Eight characteristics of councils that are building stronger more resilient communities

We were commissioned recently to carry out research to try and uncover which upper tier local authorities in England were making genuine progress in terms of building stronger more resilient communities.  Through both desk based research and structured interviews what emerged was a set of characteristics of councils who are serious about getting communities to play a more active role in: designing, commissioning, delivering or critically preventing demand for public services.  We’ve set them out below:

  1. They have very clear INTENT
  • Community empowerment is embedded in strategic plans.
  • Beyond principles they have a defined approach – a way of doing things.
  • They see community empowerment as a part of budget and demand management approaches.
  • They recognise that people can get trapped in a service delivery world.
  1. They have a defined and consistently applied APPROACH for building stronger more resilient communities.
  • They have approaches that support communities to place less demand on public services.
  • They are actively looking to encourage greater co-production of public services. By this we mean involving communities, at the earliest possible time, in defining requirements and designing how these will be addressed (or their need prevented) and being involved in the delivery of services or demand management activity.
  • They are working with elected members to get them to be more involved in their local communities.
  • In Unitary councils they are creating and funding Ward Forums.
  • They have dedicated staff teams to undertake community work and co-ordinate activity across the council.
  • They try to understand which staff live and work in their communities.
  • They are devolving meaningful budgets to community control.
  1. They have KNOWLEDGE about their communities and processes to maintain this knowledge
  • Have a defined way of understanding and mapping community assets (people, organisations and physical assets).
  • Are able to define and calculate public sector spend at a community level.
  • Have some way of measuring community capacity across all their communities.
  1. They COMMISSION from an asset basis which is underpinned by the aim of fostering greater community delivery (i.e. greater involvement of the community and voluntary sector from design through to delivery).
  • Commissioners engage with communities at the earliest possible stage.
  • Commissioners test, as part of any procurement exercise, whether the community is capable of delivering the required service or aspects of it.
  • They have processes in place to measure the impact of community empowerment on budgets, service delivery and service demand.
  • They understand the principles of social impact investment and are looking to apply them to community development work.
  1. They have effective GOVERNANCE in place.
  • They have a director with specific responsibility for supporting demand management work in communities.
  • They have an elected member with specific responsibility for supporting demand management work in communities.
  • Political patience – i.e. an acceptance that it will take time to measure impact upon public services.
  • They recognise, and are dealing with, the challenge that may come from encouraging greater involvement of community groups and how this may clash with the responsibilities and mandate of elected members.
  1. They are changing the CULTURE within their organisations.
  • They have programmes in place to help support and train staff.
  • Their aspirations around community empowerment are enshrined in staff appraisals and team targets.
  1. They have effective PARTNERSHIP working at a locality level.
  • They have processes in place to allow joint working at a locality level.
  • They are starting conversations with partners where they say “if we can reduce demand for your service in this area will you commit to realignment of budget”.
  • There is meaningful activity around shared budgets at a locality level between different statutory providers
  1. They are able to MEASURE the impact they are having.
  • They have specific goals both around strengthening communities and reducing public service demand.
  • They are able to assess whether interventions are improving services or what specific difference they are making.
  • They have systems in place to measure the impact they are having on:
  • Community resilience,
  • Service demand and service costs.
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