By Sue Denman.
The meeting followed the ‘Does it Count’ research and development event held in April 2021 (Does it Count event report)
As many of you are aware Wales Government policies emphasise the importance communities of place in wellbeing. They stress the importance of the public sector working closely with communities and the third sector in a coproductive relationship to identify local needs and solutions. This is based on the knowledge that where we live, and the relationships that we have are the most important factors in our wellbeing, and determine the kind of life we have and the part we play in society.
We now know that if the public sector invests in communities by cultivating the conditions in which people flourish they gain too by reducing the dependence on services and making cost savings. So it’s a win win situation all round. Community groups have demonstrated during the pandemic just how effective they are at a time of crisis in protecting and supporting their populations and with that has come the realisation that we can achieve so much more by pulling together.
Asset based community development, or ABCD for short, is really about community power. It is about people connecting with each other over shared interests and sharing skills and resources to identify their needs and take action. It is about communities working to their strengths and building on those strengths. Each community of place will therefore differ, because of their differences in needs, geography, and assets, whether built or of the human kind.
The public sector can support this type of development but it requires an approach that sees communities as a rich resource and as equal partners. It requires prevention and early intervention to be prioritised. Communities are looking much more holistically at their wellbeing which means that the environment and the local economy are being considered alongside social factors. Local food production and supply chains have also understandably become central considerations since the pandemic. All this crosses ministerial portfolios and adds a complexity and richness to the research and evaluation agenda but risks it falling through the net.
Our contact with the national organisation Building Communities Trust and communities across Wales shows that a lot is happening in relation community groups taking a much more active part in local planning as we rebuild after the pandemic but the speed of change is variable. In Pembrokeshire we have been fortunate because Together for Change has been able to harness the good relationships that were already in place between the third and public sectors – which our partners PAVS and PLANED have been a part of. Community groups, the County Council, NHS and statutory boards have agreed a ten point plan which encapsulates some of the things I have been talking about. The plan aims to support and sustain communities and community groups and places robust evidence at the heart of the sectors working in a joined up, coordinated and integrated way. (Ten point plan: English and Cymraeg)
Our event in April pointed to a need in Wales for a programme of research and evaluation, supported by a robust infrastructure – one that draws on the good work in Swansea, Bangor and Cardiff Universities through DEEP, WISERD Decipher and the School for Social Prescribing. But overall investment and capacity in this broad based field of research is low and there is still a push in some quarters to evaluate inappropriately on the basis of the metrics of the public sector. Communities also need to be supported to build knowledge and skills and have the time and resources to evaluate. There should be mechanisms for sharing the outputs of research and evaluation and more support provided for collaboration and networking, as there is in service related matters.
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay.