Community Planning Statements of Progress: Jellybeans, rocket men and data

June 11, 2019

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by Gráinne Walsh, Head of Consultancy, Stratagem

On Monday 3 June, as part of its Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, the Carnegie UK Trust brought together Community Planning, data and communications colleagues from the 11 councils and statutory partners to discuss all things data and communication with some research, UK wide approaches, best practice and storytelling thrown in for good measure.

The day started with a presentation from NISRA – represented by Tracy Power – who set out the current data landscape, looking to the future with insight to innovation.  Tracy referenced the Economic and Social Research Council £5million investment until March 2021, which will facilitate the monitoring of change at a population level.  With a key priority of maximising the use of government data, the partnership between NISRA, Queen’s and Ulster University is in place to address major societal challenges, demonstrating a commitment to getting our data landscape in order.  A lack of co-terminosity between Super Output Areas – the smallest data collection unit – and wards remains a challenge for certain council areas. NISRA offered helpful insights into how this information could be utilised most effectively, explaining the reasoning for this: the need to provide consistent and measurable data that withstands administrative boundary changes, of which there have been many in recent years.

We then moved from our data landscape to the moon and beyond with Brenda Kent from CENI  who explored different approaches and attitudes to change and how we talk about change or progress. How do we present progress – goals and individuals? People and purpose? Dashboards or personal stories?  Making her case in the very presentation of her point, through an engaging example of storytelling via a space odyssey, Brenda reminded us that we need to make audiences care by telling stories – personal, autographical, articles and interview, vlogs, blogs and letters, composite characterisation or even graphic novels, reminding us that we engage with stories for the journey as well as the outcome.

Celine McStravick from NCB NI then shared two examples of the organisational change required to move to an outcomes based approach. Talking about her work with the South Eastern HSC Trust, she inspired those in the room to think about the possibility of cultural change in a big, chunky organisation such as a health trust – enabled through strong leadership. We then moved to West Belfast and the experience of the Colin Neighbourhood Partnership and how they report progress through Report Cards.

Moving beyond Northern Ireland to new cutting edge UK-wide policy and data developments, participants heard from ONS about their work to bring consistency to the loneliness measurement, which aims to build a clearer picture of who is lonely, where and why.  Silvia Manclossi, Head of the Quality of Life Team, discussed their analysis of children’s and young people’s views, experiences and suggestions to overcome loneliness – something that we can expect to hear more about in the near future.

Karly Green, Head of Research & Equality in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive talked through her experience of developing and implementing a research communications strategy with the practical examples of work on Private Renters and affordability, welfare reform and fuel poverty, all issues that feature in some way or another in the 11 Community Plans.

Karly encouraged the room to think about the person behind the research.  She talked through the construction of the composite character of ‘Sam’ who was profiled using NIHE research and which focused her mind on her audience, again highlighting the ways in which stories can capture the imagination and help to communicate research in ways that are meaningful to the audience.

Nichola Creagh from the Department for Communities joined a panel discussion of other presenters, providing useful practical guidance to participants before the final input of the day from Susie Brown of Tourism NI.  Drawing on her experience as Head of Communications for the Northern Ireland Assembly – as well as her work with the range of partners involved in the delivery of the 148th Open in Portrush – Susie’s contribution prompted a really valuable conversation about the principles and reality of communications, particularly in partnerships.  Susie has subsequently shared a useful resource on the topic of storytelling.

So, what did we learn last Monday?

  • If community planning is about the collective impact of the community planning partnership, which it is, then we need collective ownership.
  • If community planning is about collective understanding based on shared knowledge, which it is, then we need to share information.
  • If community planning is about people, which it is, then we need to get people interested.

With the 11 Community Planning Partnerships set to produce statements of progress by November, there was a clear sense in the room of the need to use the fulfilment of statutory duties to inform and engage citizens. The challenges of partnership working and, specifically, coalition communication was explored with a sense that there is an opportunity to build on existing partnership work and to use this communication opportunity in November to provide a launch pad for future travel along Northern Ireland’s Community Planning odyssey.