Our approach to working with communities
We take an asset based approach to community engagement, aiming to integrate community development activities into everything we do and encouraging collaborative partnership working to enable all involved to add value where they are best placed to do so.
We believe consultation does not go far enough to ensure communities are protected, supported and appreciated. We believe all communities have value, be that in terms of skills, knowledge or potential, and that communities are often best placed to resolve their own challenges. Putting communities at the heart of any change which affects them is, we believe, the best way to achieve success.
Why communities are important
Communities are affected by the actions of many sectors from housing, to public services like health, education and the legal system to property development and retail. They are affected by new developments and by the regeneration of existing areas, by transport infrastructure, by economic changes and policy choices.
Strong communities that come together in a crisis, who support the vulnerable among them and who value one another, are a huge asset. The impact of a strong community on health is of enormous value as they can vastly increase wellbeing whilst reducing the financial cost to health and other related public services. They reduce anti-social behaviour, increase property values and reduce the impact of hazards or threats.
Less cohesive and less resilient communities are vulnerable to change and even minor developments can have a very negative impact on them, reducing wellbeing and resilience and increasing public service costs.
Enabling communities to have a sense of control over the changes that impact them helps them maintain or even increase their wellbeing, be that environmental, physical, occupational, financial, emotional or social wellbeing.
Community engagement and development
There is no agreed definition of community engagement. But it may be useful to think in terms of engagement being both a process and an outcome.
- As a process, community engagement is all about what will be done
- As an outcome, it is about what we want to achieve
It may also be useful to think of the process of engaging community in the “what” of a change as community engagement, whereas involving the community in achieving the aims of a change can be viewed as community development.
It can be beneficial to take a community development approach to working with communities in many circumstances, not just in developing services, but in all situations where changes impact them. Doing so enables everyone to build capability and capacity and make places better, which has a positive result for all. And taking an asset based approach to community development, focusing on strengths and what can be done by people and organisations, helps us to really identify where changes need to be made.
For instance, the process of designing a service for older vulnerable people may involve talking to potential service users about what they need. But an asset based community development approach may identify local people who are willing to use their own time or develop their skills or develop activities to care for older people. This creates a service with its roots in the community, developing social connections and increasing resilience.
Similarly, a community development approach to regeneration can increase trust and engagement whilst reducing the likelihood that communities will reject planned changes. If communities are given the opportunity to identify what they like about their area, and what they can do themselves to make it better, they become involved in a practical way, creating more relevant and sustainable change alongside experts and partners.
Taking a community engagement approach may enable communities to “have a say”, but it is unlikely to have the same positive impact as working with the community to produce real positive outcomes. Working in partnership with communities can increase cohesion, develop skills and increase the awareness of the complexities of planning and development. It can facilitate local growth, reduce crime and increase property prices by improving the reputation of an area.
We encourage all our clients to adopt an approach to community which values assets and strengths and which works in partnership with communities to achieve great shared outcomes.