Developing a new model of supporting community action

 Urban forum asks members for opinions on the way forward

 Developing a new model of supporting community action

For some time Urban Forum has been looking at ways that we can support greater collaboration between members and finding ways to enable connections to be made. Technological advances, particularly the growth of the internet and social media, offer new opportunities to achieve this that were not there even a decade ago. And while we recognise that social technology cannot replace essential network building that can only take place when people get together face to face, it can complement and enhance it.

Economic pressures are making it more important than ever that we find new ways to do things and are a catalyst for change. And Urban Forum, like the rest of the voluntary and community sector, is not immune to the impact of public spending cuts that are taking place. For the first time since the organisation was established we face the prospect of having no direct funding from central government to support our work. The way that organisations who provide support to community groups work, such as Urban Forum, has to change to reflect what is happening in the world around us.

We have been thinking about the best way to develop a new forward looking approach to how we work that recognises the pressures we face – both positive and negative. Like our members and the rest of the voluntary and community sector, public spending cuts present huge challenges in sustaining positive social action. We are determined to respond not by simply finding new ways to fund the things we have tended to do in the past, but by honestly questioning whether there are better ways to achieve our aims in the future.

We believe that the best way to support social action in communities and to genuinely empower the groups we work with, is to adopt a less centralised approach to how we work. Rather than employing a traditional model of support that concentrates power and capacity at the centre, we want to move to a more distributed network that recognises the capability and strengths throughout our membership. We recognise that this will only work if members can see value in playing a greater role in making things happen – actively contributing to designing and delivering activities. What this means in practice is an increased focus on:

  • Knowledge brokerage – facilitating groups to share learning and experience
  • Creative collaboration – supporting groups to make connections in order to do things together (that they couldn’t do on their own)
  • Amplification – enabling groups to have a stronger voice and influence over decision making through networking

We are starting to work out precisely what this means, but we can say for sure that it will involve doing some things we’ve not done before, ceasing to do other things and delivering other things in very different ways. For Urban Forum it also represents a way of ensuring the value and benefit of our knowledge and experience is sustained in a climate of reduced resources. Our staff capacity has been reduced to reflect the limited budget we have available to support our work and there is no immediate prospect of this situation improving in the near future. However we are trying to dedicate as much of our available time and effort to designing a new way forward for the organisation.

We know it is essential that our plans for the future reflect the interests, needs and ambitions of our members and we are keen to begin a conversation about how we can best support community groups to gain power, knowledge and influence in order to make a difference. To ensure our future plans reflect your views, we need to know what it is that you currently value about Urban Forum and how we can ensure these benefits are maintained in the future.

We want to members to question, debate, add, refine, challenge and contribute to developing our thinking.

  • You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page, give us a call or send us an email.
  • We’ve also drafted a more detailed discussion paper which expands on some of our ideas and the rationale behind them. This is an open document which you can edit or add your comments to, as well as being able to read the opinions of others.
  • We have also set up a blog specifically for discussing these plans – – where you can read more about our thinking or post a comment.

We are really keen to hear your views in whatever ways you want to share them. Our future will depend on your interests and ambitions and the commitment we are all prepared to make in order to create something positive for the future. Please do get involved in shaping the organisation’s future as it’s essential that what happens next reflects your needs and aspirations.