Senior Policy Researcher, Luca Tiratelli discusses NLGN’s latest report on Community Mobilisation and what this looks like in practice.
‘Community power’ is an increasingly fashionable idea in policy circles. Across local government and beyond, many people are seeing the benefit in democratising public services and allowing communities to take more control over the forces that shape their lives.
Getting communities to the point at which they can take on this power and control is where community mobilisation comes in. In NLGN’s latest report, we define this as a process that leaves us with communities who have clear objectives, understand what assets they have at their disposal, and have a plan for how to use them to achieve positive change.
Community mobilisation differs from notionally similar concepts, such as community engagement, in that it is a deep process, which requires the active building of bonds, assets and infrastructure within communities, making them stronger and more able to unleash their latent potential. By contrast, community engagement is a shallow process, which simply involves harvesting pre-existing opinions.
We define community mobilisation as a process that leaves us with communities who have clear objectives, understand what assets they have at their disposal, and have a plan for how to use them to achieve positive change.
On occasion, community mobilisation can occur organically, particularly in circumstances when communities have to come together in the face of adversity, or in opposition to something. The recent flourishing of mutual aid groups around the country in response to lockdown would be a good example of this. However, most of the time, some degree of external catalysation is needed for mobilisation to occur, which normally takes the form of an active effort on the part of either local government, public service professionals or the community and voluntary sector.
What this looks like in practice can vary considerably. In the report, we offer four case studies, which employ contrasting approaches, but have all achieved inspiring and positive outcomes. These include:
- Community Catalysts, and their work to empower local people with passion and ideas to create new community led alternatives in the social care sector in Central Bedfordshire
- The partnership between Haringey Council and the Local Area Coordination Network, which employs coordinators to work in the borough, connecting people with specific needs to community organisations that can meet them
- London CLT, and their work in using community organising approaches to build more affordable housing in the capital
- The ‘Every One Every Day’ project in Barking and Dagenham, which creates the infrastructure needed to support an ecosystem of community led projects and initiatives to emerge and flourish
Through these examples, the report also identifies numerous factors that can work as either enablers or barriers to community mobilisation taking hold in any given area. Overall, we found that mobilisation is more likely to be successful if you can cultivate strong community leadership, employ effective communication strategies, and engage positively with local authorities, who we found to often hold extraordinary ‘make or break’ power over community initiatives.
We view community mobilisation as an essential prerequisite to handing over power and responsibility to communities on the ground and were hugely inspired by the examples of people doing it effectively out there across the country.
On the other hand, we found that factors that often hold community mobilisation efforts back include things like working at inappropriate scales (mobilising over too large an area/group tends to be exceedingly difficult, whereas mobilising at too small a scale creates groups that lack the capacity to actually change things), and the characteristics of communities themselves. Quite obviously, communities afflicted with internal divisions prove difficult to mobilise, but so do communities that lack trust in existing systems or have developed a certain sense of fatalism about the possibility of positive change.
Hopefully, however, through the course of our report, we offer a roadmap for successful mobilisation strategies, capable of ensuring positive outcomes regardless of what obstacles stand in your way. We view community mobilisation as an essential prerequisite to handing over power and responsibility to communities on the ground and were hugely inspired by the examples of people doing it effectively out there across the country.