Seven steps to success in local government reform?
On Friday 31 January 2015 we hosted our first collaborative event on ‘Working together in the new council landscape’ in Loughgiel Millennium Centre. That morning, crisp snow lay across the beautiful backdrop of Causeway Coast and Glens. But it did not act as a deterrent to our delegates as over 80 delegates gathered to listen, engage, network and plan for a future together.
Key Learning: Seven Steps to Success?
- This change is bigger than any of us and requires a collective response
- Communication, communication and more communication is needed
- It is all about people, build the relationships
- Make opportunities to network and learn together
- Change is difficult and it is okay to be fearful about the unknown
- The new local will be bigger, we need to find ways to connect
- Community development council officials and networks are engaged- turn to them for support
From the 1 April 2015, the four existing councils of Coleraine, Moyle, Limavady and Ballymoney will come together under one new council. This change will also bring changes in functions and responsibility to the new council, including an increased role in community development. The existing councils recognise that this will bring both challenges and opportunities both to them, the voluntary and community sector and most importantly the beneficiaries they represent. In preparation for the changes ahead the council staff from the four existing councils have been working together since 2009. In addition, they have been working in partnership with the local networks as they plan as much as they can for a new joined-up landscape. This has not always been an easy task, largely because there are still many unanswered questions as to how it will operate on the ground. The council officials have developed a community development strategy in consultation with the voluntary and community sector but it is still to be approved by the council.
With so many unanswered questions, it could easily be questioned why hold an event at all in the months before the official formation of the council. The answer is simple, the challenges of local government reform is bigger than any one organisation can tackle effectively. We need to find ways to think bigger and move beyond parallel existences and in some cases, dare I say it silos.
David Jackson, the new CEO & Designate of Causeway Coast & Glens told the room of his ambition to create a breath taking destination which has stronger communities, increased well-being, provides economic prosperity and enhances the environment. He spoke about the size of the challenge given that a stakeholder analysis had revealed over 600 stakeholder groups. Partnership working will be the key to making this happen.
Lyn Moffett, spoke on behalf of Causeway Coast and Glens networks and highlighted the journey three local networks had been on. They had developed a framework for co-operation to work closer together to improve services for, and to bring more opportunities to local people.
Much of the morning was spent in facilitated tables where delegates discussed their experience of working in partnership, what could they do to build partnerships and what support is needed to make it happen. There was a buzz in the room as people shared experiences, good and bad. There were practical suggestions offered and while there was agreement that the issue is bigger than any of us by working together there is more chance of it being achievable. A key message from the discussions is the need for good communication in this time of change. This needs to be both from the council, to the council and indeed in partnership with the council. A proposal was made that if there was a community navigator, who was charged with working with the sector and bringing them through this change it could be helpful. This raises the question, could the community development council officials and networks make a commitment to fulfil this role in this time of change?
There were many positive examples of partnership working in the room and an eagerness to learn more about these experiences. Many individuals echoed sentiments that the event was a good opportunity to build or re-establish networks across the new council structure. It is very true that as human beings we have a natural curiosity to find out more about people who surround us. This was very evident on the day, both at the table discussions but even more so in the coffee breaks and lunch. There was much conversation and laugher throughout the morning and networking over coffee and again through lunch. It was evident that Causeway Coast and Glens has a vibrant voluntary and community sector that is curious about what the new landscape will bring to them and their beneficiaries. Yes, there is some fear and uncertainty but on the day there was a desire to work together and face this challenge. There were calls for support for more networking events. These could be on a sub-sector by sub-sector basis across all of the new council landscape.
The challenge is bigger than any of us
While many answers surrounding post amalgamation of the new council remain to be answered, one thing is certain the challenge is bigger than any of us and it requires a collective approach to making it happen in an effective way. Local government reform needs to translate into much more than a streamlining of services to one that encourages partnership working and puts the citizen at the heart of decision making. To do this, people working in the voluntary and community organisations are recognising that their local is expanding and it is important to find ways to learn from one another and reach out to develop a collective response to their changing environment. The local networks and council officials are leading by example in how they are trying to face these issues together. It was very evident that the groups in this area have a desire to build upon the current momentum and the council officials and networks can facilitate this to a positive end. This would be partly about bringing people together to consider strategic options for the future but it will be equally be important to use this time to build relationships across the new council landscape.
Communication was seen to be key to making these changes effective. I would go further and say it is how we communicate that will be key! Change is difficult and the coming months and indeed immediate years will require us to be honest in our communication. To do this, we must not lose sight of the fact that effective partnership working is really about people. So take the time to get to know the key stakeholders in your area reach out to them and find ways to communicate to get to know them. Together you will learn that by sharing this journey, Causeway Coast and Glens has an opportunity to become a breath taking destination but this will only happen if the council is intertwined with both the citizens and the organisations that represent some of the most vulnerable citizens in society.
Thanks to those who made this possible-
CollaborationNI organised this event in partnership with Ballymoney Resource Centre, CRUN, North Antrim Community Network and Ballymoney Borough Council, Coleraine Borough Council, Limavady Borough Council and Moyle District Council. But like any good partnership, it was all about the people involved! So I want to take this opportunity to personally thank Anne McNickle, Lyn Moffett, Breige Conway, Orla Black, Karina McCullom, Louise Scullion and Catherine Farrimond for all their commitment, hard work and time.
CollaborationNI is planning to host one of these events in all the new super council areas. It is an opportunity to bring together council and communities to explore how key stakeholders operate in the new council landscape. The event in Causeway Coast and Glens demonstrated that there is a real appetite in the sector to embrace the new council structure and events like this offer a dynamic environment to begin to make this happen.
Feedback from the day included:
‘An excellent opportunity to meet and share knowledge with people who are passionate about supporting communities in a collaborative way’
‘Vital service to advise and hold the hand of volunteer groups facing the challenges’
If you work in a network or a council and think you would benefit from a similar event in your area, please contact me! I would love to work with you.
Programme Coordinator, CollaborationNI