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David Wilcox

Why #thewayahead for London civil society needs better communications and engagement

5 min read

This Storify of tweets compiled by Superhighways, and a photo report, show the breadth of discussion at last week's event on the future of London's civil society **.

The event was organised by London Voluntary Service Council, Greater London Volunteering and London Funders to take forward their report The Way Ahead - Civil Society and the Heart of London.

Effective action could involve everyone from individual citizens to groups, charities, councils and business. The big challenge now is not just understanding and explaining the report, but offering ways for people to play a part.

As I wrote earlier, I'm working with LVSC on how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in which people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We hope this will make a useful contribution to The Way Ahead - and so I was glad to join in the communications group at the event, led by Steve Wyler.


Here's notes I've transcribed from the photo report:

  • recognising different phases - e.g. currently a development and engagement phase
  • comms will matter throughout implementation
  • development phase likely to continue beyond March 2016 - urgent point about producing a succinct and tailored set of propositions that sets out The Way Ahead recommendations for different stakeholders (e.g. messages for business will be different from those for frontline groups)
  • communication needs to be more than broadcast, needs engagement and enabled contributions (some could be to thematic groups, but also need something beyond this - website but visuals not just text, plus online networking forum)
  • roadshow events, either on local areas or on thematic issues, to talk to people about what this would mean in practice chairs of theme groups and system change group need to model new forms of communication
  • need system of communications that work well for frontline volunteers, activists and others, not just digital and not just those already in the room

The group report on peer-to-peer learning was very relevant too:

  • leadership and learning important as it underpins everything in The Way Ahead
  • need to be proactive in developing our leadership programmes underway, but information not being shared between people and organisations
  • need sector-specific opportunities, but important to have cross-sector work to learn and grow (e.g. time banking between people and organisations)
  • need to recognise that competition can stand in the way of sharing ideas

The communications recommendations apply mainly to The Way Ahead programme, while peer-to-peer learning is about what happens next. In addition we had a useful discussion about the realities of day-to-day communications in community and voluntary organisations, and the need to offer a mix of methods from face-to-face through phone calls and print to online.

As well as external communications, there will first be the challenge of facilitating conversations between the five thematic groups now established:

  • Co-production
  • Data: collating, analysing and sharing data about the needs and strengths of Londoners
  • Triage and connecting: local, specialist and regional support organisations
  • Voice and campaigning: civil society needs to be fully engaged in decision-making on London- wide issues,
  • Consistent commissioning and funding for support

The main recommendation in the The Way Ahead is to promote and develop co-production, by which the review team mean:

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

All this suggests to me that The Way Ahead will only succeed if everyone concerned - from funders to councils, groups and organisations, and citizens - can talk to each other about what's involved in making their London a better place to live.

This involves creating some communication systems that embrace new and older methods, internally and externally.

I know that The Way Ahead team will be launching a new web site, and planning other forms of communication.

At the moment The Way Ahead reports are pretty heavy pdfs, so I think a simple explainer would be a useful start, covering for example:

  • What is civil society
  • How does it operate
  • What isn’t working - for citizens, organisations, funders
  • What changes are coming - whether through funding cuts or external forces
  • What are the key ideas in The Way Ahead
  • Who needs to be involved in co-production and other changes
  • What might be involved in making changes

... which would lead to "here's what part you might play".

At the end of the event facilitator George Gawlinski remarked that for change to happen The Way Ahead needed to be a movement.

If so, the challenge is not just how to promote the messages of The Way Ahead - but how to offer people ways to get involved, in terms that make sense to them. The event last week provided the energy and insights to do that.

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition:

“Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.”