Social Connection. It's That Simple


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-09-01

Over lunch today I had one of the local commercial radio stations on in the background. At one point they were promoting a Volunteer Expo happening at the weekend. The radio announcer summed it up as “It’s really all about social connection”. And she was right.

My approach to Community Development or Community Building is based on some very simple principles. One of the primary principles is that building a coomunity or creating a great place to be is all about the social connections we make. It is really that simple.

The problem is that most of us seem to have forgotten how to make these connections. We leave early and communte to work. at work we socialise with those around us. After work we drive home. Once home on goes the television and we remain indoors only connecting with the immediate household. We might go to a social event during the week or weekend but many of us don’t even know our neighbours.

We’ve lost those places where we used to bump into others such as corner stores. Most of these are gone. The majority of us probably do our weekly shopping at a supermarket some kilometres away from home.

In many places, membership of community organisations is in decline with the exception of retirees who continue to volunteer. Most of us have fewer people over for dinner, BBQs and drinks than in previous generations.

If you go for a walk or arun most people don’t greet you. It can really surprise some when you do greet them.

I wonder if we’ve lost the art and ability to connect, except through social media.

But if we want to build a good place to live, a good community we need to connect with others and build relationships. The hard part is that in making ourselves open to others we make ourselves vulnerable to others. But without this vulnerability we don’t grow and the community doesn’t grow.

Good community is simple, it’s not sophisticated or rocket science but it is about making connection with others. I believe that deep down this is what we crave. let’s connect with others and build strong community.

As the local DJ said “It’s really all bout social connection”.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

Want to Live in a Safe Street...then be a Good Neighbour

When most people think of safety or a safe street they tend to think of a place with low crime rates and when they consider how to make a street a safe place most think about the physical aspects of how a safe place is created i.e. tidy yards, shrubs pruned back, security screens, cars locked, doors to the house locked, security systems, CCTV, regular police patrols etc. Most of  these are important ingredients in “target hardening” a location i.e. making it harder for a crime to be committed they can also add to feelings of insecurity and suspicion.

I would suggest that while the physical aspects of security are important the most essential ingredient in making any place safe is to create social connection between those who use or live in that place. In the place where you live this is by being a good neighbour. These are the neighbours who try and connect other residents with each other and aim to be connected to others in the street. I doubt they would use these terms but it is what they do. Good neighbours are those who introduce themselves when someone new moves in, offer to ensure a neighbours letter boxes are cleared when they are away, greet other neighbours, keep an eye on what is happening in the street and say something if they notice something a liitle different. They are the ones who are involved in organising get togethers with others in the street, are often in their front yards and talking with whoever passes by, intervene when they observe children misbeahving. Good neighbours may also be involved in local organisations, participate ina local community garden or park maintenance group. basically, they are the people who create social capital amongst their neighbours and build trust between others.

The great thing about being a good neighbour is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or commitment. It is as easy as starting a conversation with someone or inviting others around for a drink or organising a picnic in the local park. It is that simple. The result is an increase in collective efficacy and a safer place.

Our neighbour Ray is a perfect example of a good neighbour. Always up for a talk, ready to provide help, always tinkering in his garage and front yard. he knows most of the people in our street and helps to make the street safer just by being in his front yard. This presence, not only, works to create social connection with others but allows Ray to monitor the comings and goings in the street – a built in security monitor. We know Ray is home when his garage door is up. This reinforces the image that the street is safe from petty theft and that Ray is open to welcoming others into his yard.

Another example of a good neighbour is an old friend Steph. Steph and his partner live in an inner western suburb of Sydney. He is active in his garden and greets others as they pass by. Over a period of time he formed a friendship with an elderly gentleman who lived in the street. he would offer to shop for the gentleman and help where he could. He provided social connection for the man and ensured he was looked after. Recently, he struck up a conversation with a stranger in the street only to find that the person used to live in the street a number of years ago and was revisiting his childhood home. This chance conversation gave Steph an idea of the history of his house and the street, including details of those who had lived in the street in times gone by. This knowledge has created a deeper connection to the street.

There are a multitude of ways to be a good neighbour and help create a safe place. The City of Kwinana in Western Australia has created a great list of 52 things you can do to connect with your neighbours. This can be found at: https://www.kwinana.wa.gov.au/our-city/funding-and-grants/community-funding-program/Documents/52%20Ways%20to%20Connect%20with%20your%20Neighbours.pdf

The photo at the top of the page is from a photograph my father had of his old neighbourhood of Ellsmere Street, Goulburn, NSW. I’ve used this as it shows a place where people gathered together, knew each other and no doubt created a safe place for all.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

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Further Thoughts on Crime Prevention


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-07-01

A few further thoughts on the importance of community building and crime prevention or community safety.

Perceptions of crime and fear of crime are powerful driving forces with people often perceiving crime to be worse than it is in an area. As people become more fearful they tend to put the barriers up and either band together to try and make sense of the situation or reduce social contact.

Some years ago a group of community members approached both Police and their local council to seek help in addressing crime in their area. They wanted the place to be more like it was twenty years ago. The area had a bad reputation, had generational unemployment, people were fearful of young people. They requested a public meeting be held to voice their concerns. Over 100 people attended the meeting. Both Council and the Police addressed the meeting. The Police noted that crime statistics didn’t reflect the level of crime people were fearful of and encouraged people to report crime regardless of how fearful they felt. Council opted for an Assets Based Community Development approach to the concerns raised. The meeting then broke out into a World Café discussion. Each table discussed something different including the positive qualities of the area, the assets and what could be done to make the location a better place. At the conclusion of the meeting a committee of local residents was formed with the aim of building community pride and actively working to make their area a better place. 

It would be good to say that the problems changed overnight. But they didn’t. The committee struggled for some time to find a purpose, something to aim for. They became lost in concerns over insurance and projects being too difficult. Skilled community workers spent months working with the group. Eventually they focussed on a Spring Fair that was an expo to highlight everything the place had to offer. This gave the group some focus. Something to aim for, to achieve. The Fair was a major success. From this the group went from strength to strength. In the following years they found support with the local branch of the Bendigo Bank. This provided some finance for additional projects. Council worked closely with them. The partnership between the community, the bank  and council resulted in the development of a Learn to Ride facility, creation of Men’s Shed, a partnership with the local golf club to provide a youth drop in space. Council worked to improve infrastructure. A mural was painted on the local amenities block. The result was a community working together. Although crime is still a concern the community no longer expects the Police or others alone to solve the problem. They are focussing on making the place a better place. They took ownership and built a sense of belonging. The increase in social capital had the result of reducing fearful perceptions of crime and of others. Connection was created. An angry group became an agency of social change.

Another group of community members from another location also approached the Police about the level of break ins in their suburb. Again, Police statistics showed that their level of concern was overstated. Of course crime statistics are only a reflection of incidents reported to Police and not necessarily the real life situation and at other times rumours of crime events become exaggerated through the “rumour mill”. The group decided to work together to build pride in their area. One member of the group loved gardening. She planted vegetables on the strip of grass in front of her fence, leaving a sign they were for anyone to pick who wanted them. Eventually, a partnership was formed with the local school with the school’s garden opened up for community use as a Community Garden. Residents worked together to paint the “traffic island” in the middle of the road. This helped brighten the area, they cleaned up vegetation near the school, lobbied council to repair drainage and put in bollards near the pick-up zone for the school to keep children safe. They worked together, made sure that they had each other’s contact numbers. Over a period of time their concern for break-ins diminished as they worked to create a stronger sense of community and local ownership. This resulted in both a lower fear of crime as well as building capital between community members and empowering them to take ownership of their community space. Part of this process of community was identifying the interests, skills and passions of each person. These became the motivation for many of the projects they worked on and assisted in developing stronger relationships and connections which in turn created a safer place.

Community is always the solution.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

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Community Building and Crime Prevention


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-06-01

Recently, I was asked if Community Building, in particular, Asset Based Community Development, could reduce or prevent crime. My candid response was yes. The look on the questioner’s face reflected they were surprised by my response. His facial expression has set me to thinking about the question in some detail.

In many people’s minds crime prevention or reduction is a matter for the government. It is often seen to be the realm of the police. And if not the police then security agencies or perhaps even CCTV. But what role does community, strong connected community play in preventing crime? What is the role of police or security services or CCTV actually do? Do they prevent crime, deter crime, move it elsewhere or are they only part of the picture? If they are then what are the other components that help to prevent or reduce crime?

Crime prevention is more complex than a policing or security role. It involves all of us and is made up of many components.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is one component. This relies on environmental design interventions to reduce the likelihood of crime and can include fencing, lighting, CCTV, footpaths, shrubbery etc. These are the physical elements that make it less likely that a crime will occur or make it more difficult for those contemplating a criminal action.

Community Crime Prevention is another component. By that I mean those formalised groups and mechanisms to recruit community members to report crime or reduce crime by their actions. This includes groups such as Neighbourhood Watch or programs that encourage community members to report crime. Although not strictly a community building tool these groups do build connection between residents and may form a component in reducing crime.

One theory of crime prevention is that of Collective Efficacy. This theory concerns the behaviours and other informal mechanisms of community members to create a safe place. These are informal mechanisms such as monitoring children in playgrounds, reporting crime, intervening in disputes etc. These behaviours and mechanisms create a safe place by controlling behaviours of others so that crime and anti-social behaviour is minimised. They are places where neighbours informally agree on what is acceptable behaviour and they actively work to see these behaviours maintained. Those areas with high levels of collective efficacy involve a high degree of trust between community members.

But what about other informal connections that create a sense of cohesion, belonging and ownership in a location? Are they also important? Those areas where social cohesion is high are those areas where people look after each other, babysit neighbour’s children, get together for BBQs and celebrations i.e. they know each other and are concerned for each other. These places have strong social capital. They are places where people feel safe and secure. Social cohesion and collective efficacy work together to create safe neighbourhoods.

Community Building actions such as Asset Based Community Development focus on building relationships between people and focus on the strengths of community members, their passions, experience and ability as well as the physical and other assets of the location. It is a work strongly based on growing and fostering social capital. As such it works to develop social cohesion, build collective efficacy and create a safe place.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

Social Justice and Community Development


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-05-01

Spend any time around community organisations, community services, educational facilities, health facilities and government agencies you will stumble across the term Social Justice Principles. But what exactly are they and how do they work with Community Development?

A google search for Social Justice Principles shows 350,000,000 entries around the term social justice principles. Additionally, there is a wealth of academic discussion around the terms but let’s try and put it into simple chunks of information to make the term user friendly.

At its most rudimentary level Social Justice is bound up in justice and rights, particularly human rights. It is about seeing where inequality lies, where discrimination is present, where there is disadvantage and seeking to change the situation so that these things are removed and people treated in a fair and just manner. This type of intervention is about social change. Making change to create a fairer society where inequality and injustice is eliminated. To put it on the most basic level Social Justice Principles are about fairness.

Central to community development practice are social justice principles. They represent core values in the work of creating social change through Community building and development. The focus of community development practice is to achieve social justice by working alongside communities or supporting the local community as the community takes the lead in making change.

So, exactly what are these principles?

Social Justice is concerned with ensuring all people are entitled to, and receive, fair and impartial treatment. These principles could include a number of items but most can be summarised as follows:

  • Equity: There should be fairness in the distribution of resources, particularly for those in need.
  • Equality:  All people should be treated equally with dignity, respect and free from any form of discrimination;
  • Access: The right of people to have reasonable and safe access to facilities, open space, programs, services, resources and information. This includes the right of independent and dignified access;
  • Participation:  All people should have the maximum opportunity to genuinely participate actively in civic and community life;
  • Inclusion: working in partnership with the community, all levels of government, key agencies and the private sector to build an inclusive, cohesive and strong community
  • Diversity: recognise and value the contribution of the community’s diverse population and respect the right of people to an inclusive community. Opportunities should be provided for positive participation to accommodate linguistic, cultural and religious diversity.

Without having social justice as a base there can be no real and lasting community building or community development.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

Pondering on Leadership and Management


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-04-01

Introduction

Over the last two or three years I’ve spent time considering leadership and management models/styles that are compatible with leading teams of Community Development workers.

From these considerations I think I’ve reached a place where it all makes some sense.

Background

I have had a lengthy career in the public sector. I’ve worked in Commonwealth Government, State Government and, for the last 16 years in local government. It is from the perspective and experience of practising Community Development in the loal government context that I have reached my current understanding of leading and managing a Community Development team.

Pondering

After many years of leading teams I have reached the conclusion that my leadership practice must reflect my practice as a Community Development worker. That is, my practice as a leader or manager must be based on a grassroots community development approach reflecting an Assets Based Community Development theory of practice.

To be true to this practice leadersheip must be one based on relating to each member of my team and assessing what their individual strengths are how to maximise those strengths. My role is to grant them the space to develop those strengths and assets and to allow them to practice their work in the way they consider the most appropriate. This, of course takes time but seems to build long lasting commitment from members of the team as they are the masters of their own destiny and practice. Essentially, this is a relationship based approach.

I also need to mentor my team in good community development practice. This, again takes time. My aim is to bring out the best in them and to give them good training in what the practice of grassroots community development entails. Mentoring  is essential to leading the team.

Community Development is often a practice pursued by the solo worker or by small groups of workers. I need to give my team space  to develop their own way of operating. It is a personality driven pracitce. I may not work the same as the other team members but it is up to them to have integrity in their work.

I need to trust each person in the team. Trust that they will work in the interests of the community, they will work alongside community, they will partner and not direct the work. Community Development is always a Trust  job.

My aim is to give them a Vision or a Mission. The vision I have is to build community based on the assets and strnegths of that community. Find those people who are the connectors and work with them to build connection and community. Without a vision of place making and working with community to build community they will never succeed.

I need to listen to the team. probably the most challenging role but one I need to continually focus on.

Of course this approach brings certain challenges. It is a participative and cooperative approach to ledership. It is anything but micro managing, it is often seen as a passive approach of democratice approach, whereas I would see it as a partnership in building a community of community development workers to create better and stronger community. It is highly informed by a developmental psychology approach of valuing each person for where they are at in self awareness and self care but, given space can be a radically succesful way to create dynamic teams.

It is also informed by contemporary approaches to working with people. To quote Richard Branson "It is all about finding and hiring people smarter than you. Getting them to join your business. And giving them good work. Then getting out of their way. And trusting them. You have to get out of their way so you can focus on the bigger vision. That’s important. And here’s the amin thing…you must make them see their work as a mission."

I also hire people with passion. People come to community development often with life experience and a fire in the belly. To stifle this is the biggest crime. Stephen Covey once wrote: "If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could manage them. Their fire comes from within, not from without. Their motivation is internal, not external."

Finally, to quote Theodore Roosevelt: "The best executive is the one who has enough sense to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

I’d appreciate other’s thoughts on leadership from a community building perspective.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com


In 2018 the International Association of Community Development (IACD) released International Standards for Community Development Practice. The release of the standards was the result of investigating the nature of Community Development work and examining what was common internationally between organisations, agencies and individuals across the globe. IACD hoped the standards would assist practitioners and support them in the work they are doing.

At the heart of the standards sits the IACD definition of Community Development: “Community Development is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality and social justice, through the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity or interest, in urban and rural settings”. The definition has an emphasis on the values driving community development work and on the practice of community development.

The standards are contained in eight theme areas:

  1. Putting values into practice: Understand the values, processes and outcomes of community development, and apply these to practice in all the other key areas. (This theme surrounds understanding what community development is, what is at its core values are, what its outcomes can be and supporting others involved in the practice of community development)
  2. Engaging with communities: Understand and engage with communities, building and maintaining relationships with individuals and groups. (To me, this is central to all good practice knowing in detail the community a practitioner is working in and create strong relationships.)
  3. Participatory planning: Develop and support collaborative working and community participation. (Often an area that can be left out by large organisations, particularly government authorities. This is about capacity building for people to work together to direct their own future)
  4. Organising for change: Enable communities to take collective action, increase their influence and if appropriate their ability to access, manage and control resources and services. (This follows on closely to participatory planning and involves supporting people through the process of change and growing empowerment)
  5. Learning for change: Support people and organisations to learn together and to raise understanding, confidence and the skills needed for social change. (Another step in empowerment is an increase in skills to change, the skills to put the participatory planning into practice)
  6. Promoting diversity and inclusion: Design and deliver practices, policies, structures and programmes that recognise and respect diversity and promote inclusion.(Recognising diversity and being inclusive. Even though this is one that shouldn’t need to be stated we are not yet at the place where recognition of diversity and inclusive work practices are central for every worker and organisation)
  7. Building leadership and infrastructure: Facilitate and support organisational development and infrastructure for community development, promoting and providing empowering leadership. (Developing community leadership that is democratic and promotes participatory processes is central to creating lasting community change)
  8. Developing and improving policy and practice: Develop, evaluate and inform practice and policy for community development, using participatory evaluation to inform and improve strategic and operational practice. (One of my favourite topics – evaluation but use participatory approaches and encourage communities to monitor and evaluate their progress. Above all maintain critical reflection and evaluation of your own work.)

This is a very brief summary. Most of the above is directly from the International Standards with my comments about each theme in brackets.

The themes provide a great support and guidance for the work I do in Community Development and assist me in keeping my practice true. One of the really good things about them is they can be used in a many contexts. Their use in planning both projects and strategies is immediately apparent on reading them. They can be used in worker development, development of policy and in promoting the profession of Community Development.

Full details about the standards can be found at the IACD website (www.IACDglobal.org).

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

Community Building is a Lot like Running


By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-02-01

I haven’t always been a runner. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t so long ago that going for a run was the last thing on my mind. Now I regularly run 5kms two or three times a week.

When I first started it was daunting. I could only run a short distance before I was out of breath and had to stop. To help me I downloaded a phone app so I could gradually work up to 5kms. It took time and was hard work, both physically and mentally. My muscles hurt, my mind told me I couldn’t do it and I felt out of place. But over time my muscles have adjusted and my body works as one unit. My mind can still be an obstacle but not in the way it used to be. I now feel totally comfortable around other runners.
Before I go for a run I prepare myself. I decide when I’m going out, choose what I’m going to wear and plan my route. It changes on a regular basis. Sometimes I plan something different as the next challenge or just to get myself out of a rut.

There are so many parallels to Community Building.

Although, we are social beings it takes a bit of focus to be a community builder. Like starting a running regime it can be daunting. Where do you start? What do you want to do? You might be able to see the problems or what you want to achieve but getting there is the hard thing. But like running it is about taking it in small segments. Distribute a flyer, call a meeting, talk about what you want to achieve with others, read about what others have done. It is a creative process and sometimes you just need to build those creative muscles up. At first you might feel like you are stumbling or that you have bitten off more than you can chew but overtime you will find that you make connections with others who want to see the same things happen. Just do the small things first. Plant a garden on the nature strip/verge, start a facebook page, have a few neighbours over for a BBQ.

Like running the creative ideas, small activities, meeting others, working together all starts to fall into place. The “collective body” starts working together. And like planning a run you start to plan what you want to do what you want to achieve, plan some challenging activities and before you know it you are starting to build a community.

This blog originally appeared at www.herdingtogether.com

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Alan Blackshaw
About Alan Blackshaw
I am a community builder working from an Assets Based Community Development (ABCD) perspective. I have spent my career working to serve and build community. I have experience as an educator, public servant, disability support worker, in local government and in community development both as a frontline worker and as a manager of a team of community development workers. With over 30 years experience in working with the community, the last 16 in local government, I have experience in building community from the grassroots up. I ams now continuing to serve the community by working to create strong communities and organisations. At the core of my practice are social justice principles.

State or Province:

Queensland

country:

AU

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