Why and How?
||Several community-led groups form an association to coordinate their
activities. They employ a suitable, local person as coordinator to form networks and
accumulate knowledge and skills which are passed on so that the groups become systematic
and effective in everything they do.
||An impossible dream? Maybe not - the following article is taken from the
website of a locally owned information, training and support organisation in the North
East of Scotland. The organisation has been around for several years and the members
recognise themselves in the article.
Community-led Organisations the
why and the how
- A concept paper to facilitate the PDL revisioning process.
Community-led organisations develop through a series of stages as shown below. In this
paper we look at how the needs for information, training and support change with the
stages and at how the needs can be met.
Five stages in the development of a Community-led
The Five-Stage Process
Most community-led initiatives begin as a dim awareness on the part of an individual,
or a small group of individuals, that things could and should be different.
This dim awareness is brought into sharper focus and more people become involved so
that a widely shared vision of a different future develops. This is the what needs
to be done stage.
The group then figures out how it is to be done. A strategy is developed
and widely accepted and is transformed into a specific and focused business plan which
demonstrates that the group and the project is fit to fund.
It is easy to find funds to support well designed projects so the next step involves
putting the plan into action. At this early implementation stage people recognise the many
types of knowledge and skill that are needed to run the organisation which the project has
become. Having been identified and acknowledged, training needs are easily met.
Thus, eventually, the community group is a team of individuals who between them have
the knowledge and skills to maintain the initiative which brought them together in the
first place and, more importantly, to develop it in whichever direction the community
Information, Training and Support the
It is not impossible that the five stage process should happen spontaneously but it is
uncommon. Especially in the beginning, the process will be driven by volunteers who may
have no experience of getting other people involved and excited; nor of how to design and
run projects. It can help, therefore, to have information, training and support provided
from outside to meet the needs at different stages of the emerging process.
From Dim Awareness to Shared Vision
The first individuals will be concerned about a particular issue. They can be helped to
find out more about the issue locally, and from further afield where others might have
been down the same road before.
They can also be helped to pull all the information together and to find methods of
involving other people in the process. Thus the vision for the future will become clear
and will be widely understood and shared.
From Shared Vision to Business Plan
At the early stages the shared vision may be thought of as an impossible
dream so the next task is to figure out how to make the dream come true.
This involves a level of systematic and detailed thinking which is new to most people; but
the process is well established and easily learned.
At this stage the process may be captured by a clique. This should not be allowed to
happen. It takes time to move from the beginning of the business planning exercise through
to having the funds arrive in the bank. The people who might be involved or who might
eventually benefit must therefore be kept informed and involved so that the
shared quality of the initiative is not lost. There are established ways of
doing this are they are easily learned.
From Business Plan to Early Intervention
Preparing the Business Plan involved much discussion but the time comes to stop talking
and act. Volunteers are faced with challenges for which they may not have the knowledge
and skills to cope the finer points of budgeting, record keeping, book keeping and
accounting; the administrative tasks of dealing with correspondence and developing filing
systems; the need to attend meetings which require agendas and minutes; and there will be
reports to write. It is possible to blunder through but a little bit of training can
remove a lot of worry, stress and inefficiency.
There is also the human side to being organised. Organisations are designed to suit the
jobs they have to do and the people who work in them. Some designs are better than others.
Knowledge and skills can be developed to ensure that leadership and management styles make
the organisation enjoyable and efficient. This is important because without it commitment
fades away and complacency sets in.
From Early Implementation to Self Sustainability
Assuming that the necessary knowledge and skills are developed and that the managerial
climate encourages positive attitudes then the community-led organisation will run its
projects well and be ready to take on new and bigger challenges. Having hit the mark with
the early and smaller projects there will be the appetite for aiming at larger and more
There are not many community-led enterprises at the moment but the potential is
enormous. Enterprise means business and a business can be owned by communities
rather than by individuals. The differences are that more people have a say in what the
organisation does, and the profits are ploughed back into the community rather than being
used to swell individual pockets.
In the early stages the community-led initiative will be driven by volunteers who might
attract the support of community economic development experts from the public or voluntary
In time the organisation will employ its own part-time staff to help co-ordinate its
administration and activities. These part-timers would be encouraged to develop their
knowledge and skills so as to be able to provide (or know how to find others to provide)
the changing pattern of information, training and support mentioned above.
As the organisation grows the original part-time staff may become full time and new
part-time staff may be employed and developed to support them and to take over when they
leave or retire
From then on the possibilities are endless. The organisation could own and rent
property, it could own and manage shops and industries, it could provide services
it could do almost anything. The organisation could become a major employer in the area
BUT it would remain community-led and community directed. It would therefore
always be acting in the best interests of the community as the community itself defined
those interests. This ultimately is the purpose of and justification for the community-led
Acknowledgements: this paper was produced following an
energetic discussion with Alison Simpson (PDLs Community Economic Development
Co-ordinator) and John Duncan (of IT-Solutions)
For an UPDATED version of this theory click HERE
Comments on: Community-led Organisations
the why and the how
The above mentioned paper was presented to a meeting of PDL on 18 October 1999. It
has also been distributed to various colleagues via email. Three major sets of comments
are listed below.
From Dim Awareness to Shared Vision
It is difficult to establish and maintain a good flow of information in the early
stages. The first few steps are the most difficult and the willing few need encouragement
to keep going. It gets easier once funding has been secured and there are signs of
progress (eg the foundations for the new pavilion are laid) - more people will then be
prepared to get involved.
Having an external facilitator helps in the early stages when people still think that
they need someone from outside to wipe their collective nose rather than being willing to
wipe it for themselves.
Community v Individual Enterprise
It was felt that the paper was unfair to individual enterprise. There are some tasks
which lend themselves to community enterprise and some which are more suited to individual
enterprise. The differences need to be thought through in some detail but, for example,
individuals can easily tackle simple and close focussed tasks (eg many aspects of
manufacturing and retailing) while communities are better at spearheading tasks which are
more wide ranging and diverse especially the economic problems emerging in the
rural areas of NE Scotland. Communities could, for example, put their heads together to
develop strategies and projects to provide services in the rural areas (eg rented
accommodation) and to develop new approaches to the co-ordinated development of tourism
(eg staged holidays with baggage being transported in advance of walkers,
cyclists or horse riders.)
There is a low population density in rural areas which means that many enterprises have
to be multipurpose to survive. An example would be a village shop which could also serve
as the Post Office, an internet access point, café, drop-in centre etc. This could be
owned and managed by the community but operated by a mixture of full-time, part-time and
volunteer staff. Fund raising events could be organised to support desirable services (eg
child care) during periods when there were not enough customers to make them financially
History of Community Enterprise in Scotland
[These comments come from Graham Boyd (Caledonia Centre for Social
Development) who is now living in Tanzania.]
In Scotland there is a long tradition of village and municipal enterprise for the
common good. Townships, villages, burghs and the large cities have for centuries owned,
leased and managed common pool resources for the benefit of local residents and for
" As late as 1800 there were great common properties extant; many burghs, towns
and villages owned lands and mosses; Forres engaged in municipal timber growing; Fortrose
owned claypits; Glasgow owned quarries and coalfields; Hamilton owned a coalpit; Irvine
had mills, farms and a loom shop"
Source: T Johnson, 'A History of the Working Classes in Scotland',
Forward Publishing Company, Glasgow 1920, p389
A very old community enterprise is the Dornoch Mussel Fisheries. The burgh of Tain was
granted a royal license to operate the fisheries in the 1600's (by King David 1 ???). It
was operated by Tain Burgh Council until the re-organisation of local government in
1974. It is now operated by the Highland Council with all surpluses going to the Tain
Common Good Fund. Andy Wightman and David Reid have some info on it.