Co design and unlocking community capacity
Across the UK, local authorities and health services are exploring ways they can work more closely and effectively with communities – from local third sector providers to community groups, informal networks and individual residents. Organisations increasingly recognise that they need to connect more creatively with their citizens to shape and resource services, and to build a sense of shared purpose which moves beyond old, transactional models of services delivered and received towards something more collaborative.
And yet, the gravitational pull of entrenched approaches – whether that’s the way we try to project manage change or the way we run engagement processes – can make real, practical change difficult to achieve and sustain. Based on our experience supporting capacity-building, partnership working and collaboration in all sorts of communities, we believe this has to be about more than changing one part of the process or one part of the system. Good engagement becomes a way of thinking and working for whole organisations and whole local systems, rather than a stand-alone activity inspired by a single challenge or crisis.
With that in mind, we work to support organisations in building their networks in communities in ways that can be developed and sustained over the long term. Using techniques such as asset-mapping, ‘ideas farms’ and visioning workshops, we help to create spaces where service users and citizens are not only able to illuminate the issues and ideas that matter to them, but to follow that energy into generating practical responses. Working in this way, our aim is to support engagement which:
- Opens up conversations rather than narrowing them down
- Is active for those taking part, not passive
- Invites people to share and shape their own ideas rather than just responding to options that have been pre-formed and presented
- Enables and supports people to get involved and stay involved, not just to give an opinion and leave
- Can gather momentum, rather than shoe-horned into the rhythm of public sector meeting schedules and project plans
- Makes connections and grows local networks
- Is fun and enjoyable.
In parallel, we lead workshops with staff inside organisations to help them work through the implications of this for how they operate internally and with partners, identifying the blockages to better collaboration and co-design, and building practical responses to those.