Our Director of Places and Communities, Nat Defriend sets out four key challenges for everyone who is committed to challenging inequality and empowering communities. The challenges are framed through the lens of our founder, Michael Young’s central concept of how change happens in places, and the three key roles we have identified in the construction of fairer places: change-makers, place-makers and intermediaries.
- Changemakers are what ordinary people do individually and in groups to improve their lives.
- Place-makers are those whose buildings, spaces, services and resources construct places, both physically and in the way in which people who live and work in communities think about them.
- Intermediaries – those who work at the intersection between change-makers and place-makers, brokering connections and collaborations.
Challenge 1 – Harness the power of community to drive the changes people want to see.
More can be done in applying a bottom-up understanding of community, not only to how to intervene, but also in celebrating and strengthening the community capacity, insight and motivation which already exists.
For place-makers, change-makers and intermediaries, it means supporting capacity from within communities as a prerequisite to change. It means prioritising change which emerges directly from communities. And it means always seeking to broaden and deepen community engagement and impact beyond standard consultation processes.
The terrible events at Grenfell Tower have shown us that in response to the greatest need community will always assert itself. People will pull together. But it appears that many feel that they had to do so in spite of authorities and services rather than in partnership with them.
Challenge 2 – Really listen to, and hear, new voices emerging from different parts of communities.
A deep understanding of what matters to people in communities is vital to successful change. Yet too often the stories of places, the narratives which drive people’s perception of them, are built on a narrow set of voices and by negative and pessimistic assumptions about their potential.
There is great demand within communities for those with power and resources to be much more willing to adopt a listening mode.To return to Grenfell, this has been one of the most poignant themes emerging from the complaints of the community there.
Recognising this potential, supporting it and harnessing it should be a priority for place-makers and intermediaries.
Challenge 3 – Use power, resources and decision-making differently. This includes sharing them more effectively with people and communities.
At the Young Foundation our understanding of inequality focusses not on its specific manifestations, for example in differential health, education and economic outcomes but on the structural drivers which generate these outcomes. Collectively these are the things which, when they are not possessed by people, act as a barrier to them being able to take action themselves in pursuit of their aspirations.
There are some exciting examples of structural and cultural shifts in institutional practice and society more broadly which we believe have the potential to impact on these drivers of inequality. These include crowdsourcing tools with the ability to encapsulate shared goals, and pool resources, and the increasing use of participatory engagement methodologies such as ethnography which create insight and action with people rather than extract insight from them for others to act upon.
The challenge to change-makers and intermediaries is to think what more might be done in our organisations and institutions to demonstrate to your residents that they are participants of, and drivers of action, rather than simply beneficiaries of it.
Challenge 4 – Decision-makers need to embrace the communities they work with as genuine partners in change
Our work through our Amplify programme across the country has shown us over and over again that how people are viewed by decision makers can thwart potential, and act as a direct barrier to their willingness and ability to act.
And yet there is real, untapped, and unsupported potential within communities.
This matters not only morally, because it is the right thing to do to support people to realise their ambitions, but also practically, because in a time when resources are so tight, it makes sense to draw upon the broadest possible base for new ideas and new actors.