Category Archives: Community


Then up the ante on community engagement and decision making

Opening out and digging deep

When we come together in facilitated meetings, citizens’ assemblies or community engagement ‘consultations’, often only certain voices are heard; perhaps the loudest, the majority, the ‘community leader’, or the voices the facilitator favours. Other voices at the margins that may differ from the majority or have conflicting views, go unheard. However, including all views may well lead towards futures that are preferable to the narrower ones many of us currently contemplate. Engagement and decision making needs to open out and include all voices.

In this era of increasingly polarised views, people who offer unpopular or alternative perspectives are often bullied or ‘trolled’. We are even exhorted from the top to be ‘quiet Australians’. This has the effect of making people reluctant to be different and flows down through workplaces, local councils, community groups etc.  Superficial discussion, simplistic arguments or passive agreements have become the norm. So, engagement activities need to dig deeper, way down to the beliefs and the stories underlying the situation.

Enriching possible futures through ‘opening out’

Instead of seeing them as problematic, we can welcome conflicting views and include the marginalised, the powerful, and all those in-between. By giving everyone a voice, we can ‘think outside the box’ and embrace richer perspectives. Such expansion is not possible where we all share similar views, follow ‘the leader’, feel pressure or be too shy to voice an alternative or unpopular view. This expansion is the starting point of opening out.

Certainly, working with conflicting viewpoints is not easy. The facilitator requires experience and expertise in applying the process. Tips include working toward developing expertise before including some participants who may be seen as adversaries. Also, enabling guidelines to be developed by the group sets the tone, and reminds people that this is a place for respectful debate.

Deepening discussions – reflecting on our worldviews and stories

Opening out is not enough by itself. There is also a need to dig deeper with our discussions. While we are quick to offer an opinion, analysis is often thin on the ground.

Here’s a real-life example of exploring the process of opening out and digging deep. In a workshop setting, the discussion topic was the potential for unconventional gas exploration and extraction (the most well-known being ‘fracking’) in the South West Coast District, Victoria, Australia. Participants from the region held a range of views. The workshop began with small groups where everyone ‘tried on’ different views, discussing and becoming more familiar with the similarities and differences of their own views and values compared with others in the group.

Questions to further prompt reflection

Bringing the group together the facilitator asked a series of questions linked to each level, (see diagram) beginning with the present and leading to a future ‘dream situation’.

Source: Inayatullah, S. (2017). Causal Layered Analysis, Prospective and Strategic Foresight Toolbox. Futuribles International, 1-21.

The facilitator asked participants:

  1.  ’What do you see, what is spoken about, what is published when      you look at the energy situation?’ This is the most superficial visible level, such as statistical data and newspaper headlines.
  2. ’What is the cause of this situation?’ This is the factual level that includes systemic causes.
  3. ‘What beliefs are causing this to happen? (you may have to step out of your own beliefs here)’. This level taps into participants’ values as reflected at level 2, to identify worldviews. These may be dominated by economic, social and/or environmental concerns.
  4. ’Is there a suitable metaphor or myth to help us understand why we behave the way we do in creating the situation we are in?’ and ‘what is a suitable metaphor or myth to describe a future ‘dream’ situation?’ This level goes deeply into the underlying story.

As the workshop advances, moving to the ‘dream situation’ and identifying a new myth or metaphor is vital to creating a new story as a foundation for change. For example, the group might identify the current metaphor as ‘be careful what you grow in the shadows’ and a new metaphor as ‘turn on the light’. The group then works back up the levels. These processes can contribute to decision making by progressing to the identification of preferred future scenarios and strategies for their achievement.

My aim in providing this summary is to encourage a grasp of the practice, although of course, it is best to ‘learn by doing’. You will probably have some concerns and questions. I briefly tackle two such questions next but feel free to voice your thoughts, positive and otherwise via my email details.

Question – For this practice to be effective, there needs to be power-sharing. Why would the powerful share their power?  Why would corporations and organisations (including charities and social enterprises) relinquish some of their power?

Response – Public trust in organisations has been badly shaken lately. Many need to build or repair trust. The pressure to be accountable is increasing. Add to this the financial and reputational cost of conflict to organisations and they may well become more receptive to democratic approaches to engagement and decision-making. Failing adequate responses to this need to ‘wake up’, a series of collapses may make them increasingly receptive to alternative future pathways. Unfortunately, it is not at all difficult to envisage collapses due, for example, to climate change.

Question – What about the facts?

Response – Facts are vital and are identified in level 2 as the systemic causes of an issue. Values also play a crucial role in the way facts are received. Division about the facts of climate change is a case in point.

Read more:

Although successfully applied nationally and internationally, it is relatively early days in the development of this futures-oriented engagement practice called Causal Layered Analysis (CLA). The practice both progresses democratisation and engages the imagination in identifying alternative possibilities and strategies. Today, applying innovative new methods and imaginings is key in transitioning towards a preferable future.

Marcelle Holdaway (

Marcelle describes her values as revolving around equity, empowerment and healing ourselves and the world around us. These values have consistently informed her professional and personal objectives of lifting the bar on matters social and environmental. As an active practitioner, including having had close ties with SAN, she has spent the past 4 years completing a PhD concerning her practice area. Marcelle’s thesis explored a practice-base for democratizing stakeholder engagement by corporations; a practice base also applicable to a wide range of organizations and situations.
Marcelle currently holds the position of Adjunct Fellow  Accountability and Sustainability,  University of the Sunshine Coast within the School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.


Resurrecting a positive role for the much-maligned notion of ‘social capital’

‘Social capital describes the networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups’ (OECD, 2001)

I want to put out a call for the rehabilitation of what we understand by ‘social capital’.

Recent criticism of the essential concept of social capital has caused people to cast it aside – considering it a redundant approach.  Several influential academics on the left of the political spectrum have written books and articles criticising social capital. Their criticism became particularly virulent at a time when the World Bank formed a social capital strategy in their assistance to developing countries.

In short, the main thrust of the criticism was that the notion of social capital was being used as a substitute for not materially helping populations.  Communities were being told that…we know you are poor, downtrodden and disadvantaged but you have ‘social capital’ and you should be using that more.

Continue reading Resurrecting a positive role for the much-maligned notion of ‘social capital’

Developing Devolution with Social Accounting & Audit

I believe that Social Accounting and Audit (SAA) can be a framework for accountability and reporting, which, if used to support public procurement, will enable devolution. Despite the current move towards greater control of purchasing by central government in Westminster, SAA can be a way to make devolution work.

Devolution is commonly understood to be the transfer of functions previously exercised by ministers and the national parliament to a subordinate elected body on a geographical basis.

In Greater Manchester (GM), we have been leading the way. Budgets for health and social care, planning and housing, business support and low carbon technologies have been entrusted to sub-regional level by Government.

Furthermore, ‘social value’ is now enshrined in GM-wide Procurement Policy, and the need to maximise spending power for the benefit of local people – to achieve a social, environmental and economic impact – is recognised as a major way to ‘sweat’ public, private and third sector investment for the common good.

Over 10 years ago, at the New Local Government conference, David Milliband announced, ‘at the local level we need a stronger framework of opportunity and responsibility …. – in fact a double devolution, not just to the Town Hall but beyond, to neighbourhoods and individual citizens’.

The Office of the Third Sector (now Civil Society) was created and local authorities were encouraged to devolve the delivery of local services to local people.

But it didn’t quite happen like that…

What we have in GM isn’t a ‘double devolution’, but it is one where the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector has a strong voice. Words like ‘co-production’, ‘co-design’, ‘asset based approaches’ and ‘reform’ are used to indicate an evolving sense of, ‘we are all in it together’. The delivery isn’t yet devolved to local people.

At the heart of GM devolution is a need to make the local economy sustainable. It is recognised that if this is to work, voluntary, community, social enterprise organisations, neighbourhoods and citizens must be ready and able to take the opportunity and responsibility.  And they must convince Town Halls that they can deliver. Maybe therefore, this is why the double devolution hasn’t really happened?

SAA is not a new concept, having been implemented in various forms and by a wide range of organisations since the 1970s.  But there is a growing number of organisations in GM that have adopted this approach to help them measure their overall impact and quality by integrating the ‘proving – improving – and be accountable’ processes into their day-to-day operations.

SAA accurately describes what an organisation is achieving in economic, social and environmental terms, and allows it to demonstrate to others what its principle purposes are and what it does. It assesses social and community enterprises in a holistic way, incorporating both the views of everyone connected with the organisation and measuring indicators of its success.

The framework also includes independent verification, an audit process whereby the results can be proved to be robust and reliable, which can give confidence to both the organisation and the Town Hall looking to devolve responsibility or place a contract.

One of the main elements of SAA is the comprehensive involvement of an organisation’s stakeholders, and this can prove one of the most important reasons for procuring from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector.  SAA can demonstrate to health and other commissioners that service users and staff are indeed involved in the planning, operation and management of services from social enterprises.

Unlimited Potential (UP) is a social enterprise providing health and happiness services, which grew up in the Charlestown and Lower Kersal area of Salford.


Formed by residents participating in a local health task group, and now tackling health issues in partnership with local people, its work includes managing services at two local healthy living centres, health outreach services and work which addresses the specific health and happiness issues of local residents.

UP is very keen to prove its ‘positive impact’ as it develops a sustainable business strategy, and has used social accounting and audit to do this.

UP’s ability to demonstrate the benefits of its work through social accounting and audit, adds ‘value’ to public service commissioners who are provided with evidence of partnership working, involvement of local people in the design and management of services, innovation, responsiveness to local need and local ownership. This has contributed to UP becoming a nationally recognised and respected social enterprise.

SAA can be used to demonstrate individual and collective strengths, prove the sector’s competence as providers of public services, and meeting the challenge of taking local responsibility and citizen led action.

It can help devolution to happen.

Anne Lythgoe, Vice Chair & Treasurer/Finance Director

Social impact and our peculiar understanding of ‘community’…

Many social enterprises, and perhaps more accurately, community enterprises, say that they are having an impact on The Community.  But do we really understand what we mean when we talk about ‘community’?

I have been involved with a number of EU funded projects over the years and conversations with European partners turns to semantics and discussion on whether or not there is a shared understanding of some of the major concepts that we in the UK bandy about with abandon.

One of those, and one that often forms a bit of a stumbling block, is the word ‘community’.  The Germans say it is untranslatable; the French use it in other ways; the British say it all the time in the hope that the others get their meaning.

Turning to definitions, the Oxford Living Dictionaries states that it is, ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’, which implies a ‘geographical community’.  But it also goes on to say that community can be, ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’.  This suggests more of a ‘community of interest’.

These discussions remind me of when I worked with community businesses in Scotland in the late 1980s.  Talking about a geographical community made sense as local people in hard pressed areas got together, formed an enterprise that created benefits for the locality by providing employment for long term unemployed and much needed services to benefit residents in the area.

But then ‘community of interest’ emerged.   This broadened the definition and at one meeting we realised that a golf club could be a community business serving the ‘community of golfers’.  Was this right?  And so the argument continued within, in those days, a smoke-filled room of activists…

Added to this are two critical dilemmas worthy of consideration.

The first is that ‘community’ is not a homogenous unit.  Within a geographical area there are a range of different people with differing values, outlooks, social and economic status, faiths and ethnic groupings.  How do we, as community-based organisations, whose central purpose is to work for community benefit, serve the whole community?

What are the priorities; how are they decided; and so on?   Local people on a Board of a community enterprise would be expected to understand the local community better than an outsider – but they may have their own interests and views that may not address the problem of all people living and working in the community.

The second is how the geographical community is defined.  Where are the boundaries outlining the community?   For some communities this is relatively straightforward as they may be islands, or particularly remote and self-defining, or they may be a housing estate squeezed into an area bounded by a major road or railway line.  But for many community based organisations this is an issue and one that has to be tackled and re-addressed.

Many community enterprises over the years have tried to report on the impact that they have on their community.  If they keep social accounts they are expected to draw out a local stakeholder map that charts the nature of the relationship they have with different stakeholder groups.

This is an exercise that many find particularly useful as it exposes many in their organisation to the dilemmas mentioned above.  Often there is not total agreement, but the discussion over stakeholder relationships can create a better understanding of differing positions within and around the organisation.

Also, as part of social accounting, there would be a need to consult or engage with the ‘community’ – some refer it to as the ‘wider community’.  This presents a problem as the community may be made up of thousands of households.  Through my involvement with social accounting and audit, I have tried to do and suggest a number of things.

One time we worked with a community enterprise in carrying out a survey that involved a questionnaire going to each household distributed in a community newsletter.  The returns were few.

Another time we worked on visiting a random selection of households in an area and conducted interviews.  This was more successful but fraught with difficulties over people being out, not wanting callers, not to mention fatigue and a wearing down of shoe leather…

However, something that did seem to work well, was the creation of a kind of ‘community jury’.  The community enterprise identified a local councillor for the area; a head of school, a local social worker, a prominent business person, a faith leader, a local MP.  These were people who were not close stakeholders but who would know about the community enterprise and a little about its work and impact.

Ideally this group would be brought together and issues about the performance and impact of the community enterprise would be discussed.  In practice this was very hard to achieve and the fall-back position was to interview these people with the same questions.

The consultation and engagement with a ‘community of interest’ may be clearer in some ways, as the community enterprise may only be consulting those people that have expressed an interest in what the enterprise is trying to do.  But that leaves out all the people that could be in the community of interest but do not know about or have never used the services provided.  Difficult or what?

I think defining and understanding ‘community’ is crucially important.  At a meeting several years ago a prominent member of the social enterprise sector in Scotland was asked what he thought was the future of social enterprise.  He said he thought it would be ‘community based enterprise’.  This harks back to the burgeoning community business movement in Scotland in the 1980s – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I also think that community enterprises are going to be more and more important.They tend to be tenacious organisations due to their close connections within communities.  This is evidenced by the number of community co-operatives in the Highlands and Islands that are still around in one form or another.

Community enterprises are also like ‘anchor organisations’ – a conduit for local development.  They usually have a clearer purpose compared to the plethora of recent social enterprises that are currently emerging – which are not community-based and struggle to show their distinction from being traditional businesses with a philanthropic arm.

Finally, we all live in ‘communities’ in one form or another.  We are not only individuals but part of something that underlines the connections and relationships between us that make life worthwhile.  I leave you with a quote from Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993), an American labour leader and civil rights activist…

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.

Alan Kay, Social Audit Network (