Babs Lewis, People Powered Result’s Senior Manager in Wales, explains why listening is key to supporting community groups to thrive
What does it mean to listen? The kind where you hear what’s being said, not where people are waiting for a gap to speak? Over the last two months WCVA’s practical action programme has been listening to community groups to try to learn more about community-led action, how it can build recovery post pandemic and help create a fairer, more equal, green, sustainable and healthier future.
LISTENING TO LEARN WITH TEAMS ACROSS WALES
The programme has worked with three very different teams from across Wales supporting them to move to action in their communities. One is a large, carer-led group working closely with third sector colleagues. Another is a smaller rural team working with their local councillor. The third is a wide network of people and community groups, based in a busy city ward, that have come together to support local people.
Each team is testing new ways of working together with coaching support from the programme. All of them have reflected on the value of listening, and how it is often missing from relationships that community groups need to thrive.
Listening helps us learn. For the teams it’s about understanding what good looks like for their communities, and for the programme it’s about generating learning on vital questions including:
- how can groups adapt, maintain and sustain themselves after lockdown?
- what does it take to build collaborative relationships across sectors that put communities ‘in the driving seat’?
- how do we engage people so everyone can contribute to and benefit from community action?
- how can a shared understanding of the value of community action support effective action?
These questions emerged in the Summer of 2021 after a series of explorations with community and third sector leaders on what needs to come next for the voluntary sector, statutory services and policymakers to build strong relationships with communities.
Since then, the teams have carried out activities, interventions and reflections and now, as we reach the midpoint, what’s emerging strongly is the importance of listening to learn.
All the teams are developing their own techniques for listening to their community, from simple surveys to community events that create space for people to express what good means to them. Listening is key to their overarching aim of exploring how barriers can be bridged to co-produce services that truly reflect and address the things that matter to their communities.
They all have strong relationships with colleagues in the public, voluntary and charitable sectors, where they feel heard. Beyond these trusted relationships, they’ve identified a real need for more spaces to share their knowledge and experience, where they will be heard and their voices influence policy and strategy.
WCVA and the cross-sector leaders that have come together to support the programme are eager to create some of that space so the learning of these teams can be shared more widely and have an impact.
SHARING VALUES TO SUPPORT COLLABORATIVE WORKING
Listening to learn is not the only reflection emerging from the teams, the importance of shared values as the basis for collaborative action is also emerging.
Teams often have considerable experience providing local events and have stepped up to meet greater needs during the pandemic. These teams are looking to build on that experience for the future. The programme provides a safe space where they can reflect on the often challenging, sometimes competing, demands on them. For instance, crucial funding sources often tie groups into aims and objectives that don’t reflect local priorities. As part of the programme teams are reflecting on how they can communicate shared values and visions more effectively with potential partners, as well as their community, to build the trusting relationships that they need to develop.
Some teams too are looking at how to engage more widely with members of their own communities who often feel unheard. Listening is key to this challenge too.
What’s emerging is a real desire for a more human, person-centred approach, based on trusting relationships, where people can listen and learn together to make a real difference. The question now emerging for the programme is where next, both for teams and the wider voluntary and statutory sectors in Wales? How can listening and learning be built into the fabric of relationships to create something better for the future? Something, we’ll be reflecting on with WCVA and the national leadership group over the next few weeks.