At least four options need to be taken into account in describing the possibility of cooperation among institutions, residents, citizens and their communities:
- the institution – as initiator – offers the possibility for cooperation, accepting and understanding the key criteria, that is, openness and inclusion, as the basic principles of operation.
- both stakeholders and institutions look for possibilities for cooperation,
- the institution is passive – stakeholders are seeking for opportunities for cooperation, for joining activities, for participation,
- neither the institutions, nor the stakeholders pay attention to cooperation, i.e. both sides are passive.
These four situations constitute different points of departure, calling for different directions of development and different steps of intervention.
Step 1: training and enabling of co-workers
Co-workers’ commitment needs to be secured in the first step; making them sensitive and raising their interest. The aim is to ensure that in addition to their technical/professional qualifications staff members become (increasingly) open to new things and acquire new methods for performing their tasks with which they become able to address and activate the largest possible groups of the local community, to make them interested, involved and engaged.
Developing and consolidating loyalty is another essential requirement, because the institution is represented by every single one of its employees and staff members, from cleaners to director, and even the most attractive image can be ruined by the inappropriate attitudes among staff members.
The institution staff must be tasked with developing their own circles of helpers inside and outside the institution alike (civil society, communities): they should involve existing and potential stakeholders alike in as many of their activities as possible and in the shaping and implementing their development plans. Stakeholders and potential stakeholders include both those with whom they speak a common language as well as those with whom it has not yet been found but needs to, as quickly and as fully as possible. These are people who will go with, or instead of, them to participate in training programmes, sensitisation training courses and other programmes aimed at acquiring knowledge and experience. In addition to involvement it is also important that they should be capable of sharing knowledge.
Organising and carrying out activities and the provision of services require adequately trained and qualified institution staff. The key argument in this regard is that you should work together with people who can identify with the spirit of socialisation. They should be creative, socially sensitive and patient, i.e. their human, social and societal values and capabilities be geared towards this aim. People coming to institutions like to be cared about, in the form of brief conversations, involvement in the creation of a poster etc. The key is that you should regard your participants, visitors and users as partners, or even co-workers. Listen to and take into consideration their proposals; through their involvement you can make them feel that the given task is actually their own task.
A wide variety of different forms and programmes of cooperation may entail the appearance and then mastering of new competencies, some of the most important of which may include: strategy building, communication skills and their use in practice, continuous updating and enhancing of digital literacy, information and knowledge management and the use of certain marketing elements (image design, advertisement, image building etc). Having such additional skills also contributes to up-to-date overall professional competence and to staff members’ openness and self-confidence in relationship building and cooperation.
Step 2: identifying the social groups to be reached and involved
The key words relating to the next step include: making personal contacts based on community development, community relationships, initiatives, and activities focusing on people.
Your institution must, of course, serve the whole of the population of the town, village or neighbourhood. There may, however, be prioritised age groups and people in special situations in life to whom you may want to pay particular attention – e.g. because they are particularly active participants, visitors or users, or because you have not managed to reach them yet. Or even because you may feel that they can benefit from the activities and services of your institution but for some reason you have not been able to realise this as an attractive option so far. Accordingly, you need to identify the ones you want to cooperate with – and not only “in general” but specifically, in the process of socialisation.
Tasks to be tackled at the individual level of the target group:
- Seeking for and taking account of key partners: The partners concerned may include existing ones as well as potential new ones of whom you know but have not made contact with yet.
Contact key figures and opinion leaders. Ask them what they – personally, and, if they have, their communities – think about you, your institution and the possibilities/opportunities for joining its activities, for cooperation. Do they have proposals concerning cooperation; what possibilities they see for concrete cooperation.
Tasks to be tackled at the collective level of the target group:
- Determine contents and levels of organisational, individual, community or institutional thinking, action and cooperation, as well as of joint thinking, action and cooperation across all of these. (For more on its methodology see the “Community Development Guide” but ideally your institution should participate in the community development and community planning process taking place in the village or town.)
- Joint workshop activities based on and focusing on specific tasks.
Training/briefing co-workers is key at this point as well: if any of your co-workers are uncertain or not sufficiently open, if they do not perform their day-to-day work with a focus on individuals and community alike, your efforts at socialisation will be bound to fail. If you have a feeling that this is the case, do not hasten the process, take your time: involve a smaller community first and develop the framework for joint activities together with them. But remember: working together with some communities and civil society organisations cannot be regarded as socialisation, though it is definitely some achievement already.
One frequently asked question in relation to involvement is this: anyone and/or everyone? The answer will, of course vary by town and village but in general you should aim at involving anyone and everyone there is. Civil society organisations, groups of friends and individuals. Local youth may be a key target group – where there are young people at all. But trying to attract young people to return to the community is not an altogether bad idea either. It goes beyond the cause of socialising the institution but it may as well be your mission.
Step 3: research of needs and requirements
A variety of methods are known and have been tested, however, when it comes to community development and the involvement of people, communities and institutions, and if you truly believe that all of these can be achieved, you cannot skip the various steps of the community development process:
- personal interviews, mapping personal motivations towards taking on active roles: interviews, face to face conversations,
- mapping community motivations towards taking on active roles: community conversations, workshop activities etc.
- public research and processing of joint planning possibilities involving the community ‘core’: questionnaire and its processing,
- identification of additional community tasks started on the basis of the results of public research, involvement of new members and organisations.
There is a variety of methods. A personal conversation or a face to face interview is the most effective method – besides surveys with questionnaires and the use of on-line interfaces. The requirements and needs have been surveyed and recorded many times over but even here people often write things they think are expected of them. One major flaw of questionnaire-based surveys is that people coming to the institution or visiting its web page are asked about their expectations and opinions concerning the institution. However, it would be just as important to explore the views also of people who do not use the institution’s or similar institutions’ services and/or facilities. What would they expect of cultural centres, museums or libraries? What services, organised events or other programmes would they like to be offered, what services would they like to use at such institutions. A community survey is one of the most complex methods of conducting an extensive enquiry among the population – one which is geared to mobilising community activity as well, in addition to gathering information – whose detailed description is contained in the guide on the methodology of community development.
Another relevant dilemma is that it is often impossible to see what the actual, real requirement or need is: one may not remember to say that he or she is in need for a communication training and then when they find themselves participating in one, there comes the “aha” feeling: “this is what I wanted”. The oft-mentioned confidence is what underlies this point: if the citizen accepts the institution and has confidence in it, they will say what they would like. They will express their opinions unreservedly. And you can – remembering the aforementioned – offer them available possibilities you know about.
Step 4: Involvement of stakeholders
By “stakeholders” we mean those for whom the institution works: i.e. not only those individuals and communities that come to the institution or whom you meet during programmes staged at other locations. In other words: everyone is a “stakeholder”. The involvement of this extremely broad circle of people may be achieved individually or through communities. One of the most frequently applied method of personal involvement is through voluntary work or school community work.
Step 5: development of practical cooperation with communities, civil society organisations and partner organisations
An extensive system of partnerships is one of the fundamentals of socialised operation. In terms of content, cooperation may be:
- required for the maintenance of the institution: e.g. operation of the institution’s canteen, upkeep of the institution’s rooms and making them available for organised events, making the institution’s assets/facilities available;
- associated with the institution’s professional activities: e.g. provision of funding through civil society organisations, provision of supportive professional activities, taking over professional activities in full or in part where tasks can be part tasks as well, such as organising exhibitions,
- complex cooperation relating to the maintenance and professional activities of the institution, comprising both of the above two types of cooperation.
All of the above have actually been about how to contact and involve the active citizens and communities of your village or town and how to develop structured cooperation with them:
- have your partners regularly come together for a discussion,
- formalise the system of the meetings to the extent possible, and
make it all public for the citizens and other communities of the village or town.
This article based on the following document: