October 16, 2020

Community and Voluntary Sector involvement in Community Planning – An agile and flexible approach needed

by Kim Weir, Community Planning Officer at Fermanagh and Omagh District Council

Appropriate and timely Community and Voluntary Sector (CVS) input is key to ensuring Community Planning continues to direct and influence strategic direction in the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area. It supports and enables the ultimate end outcome, ‘improve people’s quality of life’ through partnership working.

The landscape in which the Council works with the CVS as Community Planning progresses is changing. When we first embraced Community Planning five years ago, engaging with the CVS and getting to grips with who was who was a key priority, but a complex task. There were over 600 organisations listed on the two separate legacy Councils’ Community Registers at the time. Engaging with all organisations effectively was a mammoth task. Establishing a CVS Forum through election of representatives from amongst network organisations to support the co-design of the council-wide strategic Community Plan seemed a reasonable approach. At the time this approach ensured engagement within the sector and encouraged buy-in from organisations wanting to get involved. The sector started to come together across the old council boundaries and to identify challenges they faced collectively – which were then reflected in the development of the Community Plan. We have since witnessed the coming together of similar organisations to work collectively across the new council area. For example, we now have two separate community transport organisations co-leading a community plan action to enhance access to community transport through targeted interventions, using data and evidence from the Community Plan. This type of collaboration is welcome as it encourages a whole system approach to targeted intervention.

However, the Forum has its challenges as actions progress and priorities change, and different input is required from the CVS that isn’t always available through the Forum. It has become more apparent which organisations can play an integral part in implementing and delivering on the Community Plan priorities, but who aren’t sometimes at the table.

Building awareness of resources and capacity in the CVS, as well as connecting organisations, was fundamental in the beginning to help ensure the right foundations were laid to enable good working relationships moving forward. We now have awareness of the key players needed and available in the sector to progress change on priorities identified in the Community Plan. It’s no longer about ‘everyone’ but ensuring the right CVS organisations are engaged at the right time. We need to move beyond a ‘static’ CVS Forum and begin to move towards an approach that is agile and flexible.

Collaborative practice itself embeds a need to be aware of the available service provisions and organisations in the sector. It’s about everyone now identifying their contribution and getting engaged. CVS representative Forums must change as circumstances change – it should be an open-door group where organisations identify how they can assist and get involved. Community Planning should continue to seek CVS players to support the various elements of the ever-changing, living Community Plan.

In summary, agility and flexibility are key when engaging the CVS in Community Planning as we move forward. We must support the enhanced development of collaborative practice and a cultural shift which supports a whole system approach to the multi-dimensional issues contained in the Community Plan. We need an approach that is adaptable, timely and robust to ensure that CVS engagement is strengthened even further.