2.2 Working together: prioritising needs, and agreeing and progressing solutions
Once the community worker has brought the group together, their first task will be to define its purpose, clarify and prioritise its goals, set realistic targets for action, and agree the mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the outcomes. In the light of this, they will also need to review the group’s membership in terms of the skills mix and training needs, particularly if they see the group as working towards a long-term future. This stage will form the basis for developing a framework for action which will include a timescale and timetable for meeting the agreed objectives, and a common agreement and shared understanding of the members’ roles and responsibilities within this. It will also start the process of establishing effective team building and developing partnership ways of working, as well as providing opportunities for flagging up potential areas of conflict when particular dilemmas and contradictions may emerge for group members.
Central to this process will be the issue of the group achieving its objectives while building and developing the organisational structure to enable this. A prime example would be the emphasis on delivering concrete measurable outcomes as a measure of achievement.
Although important, quantifiable measures of concrete outcomes do not acknowledge the importance of the building of organisational structures and the empowerment of individuals and communities which this entails. It can, therefore, be difficult to translate the rhetoric (about community development and community action) into the concrete reality of achieving action and change. Thus, the community’s action plan should include the development of an organisational structure to meet its particular needs and what it sees as its terms of reference. This may be done informally, agreeing the processes of recruitment/membership, decision making, communication and accountability, or more formal arrangements may be made which, as a first step, include a written constitution with agreed policies and procedures. However, the community group may also wish to seek limited company status and/or charitable status. Although this provides the group with a legal framework and also other opportunities for fundraising and income generation, it also brings additional levels of responsibility and accountability.
The process can be quite lengthy and time-consuming, demanding high levels of commitment, particularly if the group also needs to raise funds in order to support its activities. Indeed, at this point, the original purpose of the group can become subsumed under these demands, and members may become disenchanted and disillusioned as they struggle with their other various competing commitments outside the group. The community worker’s skills in supporting these processes will be crucial, in terms of maintaining the impetus of the group and the commitment of its members. There is a need for perseverance, a good deal of realism and a sense of humour. The community worker will also need the ability to collect and provide information, give administrative and organisational support, and enable the group to network and liaise with other organisations so that the relevant expertise, advice and support can either be brought into or made available to the group. They may also need to resolve areas of conflict, which may be internal or external to the group.
Activity 3 Community development in action: interventions to improve mental health
Listen to the audio below in which Pat Gilmartin, an occupational therapist with BASA, talks about community development. Take notes as you go and then answer the following questions:
- Pick out three practical examples of the use of a community development approach
- How does this fit with the Standing Conference on Community Development Statement (SCCD) in Box 1?
- Would you expect these principles to be any different when promoting mental health?
Transcript: Fitting into the community
Transcript: Harnessing the strengths of volunteers
Box 1 A statement on community development
Community development is about building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect.
It is about changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives.
Community workers support individuals, groups and organisations in this process on the basis of the following values and commitments.
Social justice – enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their needs and have greater control over the decision-making processes which affect their lives.
Participation – facilitating democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives, based on full citizenship, autonomy, and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience.
Equality – challenging the attitudes of individuals, and the practices of institutions and society, which discriminate against and marginalise people.
Learning – recognising the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute and develop by taking action to tackle social, economic, political and environmental problems.
Co-operation – working together to identify and implement action, based on mutual respect of diverse cultures and contributions.
Challenging discrimination and oppressive practices within organisations, institutions and communities.
Developing practice and policy that protects the environment.
Encouraging networking and connections between communities and organisations.
Ensuring access and choice for all groups and individuals within society.
Influencing policy and programmes from the perspective of communities.
Prioritising the issues of concern to people experiencing poverty and social exclusion.
Promoting social change that is long-term and sustainable.
Reversing inequality and the imbalance of power relationships in society.
Supporting community-led collective action.
Building capacity for mental health which embraces a community development approach should be no different from any other form of capacity building. While the style may differ, the principles should always remain the same. These principles are about engagement, participation and empowerment.