For the past 18 months I’ve had the privilege of delivering the Community Voices programme at Media Trust. There is a lot I can say about the programme, its achievements, and challenges, how proud I feel to be part of it, but for now all you need to know is that it’s about supporting disadvantaged and isolated communities to become more self-empowered using digital media.
When I started on Community Voices there were few examples around of others having done something similar before; today David Cameron’s Big Society is becoming increasingly familiar to more and more people but just two years ago, when Community Voices began in March 2009, it’s fair to say it was ahead of the curve in terms of supporting community-led projects. I joined the programme in September 2009 and can honestly say it has been unlike any other programme that I’ve experienced or imagined previously. For those of you unfamiliar with the terms programme and project let me explain briefly; programme management is what you do to manage a number of connected projects, and project management is about creating change – be it a change in process, organisational culture, a change of product or service, or a change in skill level or understanding. Whatever the change is it has to be something new, not routine, or done before.
In the business world programmes and projects are driven by a business case (a need to make or save money), which is usually owned by a senior manager (someone who benefits from the change). Within the business organisation there are employees who have responsibilities and a job to do, they are listed and contracted to projects and programmes to get a job done and contribute to the delivery of the change. Fundamentally they get and buy into what the programme or project is about. However in the voluntary, not-for-profit world, projects and programmes very often aren’t driven by a need to make money or indeed to save it, but usually for more personal, emotive reasons such as the need to have a voice, to challenge attitudes, to raise awareness, or to help empower someone to change their own circumstances for the better. Still at least in the not-for-profit sector people are employed, contracted and listed to projects and programmes, they have a reason to be involved. However in the community development world very often the project team is the community itself – it is the people that the project is trying to help as well as others that are bringing about the change. There is no contract, salary or any other ‘carrot or stick’ that keeps people involved with the project – the buy in is much more emotive and personal it’s a feeling that circumstances need to change and that they want to be part of making that change happen.
Stepping back for a moment and being objective, that’s a whole heap of risk to be conducting a project or programme under! There are lots of ways in which a community project team may change, or fall apart even – changes in personal circumstances, health reasons, family commitments consuming time available (as it often does), or even demotivation (perhaps halfway through a sense that whatever the change that is need it won’t happen – it’s too big, to overwhelming or complex.
What hope then does our community, the community we’re part of right now, have of becoming more empowered, being more active, in control bringing about change that we want not imposed change that we don’t want? Without the insight that I’ve gained through Community Voices I would be uncertain that any community could realise this dream, but I know differently. In all, 25 community led projects were supported through Community Voices, seven of which were followed by a very small film crew who captured some of the insights, thoughts and motivations of some of the key community members with the aim of understanding more about their reasons for getting involved, for bringing about a change that they wanted, and more importantly wanted to own – what was their buy in and why?
I’ll leave you with this short 4 minute film which offers a glimpse of some of the fantastic work that has been going on, and I hope that you’ll feel inspired to watch the longer documentary (45 mins)…….and then?……then go be a change maker in your community!