Published 7th February 2022

Models of Value that Community Organising Generates for its Adopters

Over recent years, the principles and practice of community organising have been proliferated across a range of organisations and sectors.

There were three broad intentions for this:

  1. To develop personal agency through collective action
  2. Create more collaborative relationships between third sector organisations and public bodies, and,
  3. Enable greater insight into the social needs of local people.

In 2020, Power to Change who were keen to understand the impact of community organising on community business, commissioned Pat McGinn to undertake a piece of research looking at seven adopters of community organising.

Through a series of in-depth interviews with the adopters and their stakeholders the research highlights the strong social value of community organising and how, through its adoption, it has:

  • mobilised people to exercise their own agency through voluntary action on local issues
  • enabled people to become leaders of their own collective action projects
  • augmented community cohesion through its relational work
  • increased the incomes of low paid workers and low-income households
  • promoted community businesses and other social enterprise solutions to local people’s needs
  • channelled people excluded from the labour market into reengagement pathways, and,
  • generated savings to statutory budgets;

As well as the clear and identifiable benefits that community organising has had on individual’s personal agency and capacity for grassroots leadership, the research also shows the potential for community organising to make a significant contribution to those exploring how to take a place-based approach to their work.

“Community organising generates strong bonds of solidarity between practitioners and the local people with whom they work. The methodology channels a social energy that fosters the sense of agency through which those engaged come to understand their own power and to exercise this in relation to the social issues they identify”

When rooted in grassroots local organisations, the research highlights how community organising has facilitated an impact on three levels.

On the micro-level the relational work on organising, points to a process that generates strong bonds of solidarity with, and attachment to, others in their community.  These appear marked both in relation to communities of place, interest and identity strengthening and supporting cohesion within these communities

At the meso-level of the relationship between organising and statutory bodies, the narrative the sources relate is one of organising creating ‘bridging’ relations across sector boundaries that serve to connect participants with statutory service providers.

At the macro-level, the research shows how the work of community organising in influencing both policy and practice can be developed to advance this work for the field as a whole.  The research narrative shows how the work has led to the facilitation of relationships between social action hubs and third and public sector organisations. However, the application of community organising to influencing work more often links to practice issues more often than up-stream policy and the ability of third and public sector bodies to collaborate effectively to tackle the root causes of the challenges that people and communities are facing.

However, despite the positive impacts and progress that has been made towards developing the field of community organising and sustaining the work in the longer term, challenges have been presented in the financing of the approach with many organisations being reliant on grant aid to sustain their activities.

The research pointed to 5 main factors that limited the trading capability of organisations who were seeking to develop and sustain community organising through raising revenue from market-based activities and trading. These were:

  • its transactional nature;
  • the vulnerability to discontinuation;
  • risk of termination;
  • risk of conformance pressure; and
  • time costs of bidding.

Despite the challenges around the financing of community organising faced by grassroots organisations the research report highlights the opportunities that could arise from strengthening the field of community organising. To strengthen this field the research recommends an investment in building the field of organising as a whole to:

  • enable learning from and about organising, ‘what works for whom in which context’;
  • locate the knowledge in the in the complex networks of relations between stakeholders; and,
  • disseminate understanding about the implications of the insight within policy domains.

One way this could be achieved is through a learning network which could bring together funders, social action hubs and practitioners to strengthen the evidence base and accumulate knowledge that can further demonstrate how community organising

  • offers a proven route to recruit local people into, in the first instance, volunteering for social action that challenges inequalities of power, thus drawing this dynamic social resource into collective action;
  • provides pathways through which volunteers may acquire additional in-depth organising skills, within a constructive, experiential, ‘learning by doing’ academy; and,
  • strengthens channels of communication between citizens and statutory services that protects the independence of voice for organisers, and provides a source of insight for public agencies on these citizens’ needs and perceptions.

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