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November 28, 2007

English Principles of Participation

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in England has published a consultation ‘framework for effective Third Sector participation in local partnerships’. Community development activists and practitioners may wish to compare this with Scotland’s ‘National Standards for community engagement.’

Communities and Local Government

The following principles offer a framework that the third sector might use to organise effective representation on LSPs. They might be used to develop terms of reference or other clear statements that describe the nature of any networks or collective body, its representatives and what might be expected of them.

The framework should not be seen as exhaustive or prescriptive, but as a reference point from which to start a discussion between the third sector about how they might be better represented in their own area. Indeed, you may decide to develop your own principles with your own headings and your own understanding of what they mean and how they can be applied. The principles are essentially good practice in partnership working.

1. Accountability

Those who represent the third sector or speak on its behalf ought to be responsible to the local sector. Clear lines of accountability also allow the sector’s representatives to speak with real authority. This does not mean that all decisions are subject to a consensus, but representatives should be prepared and able to explain decisions and actions. The third sector should:

a) make sure third sector representatives on LSPs and its theme groups understand their roles and responsibilities;

b) ensure the wider third sector understands its responsibilities to its representatives;

c) put into place reporting mechanisms that support the flow of information without creating unnecessary burdens;

d) make arrangements that enable all third sector groups to participate as fully as possible;

e) ensure there is clarity about when third sector representatives on the LSP have a clear mandate and when they do not, and

f) clearly define roles for any officers that might support the sector’s representation work;

2. Equality

Reducing inequality should be at the heart of the third sector’s work. It should work to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and empower people to make their voices heard. The third sector should:

a) be open to all third sector groups in the area, regardless of size, that accept the basic principles of equality for other groups;

b) engage communities and individuals from under-represented groups directly where they are newly arrived and/or do not have the necessary infrastructure and groups to articulate and promote their interests;

c) ensure that the partnership represents and reflects the community it serves, proactively reaching out to engage the most excluded groups. For example, it may be relevant, for the partnership, to consult in depth those service users who have historically been disproportionately failed by public services. It may also be necessary to take ‘positive action’ measures in order to target historically excluded groups to ensure that such groups can also benefit from local services;

d) work with all faith[1] and equalities groups, forums and organisations, taking steps to be accessible and in doing so seek to widen participation;

e) take into account the voices of people who are not able to participate in groups or do not feel as though they belong to one;

f) accept that in some areas groups may wish to organise separate mechanisms for representing their interests and concerns on the LSP;

g) make sure that involvement aids cohesion and local relations rather than damaging it; and

h) remember that real progress will take time, particularly in engaging those who are “hard to reach” and disengaged. People need to be given time to develop expertise and relationships, and to find the most appropriate approaches to participation.

3. Leadership

Those representing the local sector will be dealing with experienced senior public officials. This will require strong leadership skills: negotiation; mediation; assertiveness; dispute resolution; political and influencing skills. However, leadership is not about telling others what to do; rather it is the ability to represent the wider sector and not simply your own organisation or sectional interests. This links strongly to the principles of accountability and transparency. The third sector should:

a) be prepared to tackle difficult issues;

b) share and celebrate success;

c) work within the network’s defined structures;

d) develop and utilise the skills and experience of its members;

e) challenge the network to reflect changing contexts and needs;

f) include all its members and conduct wider consultation in assessing needs and priorities and in developing its future direction and purpose;

g) recognise and involve its external stakeholders in its development, building inter-dependence and mutual understanding; and

h) not alway taking the majority view when trying to resolve and represent conflicting interests. The voices of a legitimate minority deserve to be equally heard.

4. Purpose

Establish a clear sense of purpose about what you want to achieve, expressed in whatever terms are appropriate. Do not simply deal with the day to day issues; think ahead beyond the immediate horizon. Be clear about the issues that the network will deal with and what will be dealt with by specific third sector bodies. The third sector should:

a) establish a broad consensus of shared values from which to develop common goals and aims;

b) plan for the long-term as well as the short-term;

c) clearly define the stakeholders you wish to work with, including but not limited to LSP and LAA structures;

d) reach agreement on who should sit on the decision making bodies in your area including but not limited to the relevant LSP boards;

e) be responsive to change, anticipating the need for developing and supporting new groups that arise from demographic changes, aiding integration; and

f) embrace demographic and cultural changes that might be required to deliver the wider aims of the network whilst staying true to its values.

5. Sustainability

It is important for the third sector to understand fully the costs involved in starting and then maintaining an effective network for third sector groups and organisations in an area. In particular it may be necessary to consider investment in capacity building to ensure that representation is inclusive. Once identified, priorities should be agreed and future resource requirements explored fully as part of the future planning process. The third sector should:

a) build relationships and interdependencies that strengthen the position of the local sector and enhance its capacity to develop and innovate;

b) seek and secure resources to support the expression and dissemination of its collective voice;

c) look to develop the skills and capacity of members and examine the potential for sharing costs and capacity that might arise from working more closely together;

d) work in ways that make the minimum use of all non-renewable resources, and explore ways of using renewable resources sourced from within the organisation’s geographic boundaries wherever possible;

e) be flexible enough to take advantage of new opportunities that might arise;

f) make the most of the talents already at the network’s disposal;

g) identify the skills, experience, and competencies required of members and representatives and invest in their development;

h) put in place simple and robust arrangements that enable reflection, learning and continuous improvement and

i) build the sector’s capacity to engage with all stakeholders, in particular LSP partners and local communities.

6. Openness

The network should conduct its business as openly as possible. This is vital for its credibility both with its own members but also with its external stakeholders. The third sector should:

a) ensure that all discussions and decisions are recorded and open to all. Do not conduct meetings behind closed doors. Where, in exceptional circumstances, this is not possible, the reasons should be explained clearly;

b) have an agreed and well publicised process for selecting third sector representatives on the LSP and its theme groups;

c) communicate clearly and promptly with all stakeholders, using the appropriate mediums;

d) welcome challenge as an opportunity to learn and improve;

e) deal positively with failings by acknowledging and addressing them;

f) ensure that it shares ‘credit where credit is due’ in its dealings with the media, network members and external stakeholders and ensure the form and content of communications is agreed between the relevant stakeholders; and

g) establish clear and consistent lines of communication:

– Between network members.

– With the wider third sector.

– With the wider community.

– With the LSP and LAA theme groups.

– With any potential stakeholder – locally, regionally and nationally.

7. Values

In dealing with the practical realities of building and maintaining a network it is essential to keep in mind the valuable traditions and values of the sector. Building a network will mean change and some of the effects might be predictable whilst others might be unexpected and challenging. For many in the sector, working more closely with the statutory sector might be a culturally difficult task and this should be recognised, as should be the benefits that can result. The third sector should:

a) recognise and preserve the independence of the third sector from statutory bodies, but be pragmatic about building respectful relationships between the sectors;

b) recognise and value the diversity of its membership and the different strengths they bring to the wider network;

c) recognise and act upon opportunities for mutual development with internal and external stakeholders;

d) recognise the mutual inter-dependence of all internal and external relationships, and the benefits that can be enjoyed by all the stakeholders;

e) recognise the legitimate roles of members and avoid duplication by building upon their work;

f) think about who it involves and when and be open and honest about the extent of that involvement. Consider how to target those individuals and groups to whom the issue is most relevant. This approach will help to avoid consultation and participation fatigue. It is also more likely to ensure greater diversity and quality of involvement; and

g) develop the sector’s capacity to provide evidence to support its views.

Full document here


[1] Two reports on faith-based representation have recently been published: Faithful Representation (Church Urban Fund – Sept 2006) and Faith in LSPs? (Churches Regional Network – Dec 2006). Insofar as they relate to faith communities as a distinctive part of the wider third sector, the recommendations of these reports are incorporated into the generic principles set out in this paper.