Category Archives for "Methods"

Non-Directive Consultancy

George Lovell developed Non-directive consultancy, by providing training for church and community workers. He ran his organisation, called AVEC (the French for “with”), at Chelsea Methodist Church in London. (The link takes you to my sequence about non-directive consultancy.)  It ran from the 1970s through to the 1990s. After AVEC closed, George Lovell, with a few others, developed a course about consultancy, mission and ministry. George has retired but the course continues at York St John’s College. Consultancy for Mission and Ministry is an excellent course for anyone interested in non-directive consultancy.

What is Non-directive Consultancy?

Consultancy has something of a bad name primarily because of out-sourcing, where specialist consultancy organisations carry out tasks instead of employees. We all know where that’s led.

Non-directive consultancy does the opposite. It is a mutual method, aiming to empower the people who are doing the work. It starts with the assumption that the consultor knows their job. They may need help in thinking things through. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they need help to see where they went wrong and how to move on from where they’ve ended up!

George Lovell’s two books, “Analysis and Design” and “Consultancy, Ministry and Mission” are the best introduction to the approach, although the course is essential if you want to learn the method.

Citizens’ Organising

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Citizens’ Organising is an approach to community development from the United States and an effective mutual method. It can be traced back to the work of Saul Alinsky in the 1970s. His books “Rules for Radicals” and “Reveille for Radicals” are still worth reading. The Industrial Areas Foundation, who organise across cities in the United States, built upon his work after his death in the early 1970s.

Citizens’ Organising in the UK

Attempts  to introduce organising to the UK from the early 1990s were not very successful.  Whilst a few groups still struggle on it never really took root in the UK. However, organising is worth considering and it is possible to add elements into community development practice.

One essential element is power analysis. This means we need to understand who actually has power in a given situation. Sometimes it is important to name the powerful and target them for effective change.

Equally important is its understanding of activism and indeed, if we are to take activism seriously, then organising is essential to community development. Anger, seen as a positive emotion, powers activism. It is important no one person becomes essential to the organisation; power is held collectively, not concentrated in the hands of any one person.  So, roles are held for no more than one year.  This means everyone had opportunities to increase their experience of a range of roles, building a pool of capable people, enhancing  the organisation’s capacity.

The emphasis is upon building relationships and applying pressure to key power-holders.  Activists claim you have “no permanent friends and no permanent enemies”.  The pressure applied to power-holders aims to bring them around to supporting the interests of the citizens’ organisation.  If no-one within the organisation holds power, it is harder to buy out the organisation.

Learning More About Citizens’ Organising

[amazon_link asins=’1932805516′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’markettogether’ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’5027fa6c-5dae-11e8-bed1-a7680b584912′]The Citizens’ Organising movement is reluctant to write text books, preferring to pass on their methods through training. They have a point but it is also important to understand what they offer and so a few helpful texts have emerged over the years. One I have found helpful is “Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities” by Robert C Linthicum.

Organising has traditionally involved churches because they are often the organisations that stay in neighbourhoods once everyone else has moved out.  Their persistence means they guarantee income through paying their dues and so the organisation is able to plan ahead.  Many other types of organisation can and do join citizens’ organisations, including other faith groups.

Have you used organising as a part of your development work or experienced a citizens’ organisation in your city?  What have you found helpful about their approach?

Mutual Methods: Community Development

Community development is a recurring theme on this blog because it is a fundamental approach to supporting transformative change.  The big difference between neighbourhood work and other third sector work, is neighbourhoods often lack access to resources.  They have little access to political power that can bring about change.  Very often resources are not available and so the only recourse they have is to organise, by building solidarity or community between local residents.  This is not always easy because neighbourhoods, divided by race, faith or politics, lack common interest.

My aim here, as part of a review of mutual methods, is to point to a few resources.  Community development in the UK has been systematically under-valued, not least by many of its practitioners.  Its role and purpose is sometimes highly contested by practitioners and the upshot has been its devaluation to the extent that most funding for development work has been withdrawn.

Community Development Standards

One result of conflicting approaches is community development workers have never agreed on standards for community development and have never had a representative body.  Whilst the Association of Community Workers and the Community Development Exchange, are examples of attempts to represent the interests of community development workers, there is nothing like the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for example.  This has had a devastating effect because without a career structure, experienced workers have had to move into other roles if they needed to increase their income.  This means there has never been effective mentoring of new workers or recognition of their expertise as development workers.

Community Development and Activism

One major issue is confusion between development and activism. Some people think this distinction favours development (as an activity carried out by middle class professionals) over activism (carried out by local residents). This is nonsense. Both roles are important but they are different and need different approaches. I do both and find remembering which role I’m playing is really important.

Activism is issue or task driven. The activist’s focus is upon social change or transformation. They take responsibility for seeing a change through. The development workers’ role is to equip activists for their tasks. This is partly knowhow but also understanding how things work and so inevitably has an ideological dimension.

Should the development worker be a local person? Community development can work where the worker is local although local commitment can make the work more difficult where the development worker identifies with the cause. I’ve found it helps to have a little distance from the activists. But each worker needs to understand the dynamic of their particular role.

The model of a development worker in every neighbourhood is not necessarily the best approach. A small team could easily cover a city and equip activists to take on more of the role traditionally taken up by a local development worker. In my experience, a good administrator is of more value than a local development worker.  Indeed, many development workers find they are doing administration because they have the time to do it!  City wide development work reflects the model of citizens’ organising (see next week).

A Community Development Resource

There are loads of books about community development. One of the oldest, still worth reading, is “Skills in Neighbourhood Work “ by Paul Henderson and David N Thomas. The first edition came out in 1980 and the fourth in 2013. The new edition reflects major changes since the first and includes new case studies.

World Cafe

Perhaps World Cafe is the most flexible of the mutual methods I’m covering in this sequence. I’ve found this can be the easiest to explain and to adapt to circumstances.

People meet around small tables. So groups of four to six people work best. Round tables are best and as there may be issues with noise levels, smaller tables are better.However, it is easy to worry too much about furniture.  I’ve found I can usually manage with whatever is available.

It is easy to combine World Café with other types of participatory leadership. So, for example, follow a speaker with debate around tables.

Some Guidelines

The reason for the tables is people need to draw their ideas with pens and large sheets of paper. So Participatory Appraisal tools can be used. The 2 methods work well together. Depending on the time you have, you can at intervals move people around. Work out a method that leaves 1 person at the original table, who can explain the paperwork to newcomers, and split the rest around other tables. (I once managed to accidentally bring everyone back to their original table groups, so you need to be careful!)  The next session begins with the person who stays explaining the thinking of the original group and then the others bring insights from their tables.

This works best, as do all participatory methods, where you have a clear question to discuss at the beginning. This is why a speaker may not be the best option as they’re liable to introduce too much information.  The focus with all these methods is sharing of knowledge and experience.

Usually the session ends with some sort of plenary sharing, perhaps by pinning the papers to the walls. People can look at them over coffee and then share impressions and agree action steps.  Notes can be produced and circulated to all participants.

The best text, written by the people who originated the method is “The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter” by Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, Cafe Community World and Margaret J. Wheatley.  The World Café website summarises the method under “Useful Information” in the primary navigation.

Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology (OST) is a more accessible mutual method than participatory appraisal. I first experienced OST with a local NHS Primary Care Trust who ran sessions in a couple of hours. I think it works better over 2 – 3 days, when you have time to develop ideas. However, in my experience, a group of people prepared to dedicate this amount to time without input from experts can be hard to find.


Informed Consent

The real problem is getting informed consent from the participants. The chances are they will have experienced nothing like it before and so informed consent is not always possible. Many simply do not believe a group of people can generate sufficient activity and creative insight without an agenda.  Done properly OST is an opportunity for generative dialogue.

Common Ground

Participants set the agenda themselves and so they need some common ground, some shared understanding of the topic of the meeting.  I’ve found explaining the method can take a long time.  Once people get going they usually find it works better than they expected.  But there’s a lot to explain about bumblebees and butterflies, the law of two feet and a whole load of process related issues.

Holding the Space

The role of the person who holds the session together needs to be understood.  It is a subtle role.  A lot of the time you don’t feel like you’re doing anything at all!  And yet your presence is essential.  You may be answering questions, reassuring people about their role, helping to resolve disputes, ensuring groups write and post reports; but a lot of the time you simply have to be present.

Long Workshop Sessions

One thing I have learned from using OST is the value of long workshop sessions.  At conventional conferences, allowing 90 minutes for group work often results in positive feedback.  People want opportunities to confer at conferences (who would have thought it?).  OST began with the observation that the best conference business happens during coffee breaks and so asked why not have one long coffee break?  This observation can be acted upon in many ways and OST is one highly developed approach.

Perhaps it’s best to start with short sessions and then offer an opportunity to meet for a longer period as participants experience the power of the method. This might work if you are operating locally. The method can also work with communities of interest across a country or internationally but obviously it is harder to get them together for preliminary meetings.

“Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide” by Harrison Owen, the person who invented the method and is the best introduction to the method I have found. It is still in print.

Have you used OST or anything like it?  How effective did you find it was at generating new ideas and insights?

Participatory Appraisal

Participatory appraisal is the first of the mutual methods I’m planning to explore in detail.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can recommend a course in participatory appraisal (PA) in the UK. Some years ago, a group called Hull DOC (Developing Our Communities) offered an excellent 5 day course. Hull DOC is still going strong but does not appear to offer the course today.

I’ve reviewed online resources and although a few places offer 1 or 2 day courses I have not so far been able to find anything comparable to the 5 day course. So, I’m not able to recommend any of the courses on offer.

Outline of a Course

The old Hull DOC course had three major elements and I strongly recommend you seek courses that offer all three.

  1. Background theory (1 day). It is essential practitioners understand PA, so they can test each other’s performance. No-one is so brilliant at PA they cannot benefit from constructive criticism but to do this there needs to be a shared understanding of effective PA. It is a research method that handled properly can help engage with and develop community in a neighbourhood. The joint approach to objective research and building relationships is very demanding.
  2. Everyone raves about PA tools (1 day) although in practice they are a small part of PA training. The tools are research methods used to engage with local residents. Most of them are visual, using pens and paper. So, someone may be asked to draw a map of their neighbourhood. Then record the following conversation about the map.
  3. The best courses include practical application (3 days), using visitors to the course or ventures onto the street and into community centres, schools, etc. The tools can be practiced and the participants can test their own and each other’s performance.

This is the least I would expect if I was going to use this method in a neighbourhood. Yes, it is expensive both financially and in time taken. It is also difficult to hold together teams of local people for a five-day training session followed by perhaps a couple of months to do the research.  Difficult but not impossible.  Ten years ago this is what we did to develop the Maltby community plan.

The costs are a drawback but where you can get it to work, PA is well worth the effort.

Some Texts

There are very few texts that touch on this approach. The best I am aware of is “Training for Transformation”, edited by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel. This is in four volumes and the first three seem to be out of print although you may be able to pick up second-hand copies.

If you have experience of this method, how effective did you find it?

Mutual Methods

This Mutual Methods category describes participative approaches with the values of self-interest, mutuality or co-operation. The sequence describes several approaches in the context of community development, exploring resources for learning more about them. I shall return to this category as I find new methods using a mutual or co-operative approach.

These methods are best learned by doing. Consequently, there are limits to what you can learn from books, videos or websites. However it is equally important to understand these methods. It is too easy to drift away from a mutual approach.

Perhaps learning resources are most helpful for those who are already practitioners to help them reflect on their experiences. I’ve found Praxis to be a useful concept. Briefly, Praxis is “action-reflection”. I act, reflect on my action, adjust what I’m doing and then act again. This is a cycle or circulation. It avoids the twin errors of activism (action without reflection) and intellectualisation (reflection without action). There are any number of action-reflection models around.

Here are the first six approaches I shall describe in the coming weeks.

Participative Methods

There are other approaches and I welcome suggestions for future topics. If you have used a method and would like to write a guest post about it, let me know. Otherwise I’ll follow up your suggestions as best I can.

Mutuality: the Ecology of Third Sector Organisations

If we do not understand our organisations, how can we determine the purpose of their websites or structure their content?

Not all third sector organisations are mutuals but mutuality might help us understand nature of third sector organisations.


Third sector means various things to various people. Politically it has been re-named as the Big Society in recent years.  Sometimes the sector is called not-for-profit or the community or voluntary sector.  None of these are satisfactory but may be important for determining the purpose of websites.  The words we choose have implications for search engine optimisation, for example.

Various organisations may be part of the third sector.  How does each type, eg community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, mutuals, faith groups; relate to the sector and what is its socio-economic position? In time this will be a resource organisations can use to define their role and work out the purpose of their websites.


Third sector implies there are at least two other sectors and their relationships need to be understood.  Their overlaps and boundaries are particularly interesting.  For example, is a self-employed web designer, specialising in the third sector, a part of the third sector or in the private sector?  What’s going on when a local authority applies for a grant to start a social enterprise?  These sectors are a model that helps us understand our society, the better we understand them, the better able we are to develop our websites.


For many third sector organisations, an up-to-date, relevant website is a big ask.  Is it possible for organisations to collaborate, especially where their vision for a local area is complementary?  Pooled resources might not only enhance online presence but also open up other opportunities for collaboration in real life.


Why mutuality? How is or could mutuality be expressed in various types of organisation?  What mutual methods might be possible online?  These will cover a range of activities including participative methodologies, community development and non-directive consultancy.