Local Sustainability Organisations
November 24th London
This is a report on one of five workshops run by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) as part of the development work for the Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - UK government) Community Action 2020 (CA2020) programme. The workshops were:
- Workshop with Councils for Voluntary Service (VCSs) (with NACVS - National Association) (Dec. 2nd)
- Workshop with a rural focus (with ACRE) (Dec. 1st)
- Workshop with an urban focus (with BASSAC and Urban Forum) (Nov. 30th )
- Workshop for local sustainability practitioners (Nov. 24th)
- Workshop (smaller) for key staff in national sustainability networks (Nov. 16th)
24 people attended the event (29 had booked but 5 did not attend). This included 7 local authority staff, and a few people from agencies, the private sector and national Non Government Organisations (NGOs), but the majority were from networks and organisations that define themselves as working on local sustainability. This included some of the largest such projects in England.
The workshops started with a presentation of the aims of the CA2020 programme and the background to it (this presentation is available). Participants were asked to work in groups to provide the positive points they saw in the programme as well as any problems and areas of confusion.
The positive points of CA2020
- This could lead to more cohesion between groups
- It seeks to embed Sustainable Development (SD) in the whole Voluntary and Community sector (VCS)
- This could be a targeted framework for Local Authorities (LAs) to build on
- It includes social justice
- Ways to involve community workers
- The seven targets are good
- Potential to share experience
- The strand on promoting SD is useful
- It makes links with civil renewal
- The mentoring work
- New resources for local work
- The idea of ‘community-friendly’ SD messages
- Funding (mentioned by all groups)
- There are no clear targets (statutory)
- Will need a local contact in each region / city / county to be fully effective
- There may be local reluctance to get involved
- Urban issues
- Other resources and skills will be needed
- Top down approach?
- Need better links between local government and VCS to make this work
- Government Department are not talking to each other
- The language of SD may be a barrier
- Lack of links to ‘Change Up’ and Future Builders
The areas of uncertainty
- The problem of local action in world-wide context
- Too many indicators
- Language of professionals needs to be translated for communities
- Lack of understanding of VCS in sustainability circles and vice versa
- Prominence of climate change
- Targets - what should they be?
- Tokenism and SD - what level of commitment is there?
The programmes Edit
There was then a discussion about some of the programme elements, notably mentoring and good practice work.
The mentoring issue Edit
Several links were noted with existing schemes:
- Many health schemes are using mentors
- Workers in communities such as Westden ‘animateurs’
- The ‘Community Apprenticeship’ scheme in Burnley
- Scarman Trust community champions
Some ways forward were suggested:
- We need ‘change agents’ who can deliver maximum outputs for minimum resources
- This should include coaching for engaged people with specific problems
- Mentoring and planning for sustainability appraisals
- Volunteer to volunteer mentoring at very local level
- Mentoring for funding bodies to help build sustainability awareness
- Mentors can have both support and representational role
- Consider development of ‘circuit riders’ – skilled practitioners who can share and disseminate skills and resources (US term, but idea seems very relevant)
There will be a need to bear some points in mind:
- Note the regional variations
- Local projects can only go so far
- Mentoring is not cost-free
- Avoid the top down
- Not too big a focus specifically on mentoring - should be part of a package
- Spread enthusiasm as well as expertise
Recognising good practice Edit
It was recognised that there are lots of schemes already such as :
- The Queens’ Awards
- GOSW (Government Office for the South West) Sustainability
- Green Apples
Fair trade awards for fair trade fortnight
It was felt that there was need for some clear standards, and that recognition is more important than awards (although these are popular). The clear criteria should be linked to independent evaluation. It was felt that in too many cases awards go to people who have money to spend on developing high quality projects and that there should be recognition of where works starts from and the effort that local people put in.
There was concern about the potential for duplication and overlap - CA2020 should plan to have a clear identity around sustainable development
The key issue for many was about disseminate and sharing. Those doing good practice reviews should be encouraged to include ‘how to do it’ materials. Any directory of good practice should ideally include how to visit suitable projects. Funders should be encouraged to support dissemination - too often local projects don’t have the resources to write up well.
There was also a plea that any scheme should note the bad practice as well where the problems can be learnt from.
Lastly it was emphasised that awards can help maintain and support projects (especially within LAs) since they provide external validation and can help projects retain funding.
How can this work help existing networks? Edit
There was a question running through the day about ‘what is in this for us?’. A number of issues were raised about how this could help with and learn from existing work.
Some key points were made:
- There will be a need for incentives - everyone is busy already
- Build environmental criteria into funding programmes
- As well as central co-ordination there should be county / regional / city level focal points
- Be aware of the difficulty in expecting people to do work for no money
- Use a little money to support national engagement and dialogue with Defra
There were several points made about the role of local councils (and local sustainability networks) in CA2020:
- Partnership working will be needed between local councils and VCS bodies
- CA2020 should learn from those LA21s (Local Agenda 21) which worked (and are working) well: many communities are already on board. Also look for measurable outputs
- There should be some resources found for a national meeting of those already doing what CA2020 wants to do
- Such work should also link to Change-Up - many local environment / sustainability projects are building local infrastructure and should be linked in to this as is the rest of the VCS.
From the discussion it became clear that people were talking about several different working relationships and that there seem to be four key groupings in relation to local action and CA2020 (there are others including GoRegions (government offices for the regions) and RDAs (regional development agencies) and organisations such as the Environment Agency):
The six relationships below are all relevant:
(illustration - see note on discussion page)
- Defra and local environment / sustainability organisations - (Even though this is a double ended arrow) it was felt that there is little effective interaction. Local networks, fora and other organisations are poorly networked and there is in fact no easy way for Defra to communicate to such groups, even though they may be a source of substantial expertise.
- Defra and the VCS - This is perhaps the weakest relationship here (in terms of the Defra SDU - Sustainable Development Unit) and the one that CA2020 is specifically seeking to address. More links exist from other parts of Defra (e.g. rural work) and perhaps there should be linkages made with that work.
- Local environment / sustainability organisations and local councils - This is very variable but there is plenty of good practice (and less good practice) to learn from. It is also the case that this is an important dissemination route for practice issues.
- VCS groups and local councils - This relationship is at the centre of much work on local governance and is crucial to any work on creating stronger communities. It appears to be the case that very little information specifically about SD is passes along these lines of communication, even though what is discussed will contribute to it.
- Defra and local councils - While this relationship may be well formalised at an organisational level it was felt that many LA staff working on environmental issues only get material about issues such as target compliance and don’t get much that would assist work about the environmental issues on which they are engaging with local communities.
- VCS groups and local environment / sustainability organisations - It was felt that building stronger relationships here would be important for the long-term sustainability of the CA2020 idea. I was felt that work needed to be done on both sides but that some encouragement from the centre would be helpful, as would examples of good practice (Burnley and Richmond both seemed good examples).
Working with local VCS groups Edit
(especially Local Infrastructure Organisations - LIOs - such as CVSs) and local government
It was recognised that the VCS is going through major changes and that the new focus on service delivery will present challenges and opportunities. Environmental groups may way want to work on such service delivery (e.g. green spaces, waste) and that will need people learning to work with local LIOs. Several points emerge from this idea:
- There will be a need for training (and info., advice, web etc.) on networking with VCS
- Environmental issues need to be built into compacts and other agreements
- There is a need to educate CVSs about environmental issues
- There is need to work with groups outside CVS networks such as sports clubs.
This work will also be affected by changes to local governance structures:
- Local Strategic Partnerships need to recognise the importance of SD for their work. This needs Defra to out pressure on from the centre (this could involve clear targets, penalties etc.)
- The work by the Audit Commission on ‘footprinting’ should lead to a specific target, and Defra should support this.
- Local Area Agreements are likely to have huge impacts on SD delivery but there is little clarity here yet.
- Local partnerships of all types need to build in SD to their day-to-day working.
It was felt that CA2020 and other Defra measures could play a role in delivering these changes.
There will also be a need for environmental groups to show local VCS networks and bodies such as Change-Up agencies what the environmental sector has to offer. This needs planning and co-operation.
Moving Forward Edit
The value of coming together in such a workshop was agreed by all those present. It was suggested by several attendees that there would be real value in holding a larger national network event, which could enable:
- Developing common strategies for working with Councils and the VCS
- The building of cohesion between local projects and networks
- Reporting on the progress of CA2020
- Work on policy ‘joining-up’ by those working with different govt. departments and agencies
- Reviewing progress on SD within Local Strategic Partnerships etc.
- Discussion and panning on local consumption and procurement issues
- Development of joint communication and Information Technology strategies and frameworks
- Identifying common research needs
- Sharing of experiences
It was felt that such an event could be done on a low-cost basis, given the recognised need for it and the desire from many organisations to make it happen.
There was widespread and general support for CA2020. The question many had was how they could actually get involved. Some felt that they were ‘on the outside, looking in’.
It was recognised that other groups may have more reservations. Groups will need to be clear on CA2020 commitments and plans and want to have the opportunity to work with, review and track these plans.
People felt that Defra should look to maximise media exposure for this work and that any launch should showcase good local projects.
Evaluation of workshop showed a high degree of satisfaction with the day and no significant problems. All participants felt more inclined (to varying degrees) to be engaged in CA2020 and the great majority felt that they know a lot more about it.
See also Edit
- Friday, February 10 2006: Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) invites expressions of interest in delivery of England-wide community support programme on sutainable development from voluntary sector organisations. www.sustainable-development.gov.uk. Even if you don't see yourself as part of the primary audience for the downloadable document (downloadable via the website above) it may provide useful insight into the thinking behind this government programme to anyone interested from a wider perspective.
Discuss or Comment Edit
You can discuss or comment on this article, or any aspect of it, via this article's discussion page - see discussion tab at top of page.
See also Networks and Networking