Community Visioning for Community Planning
As Long as My Bins Get Lifted
The Building Change Trust’s Civic Activism Programme aimed to bring decision-making closer to the citizens of Northern Ireland, through the use of innovative and creative engagement methods.
The Civic Innovation Toolkit documents 29 such methods that had never or very rarely been used in Northern Ireland before. Eight awards were then made to VCSE organisations for the purposes of experimenting with one or more of these methods in relation to a named social or environmental issue.
This series of Learning Resources documents the successes and challenges of each of the eight projects and provides practical information for those who would like to adopt these methods in their own work.
This case study focuses on three engagement methods, or tools, used by the ‘Waste No Time’ Partnership to explore people’s thoughts on their relationship with the local council. The project was delivered in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council district. We hope this short guide will give you some inspiration to try some new engagement methods yourself.
What’s your relationship with your Council - do they just lift your bins? What if this could be something more…
“We came up with the logo of a bin because the lifting of bins is such a key service that connects us all, wherever we live and whoever we are, as well as the importance of not ‘binning our voices and stories’ as we work together in growing our new Council.” (Waste No Time partner)
In light of the local Council restructure in Northern Ireland introduced in April 2015, the old local areas that people and communities identified with suddenly shifted, and new areas were brought into the fold. The Waste No Time partnership of people and organisations felt that this resulted in a lack of affinity and connection between the public and the new Council identity. They believe that an improved relationship between the people and the Council has the potential to improve local areas and result in better decision making. “Imagine the relationship you would like to have with your new Council that could make a difference to your lives.”
The Waste No Time partnership proposed community planning as an opportunity for the Council and the community to develop effective ways of working together; community planning gives people the chance to participate in making decisions about the future of their local area.
The project had three aims:
- To creatively engage with people in the new Council area on what living well together means for them within their families, neighbourhoods and wider Council area.
- To grow confidence in our expertise as citizens, curiosity to learn more, and contribute to the existing energy around improving well-being within the new political boundary of the Causeway Coast & Glens Council area.
- To support the development of creative and meaningful citizen participation in community planning.
To do this, they asked people about their relationships with the Council, with community and place, and with each other. They worked with the public across 20 different rural and urban public spaces. They helped people to imagine possible futures for their community.
In support of this, the Waste No Time team experimented with three civic activism tools:
- Pop-up democracy – Giving people the opportunity to participate by going to them. The Waste No Time team ‘popped up’ in random places across 20 local areas, either by having stalls on streets or in shops with a short skit using material gathered through vox pops (short interviews with people which conveys public opinion) across the Council. People’s curiosity was drawn to a large map laid out on the street or pavements with people invited to walk on it, find where they live and begin to map out connections and relationships across the new Council area. Once a crowd had gathered they were entertained with the skit using humour to explore people’s feelings and perceptions around how they felt their relationship with the newly formed Council was developing.
- Community visioning – Community visioning is a process of creating a ‘vision’ or mission statement outlining what a community would like to look like in the future and what improvements need to be made. The process of creating this vision is done in partnership with members of the community. This tool was used to get people to think about what they loved about where they live, what is working, what they would like to grow and what might be important to them and to their neighbours. Following the performance of the skit, people were invited to participate in a number of creative engagement exercises. Where possible, the team partnered with a local café to provide free teas and coffees and sometimes even a couple of tables to sit at.
- Forum theatre – The team used this tool as a means of communicating the key issues that emerged during the pop up democracy and community visioning. A group of 12 citizens came together from diverse walks of life to work through the material and develop four stories that remained true to the process. These stories were about: inter-generational relations; losing connections in community; waste and rubbish; and mental health. The citizens worked with professional actors to develop each scenario and took on roles in the stories. The stories were performed in front of an audience who are then invited to comment on what they have seen and offer ideas and solutions. Sometimes members of the audience become citizen actors too. The stories are then replayed, rehearsing new realities. This tool was useful through using creativity and humour as a way of engaging people and to help them see themselves reflected with a distance that allows for more perspective.
The team used these tools as approaches to engage with people who were out and about in everyday situations. These tools fitted the idea of purpose of the project - offering a different experience outside of the usual ways in which people interact with their local Council. The Waste No Time team wanted to experiment with playful and fun engagement, looking to ‘harness the power of surprise’, to make people curious both about the activity and the future of their local community. To reach as many people as possible, they went to where people were in the community and ensured they were visible and easy to access.
What Worked Well
The team managed to overcome some geographical barriers to get to remote communities in physically tricky to access locations; for example, bringing the project to Rathlin Island. It is clear that special resources are needed for reaching people in particularly rural places.
Ensuring that playfulness and surprise lay at the heart of the project meant that all project partners had fun on the project, which they felt was very important in connecting with each other and the work.
Having a diverse partnership was felt to be a real strength because each brought their own skills and there was a shared understanding of purpose across the team.
Expectations were exceeded; with 600 people engaged across 21 sites.
What Lessons Can Be Learned
Creative engagement methods such as forum theatre using playful aspects need not be scary or embarrassing for participants. Opportunities for creative play are essential for creating new connections, energy and different possibilities. Beginning with people’s energy and creativity is essential in order to work to effectively through complex problems and issues.
The project team advised that time must be taken in engaging with people. To engage others, you must always begin with what matters to them – not just what matters to you. What seems a small thing to one person might be huge to someone else. People’s experience of ‘well-being’ is complex. This project highlighted the importance of listening and understanding how people understand their well-being – particularly those who find themselves on the ‘edges’.
The Waste No Time partnership felt that there is a need to grow a culture of “working well together” as citizens and Council. Community planning should be about relationships. Relationships between citizens and local Council and between citizens across the Council. We need time to grow these and build trust. The project also felt it is important to begin with what is working and the creative projects and solutions already taking place across the Council. The partnership felt that community planning needs to be used across all issues that the Council deals with, instead of a few single issues.
The partnership felt that the complexity of re-organisation of local government has meant that local Councils have tended to look inwards and minimise external risks.
The partnership enjoyed using the tools but advised that while ‘popping up’ is a temporary presence in which each interaction lasts a very short amount of time, the preparation for this takes much longer and requires advance planning. They also felt that longer forum theatre presentations could have led to more concrete projects emerging.
All projects in the Civic Activism Programme were supported by The Democratic Society and Involve, who provided mentorship, guidance, international experience and access to a range of Learning Partners.
The Building Change Trust was established in 2008 by the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund) with a National Lottery grant of £10 million, as an investment for community capacity building and promotion of the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. This funding was both invested and spent in full by the end of 2018 when the Trust closed.
Corymeela, founded in 1965, has been working with individuals and communities to promote and enable the healing of division and conflict in Northern Ireland.
For more information about the organisations and the project: