Communities have the power to do extraordinary things.
The evidence for this is all around us at the moment. Be it local communities forming Mutual Aid groups, or communities of interest coming together as we’ve seen with the Black Lives Matter movement, the potential of community activists to bring about change has rarely been clearer.
However, in order for communities to unleash the latent power within them, as they have in these examples, they have to possess certain qualities. They need to know what they want, they need to know what resources they have at their disposal, and they need a plan for how they plan to use them. Communities of this sort can be considered mobilised communities.
The benefits of communities getting to this point are innumerable. If we take Mutual Aid groups as an example, we can see an instance in which mobilised communities were able to significantly ease pressures on frontline public services, and make a significant contribution to getting Britain through the most serious public health emergency for generations. But how can we bring mobilised communities about?
In this new report, we present a how-to guide for councils interested in this kind of work. Specifically, we identify four distinct strategies for mobilising communities. These are:
- Individuals-based strategies, which begin with the needs of specific people, and work out how community assets can be built and deployed to alleviate suffering.
- Groups-based strategies, which look to pre-existing groups within communities, and strive to build and empower them.
- Places-based strategies, which try to make an area as conducive to community mobilisation as possible. This means thinking about things such as infrastructure, assets and the practices of the state.
- Services-based strategies, which look to empower those within communities who may be able to improve services, and help them to build their capacity.
We illustrate each of these potential approaches with detailed case studies, covering initiatives in areas including housing, health and social care. The report then synthesises learnings from these case studies with an extensive theoretical literature review in order to offer the following, key take home lessons for would-be community mobilisers:
- Catalyse, don’t lead: It is not the role of representatives from public sector bodies to try and lead communities to a predetermined destination – their efforts are better focussed on helping communities to get to wherever it is they themselves want to be.
- Listen: A central theme to come out of this project is that true mobilisation can only occur around issues that are genuinely salient to the communities in question. These are not easily identified by external actors, and as such, listening is key.
- Build something: Successful community mobilisation initiatives build something that wasn’t there before. This may be something physical, like housing or infrastructure. However, it might also be less tangible assets, such as new networks or bonds between people and institutions.
- Have clear goals: Despite the fact that it is up to communities themselves to direct the process of mobilisation, it remains the case that in order to successfully design a project, public bodies need to have an idea of what they want to achieve. This doesn’t have to be something overly specific – but simply being clear about whether, for example, your main focus is to reduce frontline demand, or to reform a particular service. This will help your approach come together.
If we want to hand greater power over to communities, and if we want to see a new ‘community paradigm’ in public service delivery, then we need to have communities capable of taking on new responsibilities. This is where community mobilisation comes in. For those interested in building them, we hope that this report makes for useful reading.