Typically, our work is highly practical and focussed on delivering change at both a systemic and community level. Our aim, is that by demonstrating the impact of our approach at a community level, the case for systemic change can also be made. At the heart of what we do is the desire to support the empowerment of local communities. The starting point, for almost all of our assignments, is the challenge from a public service provider asking “how do I build communities that are stronger and more self-reliant, and are placing less demand on my services”. Often public sector providers are not working effectively with their local communities. For two key reasons. Firstly, they tend to approach different communities in the same way – that is they have an approach to community development that is broadly uniform. Our experience is that communities vary very widely in any area and therefore the approach to them needs to be highly tailored. Fundamentally our view is that service providers should focus on devolving power and control to communities that have strong community capacity (or social capital) and take a much more interventionist or supportive approach in communities where social capital is weaker. Secondly, for good and bad reasons many public service providers are reluctant to devolve power and responsibility to their local communities. The good reasons being they are concerned about budget control, or the capability of local people. They are concerned about safeguarding issues for local vulnerable people.
They are highly trained and experienced professionals not well intentioned amateurs. They have a framework of audit and regulation around them that, when working well, ensures a minimum level of service. The bad reasons though are that at times service providers have a patronising view of the capabilities of local people and communities. At times they also might resist devolution as that threatens their own livelihood.
Our work tends to start from an acceptance from our clients that there is an opportunity to work differently with their local communities and an appetite to explore an alternative approach, one with a focus on demand reduction. Our work in communities tends to focus on two key aspects: 1.) what are the capabilities and strengths of the local community and 2.) what demand does this community place on the public sector. The aim of this approach is to identify where any given community is applying pressure on the public purse and at the same time identify the community’s capabilities (assets) that could be better used to reduce this demand. Essentially there is a hypothesis behind almost all our projects which is that “if statutory providers had a better understanding of the capabilities and strengths of any community they would commission services differently”. Typically, multiple opportunities emerge for greater community involvement.
Examples might include:
- Bed blocking can be eased through community groups supporting someone’s return home
- Pressure on GP surgeries can be addressed through social prescribing
- Reoffending rates can be addressed by the community being aware of people leaving prison
- Grounds maintenance contracts or aspects of housing repairs can be offered to local people to deliver
Our experience is that when local people are presented with information about the scale of public sector spend in their community – which is typically somewhere around £3,000 per annum for every single person, they tend to be firstly staggered and secondly minded to say “surely we could do some of that ourselves?”