Good changes in our places only happen if the community and local authorities work together. That’s because this partnership consists of expertise and local insights; that is, the aspirations of the people, and the know-how to make it happen.
Place Creative sits on both sides of this relationship, and what we’ve learned about the challenges of working collaboratively, usually comes down to the same three things:
Unfortunately there is no silver bullet to anything that could hinder a partnership between community and council, but from Place Creative’s experience, we’ve come up with three top tips to help set communities on a clearer pathway through the complexity.
This means finding plans and documents that outline what the strategic priorities are for your city.
This information is public and available on the council’s website. Even if it’s being finalised, or is in draft form, you generally get a good idea of what’s in the works from things like attachments to your Local Board’s meeting minutes and recordings.
If you’re focused on a particular part of town for the work you want to undertake, pay attention to how the plans for the locality feed into the overall strategic goals for the region. You don’t need to change your work to directly reflect these goals, but you would benefit from understanding where your work or project fits in the medium/long-term.
Your project might just be the first step council can see itself taking, along the way to achieving its long-term vision.
It’s easy to get frustrated at the sheer size of council organisations, and how they seem to move much more slowly than we would like in order to get things done. But the people working within each department are there because they have specialist skills, knowledge, and expertise that can support your efforts, making the work you do more meaningful, as well as respected in the field.
We always encourage teams within councils to make sure that building relationships is an objective for their projects, because partnerships are the glue that ensure changes will stick. And besides, the relationships you enter into should be a positive aspect of doing your community work. Remember- and respect- that you’re on the same side.
Being part of a team with an abundance of passion but lack of authority can feel like trying to hold up a world of expectations, tangly bureaucratic processes, and people’s energy to get things done. And it usually results in burnout, which is ultimately detrimental to achieving anything.
Ensuring you’re able to stay involved in a community project means not consistently overcommitting, or saying yes to every request; instead it requires thoughtful consideration of what is within your control and what just isn’t.
Asking if an idea, plan, or task is necessary will save you time and energy scrambling in the long run, and it requires both sides of the partnership to commit to doing their due diligence.
Looking after yourself and setting clear boundaries about what you can do, and what’s within the council’s capacity to make happen, is necessary to maintain your energy, and ultimately your enthusiasm for the project.
This adage from ‘corporate-speak’ happens to also be found frequently in social work, a field that might seem unexpected when so much of the work depends on keeping faith in those you work with, no matter what. Reminding yourself ‘not to work harder than the client’ may sound counter-intuitive, but the phrase actually resonates strongly in the social sector because it enables passionate people to know when to conserve their own energy. It stops us from burning bright and fast, and enables us instead to be in it for the long haul.