Community-led planning places community groups and individuals in the driving seat to achieve change and take action in their local area. Community-led approaches are a powerful tool for building more resilient and connected communities. Something that is now more important than ever.
Why community-led approaches matter
The significance of this planning tool continues to increase. Key drivers for this in recent years include:
- sustained community desire for empowerment
- disaster recovery and resilience planning
- availability of a range of funding sources
- NSW policy direction support for early and active community engagement
After many years of working closely with communities to deliver grassroots approaches, we know that a robust and successful community-led plan must be approached deliberately. Here we reflect on what we have learnt.
Seven steps in a community-led planning process
1. Understand where the community is at
Doing the homework upfront and building on all previous efforts of a community is critical. It can help well-progressed communities get over the line efficiently. For those just starting, it sets up a clear baseline to get going.
2. Talk to the community
Next step is talking to the community to understand their needs and the local context. Conversations should be designed to bring people together and to identify achievable solutions that can be put into practice. Sometimes these conversations can be hard to have, but clear communication is paramount to community-led plans.
3. Figure out what will be community-led
There are different ways of approaching community-led planning – in some cases, the community has control of the process and outcome. In other cases, the community is driving the outcomes but is relying upon others to facilitate the process. It is critical to have clarity about where the project fits in the spectrum.
4. Establish clear lines of communication
In a community-led project, there are often multiple stakeholders and project partners. These often have different roles. For example, the local council may be funding the project with the community driving the outcomes. Sometimes third party facilitators, like us, are engaged to facilitate the process. Whatever model is used, clear communication lines between all involved will help the project run smoothly.
5. Remain flexible and open to changes along the way
As a community-led project evolves, it is likely that the way the project is delivered also changes. A community-led process needs to be adaptive and reflective of community needs and timeframes.
6. Create a plan that works with ‘the system’
Any plan developed from a grass-roots level should take into account the bigger picture. Typically this means working in with local, State or Federal Government systems. As part of the community-led process, it is vital communities understand existing plans, processes, and procedures so that outcomes work for communities, councils and other state agencies.
7. Make a plan that can be implemented
Nobody wants to put time and effort into a community-led plan, to see it ‘sit on the shelf’. The success of a community-led plan can be measured by its implementation. Implementation is supported by a good action plan. Short, medium and long term actions give communities opportunity to see immediate change. And also ensure aspirational elements of the plan can be realised.
A robust and successful community-led plan process ensures that all stakeholders are involved and that there is stakeholder ownership and delivery.
For this to occur all stakeholders must be represented, listened to as well as openly and honestly communicated with. Importantly, they should be aware of what can be achieved through the plan given the constraints of any relevant government systems.
If you are involved in a community-led planning project or would like to prepare a community-led plan, please contact us to discuss how we may assist.