I regularly get asked by friends, family members and those that I speak to, “So what actually is community organising?”. I tend to have a stock reply; “It’s about listening, bringing people together and supporting them to take action on the things they care about most”. This tends to get one of two responses which are;
Response 1 – That sounds interesting – how do you do that?
Response 2 – Oh, we do that too!
The problem I then find myself in is that I either
(a) spend my time telling stories of amazing community organising activity from the network but not actually saying ‘How’, or,
(b) trying to explain to people why what we do is different! After all, it is different…
But what makes it different, what makes this unique and most of all how do we make that clear to people?
Recently, I sat down with some of the staff team at COLtd to look at a framework that was created by community organisers and programme staff as part of the Community Organising Programme. This was the first attempt at the end of the Programme at creating something that was for The Company of Community Organisers.
It was good, but we felt it didn’t tell the whole story. Or indeed reflect what is happening now or what we have learned about community organising over the past six years.
We needed something that told the whole story from reaching out on to the street for those very first encounters all the way through to effecting change at the systemic level. As well as telling the story though, we wanted something that would help guide and assist those new to community organising and those who are experienced with their community organising journey. But also, we needed something for our organisation so that we too can embody the community organising approach in what we do as an organisation. Something that will enable all of us to understand where we are and where we are going whether as individuals or organisations. Something that challenges us to ask whether we are genuinely going through all the steps (although not necessarily in a specific order) that are required to create genuine social change.
What we are now launching isn’t a self-assessment toolkit or a checklist. It is simply what we see as the community organising process, summarised on one page. A framework to underpin all our training. A map to stop us losing our way.
So when I am next asked, “what is community organising?” I won’t be saying, “Let me tell you”, I’ll certainly be saying, “Let me show you”. And then when I hear “Oh we do that”, I can assert, “Great, where are you on the journey and what change are you wanting to see?”