Asset-based Planning, Research and Negotiation

If you subscribe to this blog, you used to receive an email sequence about Real Community Development.  This Monday I referred to a model I use in the sequence, about three roles of community groups; representation, planning and delivery.  Mark Woodhead has responded to my email about planning (number 10 in the sequence).

You are quite right about different organisations having their own plans. However, they ought to be willing to take local residents’ plans seriously. I encourage local people to take approaches to developing their own plans that are participatory and empowering – approaches such as participatory appraisal/participatory learning and action, and Planning for Real. Yes, think about how you are going to present the plan, but also, at an earlier stage, think carefully about how you put the plan together, in a way that gives a voice to quiet/marginalised people and not just to people who are articulate or just plain loud. Tony Gibson, who invented Planning for Real, summed up such an approach in the words ‘eyes down, hands on, rubbing shoulders, a lot less big mouth’.

While there is some truth in saying ‘you won’t have a lot of money or assets compared with other partners’, it is nonetheless worth taking some time to think about or to discover what assets you do have in your neighbourhood, paying particular attention to such things as skills, local knowledge, experience, and networks. These are assets. Use them. Value them. See, for example, The Asset-based Community Development Institute.

Two Stages to Community Planning

There are always two stages to community planning. The local plan is a small part of it, although central to community development work.

  1. Each potential partner (local authority, NHS, police, businesses, etc) prepares their own plans. This must include local residents if they are to play a meaningful role in community planning.  This is a research stage and for local planning as Mark says it should include participatory methods. This means voices not normally heard are able to make their contribution.  If the local plan shows who has contributed, it has more credibility.
  2. In my email I dwell on the second negotiation stage. Here the various groups get together and work out an agreed community plan.

Take care you don’t confuse these stages.  Mark’s emphasis on stage one is important.  If it is under-resourced the chances are the local plan will lack credibility.  Other plans from the agencies are likely to cover a larger area, such as the local authority area. So they will not solely focus on the assets within the neighbourhood.  So, the plan can be promoted on the grounds that it has those assets.

But most people seem to use the word “assets” to mean buildings (which are often liabilities) and not the skills, experience,  knowledge and relationships of local residents.  So, you see a well researched local plan brings something of great value to the negotiations.

I would love to hear about your experiences developing this type of plan and especially if you used online resources to help with the research.  A major issue is exclusion of people who are not online.  How do you make sure this does not happen?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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