Activate: Getting people involved

Why do Community Activation?

Here are some ways that Community Activation benefits an organization or project:

  • Maintains the long-term relevance of an organisation
  • Increases an organisation’s alignment with users’ needs and expectations
  • Increases an organisation’s efficiency (e.g., leveraging volunteer contributions)
  • Discovers new applications of an organisation’s services
  • Increases an organisation’s benefit to society

There are several reasons for people not wanting to get involved in a local community organisation (LCO). One is due to a feeling of disenfranchisement, that residents’ views are not listened to and the general feeling of apathy that this engenders. The second is lack of communication from the residents’ association itself. Thirdly, your neighbourhood  may be well managed and residents may not feel the need to get involved as there are no “issues” around which they can unite.

There are no easy remedies for these issues. However, there are things that you can do to change people’s views and make it easier for them to become involved and thereby address these issues. Over time these will make a difference to the way in which your association is perceived by residents and lead to a self-sustaining organisation.

Here is how Community Activation works:

Step 3: Community Mobilization
Community mobilization is the pinnacle of your efforts. This is when your community champions and community members make decisions and take actions without feeling like they need to ask anyone’s permission. They show signs of self-organization and empowerment. The community also gets easier to manage because there are many leaders and do-ers in the community, and things hum like clockwork.

Step 2: Community Building
After you have gathered together a community, Community Building is the next step. Community building consists of creating organizational structures and an environment of interactions that allow people to interact effectively. Some examples of this include: working groups, clusters, and communities of practice.

Step 1. Community Engagement
The development of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and target external groups. Community engagement is the foundation of any community-based initiative. This step usually consists of gathering and convening people. (Source: Middle Path EcoSolutions)

Nothing generates interest more than success, so set yourself some small but achievable goals that will make a difference to your area. Address the smaller issues that can be resolved quickly and easily but that are high on the list of residents’ concerns.

A criticism that is often levelled at residents’ associations is that they only represent one section of the community. This may be because they are seen as coming from only one community. By broadening the membership, particularly that of the committee, you can begin to overcome this barrier and become more inclusive.

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure you are attracting members from all sections of the community:

  • Hold your meetings at a time and place convenient to all residents.
  • If you cannot find a convenient time, consider holding alternate meetings at different times.
  • Accessibility ⎼ is your chosen meeting place accessible to all? This concerns not just physical disabilities and sensory impairment, but also moral and religious concerns (pubs are not a good idea).
  • Have the meeting streamed online.
  • Offer to accompany people to and from meetings ⎼ many people do not feel comfortable attending evening meetings after dark.

One of the most effective ways to involve people is through face-to-face contact. It is too easy to throw away or ignore a newsletter or leaflet put through the door or that may have appeared on your timeline on Facebook. Face-to-face contact is harder to ignore and makes it easier to establish communication with residents. It also enables you to:

  • Canvass views more effectively.
  • Explain issues in a more accessible way.
  • Make people feel that their views matter and that you are serious about wanting to get them involved.
  • When calling on people always have information ready that you can leave with residents. A brief piece about the aims of the group, contact details and activities that you are involved in is appropriate.
  • If you do not get a reply make a note and arrange to call back later. If you plan to go from door to door to speak to people, please make sure that you take appropriate measures to protect your personal safety.
  • Never go alone.
  • Don’t go into the flat/house of anyone you do not know (a good excuse is always the number of people you have to call on).
  • Make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you will be back.

You should also make a note of anyone who appears to be hostile or have aggressive pets to share with others of your group who may canvass in future.

Are there any existing voluntary groups in your area that you can link into?

The links you establish with these groups may also be useful in terms of local campaigning as you may share common concerns.

Community Activation is a type of community engagement, building, and management that is based on a community-centered approach. The goal is to empower the community, so it can self-mobilize, self-organize, and determine the best way to reach its own goals.

Having established contact with others and signed them up as new members, remember to keep in touch. Make sure everyone gets invited to meetings. Do not restrict meetings to members as you may be able to sign up new people on the night (although make sure you know who is entitled to vote).

Maybe hold some social events to enable people to get to know each other informally. It’s surprising how quickly bonds can be established that can benefit your association.

Don’t scare people off by giving them too much to do too soon. Give everyone (or as many as possible) small tasks to do. Most importantly, maintain personal contact. This is far more effective than issuing newsletters or calling meetings. Make sure you tell people what you have achieved and what you are trying to do. Many people join groups, such as residents’ associations, because they want to achieve something, so try to assist them as much as possible.