Working together to secure change

Gerry Kiernan (South Lanarkshire Council) reflects on the value of IAP’s collaborative approach in bringing together services and professionals to change communities, in this excellent guest blog for IAP.

Having recently returned to working in local authority after ten years in the Third Sector, I was braced for that inevitable period where I have to get my head around how things work. I’m stilllearning about that, but the thing that has struck me initially is how much in common we all have. Not just between sectors, but between organisations and departments. I’m a community worker by trade, and I’ve really noticed a shift from ten years ago, in the way everyone is working now and how aligned so many diverse professions are with the core values of community development work; that is, undertaking ‘practice that enables people to identify their own individual and collective goals… and take action to bring about change for themselves and their communities’ (thanks to the CLD Standard Council Scotland for the definition).

Hearing about the fantastic work of Inclusion as Prevention (IAP) from colleagues really brought home that we have more in common than keeps us apart – if we only have our heads-up and are open to seeing the opportunities – and that horrible phrase ‘silo working’ is becoming less of an issue where there’s an honesty, transparency and generosity amongst services and professionals. And let’s face it, there needs to be. The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated and exposed the underlying problems of poverty, inequality and deprivation that already existed in some of our communities. The work of IAP and of the Community Planning Partnership gets right to the heart of these big issues at a local and individual level. We have to keep going, the work is really important.

I can see this collaborative approach in my role – and across the Community Engagement Team – delivering Neighbourhood Planning work. Partnership working is often talked about but, in my experience, can be difficult to do meaningfully. It is often reduced to funding arrangements or a one-sided relationship. Working in partnership with individuals, groups and communities and generating meaningful responses to their needs is not only a responsibility, but also a great way to develop the potential and capacity of those individuals and communities.

And, as The Scottish Government says in support of Community Planning:

“Consultation is no longer enough – Community Planning Partnerships and community planning partners must act to secure the participation of communities throughout.”  This might mean a cultural shift when demands are made of departments that traditionally have not had a public-facing role. The good news is there’s already lots of colleagues doing just this, and we’re happy to share our expertise and connect services with communities. In fact, we’re really good at it!

I’ve been involved in community development work for over thirty years and I’m still learning and still adapting my practice. Good community development work can still be hard to do. Doing it well can take a long time. But, I believe it is more essential now than ever. I hope we can commit to addressing the root causes of social, economic and political problems locally and nationally. We need to give more focus to long-term outcomes, even though we’re faced with short-term symptoms that need immediate responses. But let’s keep making things better, for those individuals who need it most, and help geographical communities, young people, families, older people… all communities of interest, to be their own grassroots movement, equipping them with the confidence, resources and trust to secure change for the better.