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Posts Tagged ‘community engagement’

‘Bottom Up’ is the New Black

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Leeds – Dec 1st

Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society,’ people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.  The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development.  To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.

But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….

Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:

These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.  To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.

This one day masterclass will provide:

  • an overview of the ‘responsive’, bottom up philosophy that underpins each of these projects and its relationship to more commonly found ‘strategic efforts at community development and strategy implementation
  • the implications for strategists and policy developers of the patterns and themes for development that emerge from these bottom up activities
  • practical ‘warts and all’ insights into each of the 5 projects listed above including their progress, impact and cost base
  • an exploration of the links between the various projects and how they work together to provide an infrastructure for progress
  • an overview of the factors that drive their development and an exploration of how these can be managed
  • insights into how the projects manage social inclusion
  • opportunities to explore how these projects can be used to inform economic, community and personal development in your own area.

Who Should Attend?

  • Professionals and practitioners interested in new apporaches to economic and community development
  • Councillors and lcoal authority staff with responsibility for neighbourhoods and community
  • Representatives from the private sector with an interest in community and neighbourhood development, corporate social repsonsibility or looking to develop links with their community
  • Funders looking for new ideas in community development and regneration
  • Local people looking for affordable and accessible approaches to community development
Find out more and book your place here – http://bottomupisthenewblack.eventbrite.co.uk/
First 15 to book get 50% off.

The business of human endeavour…

August 3, 2011 6 comments

For a long time now I have had real concerns about the focus of policy makers, and the projects that they spawn, on ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ as being just too business oriented.  It is as if the only fields of human endeavour that matter are commerce of some kind.  Making money or fixing societies ills.

This is especially un-nerving when you see it played out in our primary schools as 6 year olds are encouraged to wear badges that proclaim them be a ‘Sales Director’, an ‘Operations Manager’ or a ‘Brand Executive’. Yuk!

What about all of those other great fields of human endeavour?

Climbing mountains, making art, having fun, playing sport, writing, cooking and so on.

What if we encouraged our 6 year olds to wear badges that proclaimed them to be ‘Footballer in Training’, ‘Ballet Dancer under Construction’, ‘Surgeon to Be’ or ‘The Next Michael McIntyre’?  OK, so perhaps we don’t need another Michael McIntyre…. but you get my point?

Because what really matters is not exposing more people to the world of business and entrepreneurship.  It is to get them imagining possible futures, and learning how best to navigate towards them.  It is about developing people with a sense of agency and influence over their own futures.  It is about building a generation with both power and compassion. And a generation who really understand how to use the tools of collaboration, association and cooperation in pursuit of mutual progress.

Does it really only matter if their chosen endeavour contributes to GVA?  Or is there more to our humanity that we need to recognise and encourage through both our policy and practice?

And this is not just an issue in schools.  It runs like a plague through our communities from cradle to grave.

I think this is important because we lose so many who are completely turned off by the thought of a world of commerce (and let’s face it we don’t all want to dive headlong into a world of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice).

So what about if instead of focussing on enterprise and entrepreneurship we attempted to throw our net wider and to encourage and support people to build their power and compassion in whatever they choose to be their particular fields of human endeavour?

Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious…(unless you are policy wonk or their lackey…)

July 5, 2011 4 comments

  1. Not every small business or micro-enterprise owner needs a mentor.
  2. Mentoring is NOT the only helping relationship.
  3. Good mentors are rarely trained in ‘mentoring’, nor are they picked from a register.
  4. Successful mentors are usually selected from within the pre-existing network of the mentee.  They are spotted and developed as someone from  whom the mentee really wants to learn.
  5. Mentoring is an intermittent rather than a continuous relationship.
  6. Access to good mentors is usually restricted and respectful rather than a tradeable commodity.
  7. The success of the mentorship is usually down to the mentee rather than the mentor.  Good mentees know how to choose a mentor and manage the relationship with them to get the learning and the introductions that they need.
  8. The commoditisation of mentoring is not a good thing.
  9. Mentors are not coaches, advisers, consultants, counsellors or facilitators.  People looking to learn and develop themselves and/or their organisations should think carefully about the kind of ‘help’ they need.
  10. We should help people explore what they want to learn and how they are going to learn it – rather than prescribe yet another ‘cure-all’ that happens to be ‘affordable’.
  11. We should focus our efforts on building social learning contexts and helping people manage their learning processes rather than setting up registers and schemes.
  12. If the national association of image consultants got their lobbying act together I am sure we might all end up being encouraged to use a national register of image consultants in pursuit of GDP.

If you are interested in implementing ill thought through policy and exploiting it as way to make a few bob please do not get in touch.  If on the other you are serious about building a context in which people  can really learn then I would love to hear from you.

Just leave a comment below.

One Way to Raise your Profile…

June 7, 2011 2 comments

Elsie is Born…


I seem to have been a bit quiet on this blog, while I have been doing other things, including pushing Progress School along, working on Collaborate Leeds and incubating a new idea which has finally found the light of day today:

The Leeds Community Enterprise Accelerator or Elsie for short.  This provides a community based network of support to local enterprise coaches, advisors, facilitators, in fact to anyone who is helping someone else in the community to make progress.

I have high hopes for Elsie in post Business Link austerity economy.  I think it will provide a sustainable high value model to provide practical crowd sourced enterprise support to those that most want and need it.

Have a look at Elsie and tell me what you think.

Towards the Enterprising Community


No-one can agree on a community.  Is it defined by political geography? Physical geography? Economic geography?  Interest, practice, culture?  So how do we use such an elusive, slippery yet, for some of us, attractive and powerful concept?

Well, personally I have given up worrying about how ‘communities’ are defined by outsiders (politicians, funders, missionaries of various kinds, what Paul Theroux calls the Dark Angels of Virtue).  The only thing that matters for me is the individual, or the usually small group sat in front of me, and their perception of their community, defined their way.  Any other attempt to work with the concept for me is just hot air.  We all define community personally and, very probably, uniquely.

But that does not make the concept useless.  Quite the opposite.

I spend a lot of time helping people to look at the relationships and contexts that they are a part of and the extent to which they help or hinder them to become the kind of person that they wish to become, accomplishing the things that they most wish to accomplish.  And I will spend time working with them on how they can get more of the support that they need from their ‘community’.  I spend a lot of time and energy building networks of people who just love to ‘help’.  Many of these networks are a blend of face to face and online – mediated through blogs and social networks as well as through a range of meetings, gatherings and parties.  And I try to connect individuals from one network into individuals from another, so that help can start to flow across and between different groups.

So first we have to find self interest.  That which really matters personally.  That which shapes who we are.  That on which our identity is based and through which it can be constructively shaped.

Then we have to find common cause and build networks and relationships where we can successfully negotiate our self interest.  We then forge connections between these networks to build a diverse, resourceful ‘community’ of individuals who are helping and being helped as part of their daily practice.  Surely this puts us firmly on the trail of the enterprising community?

And for great things to happen people have to learn to help each other.   The stereotype of the selfish backstabbing ‘Apprentice’ does not thrive in an enterprising community – though they may do well in The City.  Successful citizens in the enterprising community learn to associate, collaborate, cooperate and mutualise.  To find those with whom there is a common cause.  And they understand that giving hep to others is as important as getting help themselves.  The have theGo-Giver mindset and they express it through their actions.  They live it.

So, as those who attended Enterprising Community: Big Conversation explored, enterprising community is not a place or a neighbourhood but a philosophy, that can be summed up as ‘Concentrate on yourself and helping your neighbour’.

And where does entrepreneurship fit into this practice?  How does this help the start up rate?  Well the more powerful and enterprising individuals we have, embedded in enterprising communities the more great start-ups we will have, borne into a context where they may well enjoy the support of a wide web of community.  We are truly building a community where enterprise and entrepreneurship may thrive.

Enterprising Communities – Missing a trick?


One of my favourite frmaeworks for thinking about team work was published in book called Dialogue by Bill Isaacs.  The model suggests that if a gourp is to make progress it needs to have 4 distinct roles handled effectively.

Firstly it need Movers.  These are peopl who float ideas, lead initiatives and generally make things happen. Spontaneous, action orientated and often extrovert – happy to put their ideas out there. In a community I often think that these Movers are akin to entrepreneurs.

But a productive group also needs skilled Followers.  These are people who can take the energy and ideas of the Movers and build on them, add to them, take of the rough edges, put in the hard work and generally get the job done.  They are close to what Mike Southon calls cornerstones.  People who help turn the vision into reality.

But in addition to Movers and Followers a productive group also needs effective Opposers.  These are people who are going to check the facts, collect the evidence and if there is an objection to be raised, they will raise it.  Constructively, powerfully and effectively.  They will skilfully play the role of the Devil’s Advocate and if there is a weakness or a fault-line in the thinking they WILL find it.

And finally a productive group, or I would argue and enterprising community, needs Bystanders.   They stand back from the cut and thrust of the idea and its development but will instead provide perspective, an overview and perhaps some historical context.  They also help to manage the group process, ensure that deadlines are met and that resources are available when they are needed most.  They may well ‘chair’ the conversations.

People can play more than one role in the model, but in an effective group or community all 4 roles are played well.

Yet we seem to be obsessed really with just one of them.  The Movers.  The Entrepreneurs.  We spend a lot of time and money developing the entrepreneur, but very little time developing people to play the other three roles.

One of the marks of the enterprising community for me is that it knows how to engage its Movers and Entrepreneurs and equip them with the Followers, Opposers and Bystanders that they need to really build a successful project, whether it is business start-up, a community project or a campaign.

We often rely on advisers or mentors to play these roles.  But when an entrepreneur works with a group of their peers, drawn from their communities and markets who know how to follow, oppose and bystand skillfully, I can guarantee that they will get much more value.

And they will also win lots of advocates for them and their work.

Enterprise Hub or Duck Farm?


I visited a really great community centre recently.  Busy, friendly, homespun, clearly doing great work in and with the community. We were using several rooms, one of which was called the ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was spotlessly clean, airy, spacious and well furnished, just like every other room in the building.  But for the life of me I could not work out what made it an ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was not set up for hot desking, there were no PCs, no mail boxes, none of the usual paraphernalia…

So I asked the centre manager about the Enterprise Hub.  The answer surprised me – but it shouldn’t have done.  They were looking for cash to modernise and re-decorate the room and in conversation with the local authority it become clear that the only budget with cash available was in ‘Enterprise’.

‘They said if we called it an Enterprise Hub we could have the cash.’

I love the way this demonstrates the inherent enterprise of the community centre management team in tracking down the cash that they need to ‘get the job done’.  I am less impressed  by what it says about some investments in ‘enterprise’.  I can just imagine the report to the councillors about the new enterprise hub…

I remember a colleague saying to me at the launch of a major enterprise initiative,

‘The problem is that many of the people in this room don’t really understand enterprise.  They don’t live it and breathe it.  If the Government was announcing a major initiative to invest in duck farming, because an economist had said THAT is the future of the UK economy, many of these same people would be in the room, nodding sagely, and would run home to invent new policies to encourage duck farming’.

Breaking the Stranglehold on Enterprise

May 9, 2011 2 comments

For a few years now I seem to have been living in Groundhog Day.  Not everyday, but enough to be disconcerting.

I will be chatting with an enterprise professional, perhaps a lecturer in a University, an enterprise coach in a ‘deprived’ community, a start-up business adviser or a bureaucrat managing an enterprise project.  In our conversations about enterprise we will recognise how it is not all about business.  How enterprise can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways.  Sure, for a significant and important minority, it is about commercial endeavour. Business, profit, and social impact in some combination.  In order to express their enterprising soul a minority have to start a business.

But for the majority being enterprising, being proactive in pursuit of a better future, does not mean starting up a business.  It may mean making a phone call, having a conversation, calling a meeting or writing a letter.  Taking some action that increases agency and power in pursuing a preferred future.  It may be taking the opportunity to reflect on ‘The direction in which progress lies‘, or ‘What are the next steps that I can take to make progress?‘  or ‘What options have I got?

We will reflect on how some of the most enterprising people we know may work in the Council, or the University, or organise festivals and campaigns in the community.  That the enterprising soul finds its expressions in many forms and not just in entrepreneurship.

We will agree that the real point of leverage in our communities lies not in providing start-up advice with those who are already minded to start a business, although of course this IS important.  The real leverage lies in helping more people to establish the direction in which progress lies for them and their loved ones and helping them to plan and execute actions designed to move them in that direction.

If we can significantly increase the stock of enterprising people then, as sure as eggs is eggs, we will also increase the stock of entrepreneurial people.  And we will not lose so many who are completely turned off by enterprise because of the Gordon Gecko or Victorian perceptions of enterprise nurtured by the reality TV shows and newspaper headlines.

We will also increase the survival rate of new businesses as people make natural progress into entrepreneurship instead of being persuaded to start a business (‘all you need is the idea and the determination to succeed’) when they have not yet gained the real skills or capital that they will need to succeed.

In our conversations we will agree on these things.  And then almost invariably they will head off to run another course on ‘Marketing and Sales’ or ‘Business Planning’ or to look at monitoring returns that count bums on seats and business start-up rates.

If ever there was an industry that needed to innovate and re-invent itself and its role in modern Britain it is the enterprise industry.   If we really want to build a much more enterprising Britain then we need to break the stranglehold that the business start-up industry has on enterprise policy.

This might be just one of the ideas we can explore at Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation in Leeds on May 19th.

High Growth and High Start Up Rates: Why We Shouldn’t Chase Them

April 1, 2011 4 comments

Colin Bell over at Winning Moves picks over this old chestnut in his latest post.

Should we throw our limited resources at businesses that we believe have high growth potential or should we just go for lots of start-ups knowing that a minority of them will experience high growth anyway?

The plain truth is that both are equally foolish policy goals.
We simply can’t pick winners/high growth businesses.  So how do we know which to resource?
And as Drucker said ‘you can’t have the mountain top without the mountain’ .  High growth businesses emerge from a strong and vibrant enterprise ecology.  An ecology that is diverse, tightly knit and well connected (bridging and bonding, social and cultural capital).
Focus on building the mountain and the top will look after itself.
But please don’t build the mountain by rushing to increase the start up rate.
When we do this we just increase the failure rate too and that undermines aspiration and confidence.  So start fewer businesses, but make sure they are good ones, team starts, well thought through and researched.  Get survival rates into the 90%s after three years.  Not just survival, but successful.  Allow these small but significant success show the way to others.
So set up a broad enterprise ecology – lots of people with ideas and the confidence to act on them (this is not just about business but about social impact, culture, festivals, campaigning and so on) and build social networks, communities, that know how to support their members.
Invest your economic development budget in supporting people, who really are committed to making things better, and building communities.  Smart, confident people in competent communities will not only give you the economic outputs that you require – but they might just give you something much more interesting as well.
I expect these ideas to be dismissed by those who have High Growth and Mass Start Up Programmes to sell, and by those running economic development teams who have for decades been buying these programmes and commissioning evaluations that say ‘much has been achieved but much remains to be done’.

But perhaps some will see that now is as good a time as any to try something new….
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