – whatever your entry point, that’s where the process of listening and understanding begins.

Contrast that with users’ frequent experience of public services and large private companies, which is that there is a specialist to deal with each problem – and it’s usually someone else. It can be easy for ‘not my area of expertise’ to turn into ‘not my responsibility’, offering a get-out clause for any tricky and time-consuming situation. Banks may employ hosts of ‘relationship managers’, but very few of them know their customers.

Community Links doesn’t have relationship managers. It has staff and volunteers who get to know the people who come through their doors. As David Robinson puts it: ‘It is not only possible for one human being to make a real and lasting difference to another, it is often, in the most difficult circumstances, the only thing that ever does.’

What does that tell us about the idea of the enabling state, so dear to the advocates of a Big Society? I’d suggest that if we want to achieve that, the best investment will be in relationships – or, more precisely, in the people who can forge relationships.

You can’t achieve that with hosts of public servants sitting in offices running programmes, and neither can you achieve it with huge outsourced contracts to companies that put efficiency before effectiveness.

Relationships happen face to face. Technology can and does help, but trust is built person by person. If people don’t trust the state or its leaders, it may well be because they don’t encounter them at a level likely to lead to any understanding.

So we have to resource the people who build relationships that effectively address complex problems. Many of them are in voluntary organisations like Community Links. Many others are public servants who engage with the public and go the extra mile. Some are councillors and politicians who genuinely represent their constituents. Others may be less obvious – postal workers, pub landlords, sports coaches and shop staff who notice what goes on around them.

A huge amount of highly educated thought goes into devising programmes, fine-tuning processes and setting priorities. It is important to get these right and to take into account the best evidence we can muster. But without investing in people the state may manage, but it will never enable.

What is out of the ordinary about David Robinson’s book is not just that it is unusual, but that its stories and recommendations really do come out of the ordinary – the ordinary lives, interactions, and conversations that over time achieve extraordinary results.

Out of the Ordinary is published by Community Links today, and you can find out more here.

[Reposted with permission from this article by Julian Dobson, author of Living with Rats, founding editor of New Start magazine, Fellow of the RSA, and a voluntary board member at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Follow @JulianDobson on Twitter.]