New Research: How local gov can mobilise communities

April 21, 2020  |  By Luca Tiratelli, Policy Researcher, NLGN

Today, there are more councils than ever who realise that they can’t do it alone. That their best work, and most robust decisions, come from working hand-in-hand with the communities they serve. This has been brought into the fore by the current crisis – when the involvement of residents in supporting each other could be the difference between life and death.

But while councils may recognise the theoretical value in involving residents, getting people involved is another – more challenging matter. This is why NLGN, in partnership with the City of London Corporation and City Bridge Trust, has been researching the concept of community mobilisation – aiming to share practical examples of when councils have been able to galvanise their residents.

Seldom invoked in the context of British policy making – where terms like community engagement or community organising are more common – we have come to see community mobilisation as the vital first stage in unlocking community power.

Simply put, mobilisation is the process of a community coming together to identify the things it wants to change, and coming up with a plan for how they want to do it. As the word suggests, mobilisation is an active process, that involves creating dynamism where previously there was inaction. It has the effect of increasing communities’ abilities to take charge of what’s important to them, building both capacity and resilience.

On occasion, the process of mobilisation may occur organically, and a community may come together to challenge or rally around a particular local cause. However, more often, community mobilisation involves some kind of external agent. This may come in the form of representatives from local government, charities, or professional community organisers.

Such actors should not lead the process – indeed, to do so would be to undermine the very idea of a community coming together on its own terms to address its own issues. Instead, their role is to catalyse. Mobilisers are there to put people in contact with others with similar ideas, to help them navigate relationships with the state, to offer them advice and support, and to facilitate the actions that local people themselves want to pursue. It is up to communities themselves to decide what issues are salient to them, and to decide what solutions they want to advance.

Our report will offer a typology of different approaches to community mobilisation that public sector bodies can employ. We have identified four broad categories of possible approach – you can seek to mobilise people around the needs of individuals, the needs of groups, the needs of places or the inadequacies of systems/services.

These categories may sound fairly similar, but as we will demonstrate through case studies, starting with a different point of concern can actually lead to fairly different kind of activities being employed in practice. Do you focus your efforts on immediately alleviating the needs of the most vulnerable? Or do you attempt to create the necessary infrastructure that facilitates and allows for organic mobilisation to occur as easily as possible, trusting that if you do that, then the community will itself ensure the needs of the vulnerable are met?

All approaches are equally valid, and we hope through detailed case study examples, we can provide a road map for any public sector body seeking to mobilise the communities that they serve.

Our report on community mobilisation, funded by the City of London Corporation and City Bridge Trust, will be published in June. If you are interested in being kept up-to-date, write to Luca.