Funder by the Department of Human Services Auspiced by Our Community

Help Sheet

The community environment

Your group wants to survive, to grow, and to serve your immediate community. In order to do these things you need to be able to accurately describe who you are and be aware of the broader community's resources.

You'll also need to know who your own immediate community is. This is the group of people who benefit from your activities.

Your immediate community might be quite narrow, such as youth under 25 who have experienced homelessness and been diagnosed with 'mental illness', or all people who identify as having used mental health services and like to sing.

Or, your defined community might be quite broad; for example, all people who identify as having used mental health services.

Or, your community might be completely 'undefined' because your group is open to anyone.

Before you start out to change the world, you'll need to know

Separate help sheets are provided on each of these three processes, but some introductory information is provided below.

Community assets

Groups often start up because of having found what's wrong or missing with our community, its deficits. Yet it's also possible to focus on our assets and strengths - discovering what our community has. Why? Because those assets and strengths can be used to improve community life.

Community resources, or community assets, are people, places, or organisations that can be used to help achieve your group or initiative's goals. The benefit of going through the process of assessing all of your community assets is to provide a better framework within which your group can operate.

As well as identifying areas of strength, it will also identify areas where you need to do more work or can grow into.

Your 'audit' will bring together a 'database' that is useful for you and perhaps other agencies, in which case you can use it to strengthen your alliances.

You don't have to come up with a typed list, or a report in a glossy cover; the important thing is that you have the relevant contact details in your mailing lists, and that where necessary you've set up arrangements to collaborate.

Each time you make contact with another person, group or organisation, it's an opportunity to explain and advertise the existence of your own group, as well as learning about another group. This is a form of community engagement and learning exchange.

The most important thing in developing a community assets register is to be flexible and open to new suggestions. You're looking for people who can help you, and one of the ways in which they can help you is to lead you in new directions towards things you hadn't thought of.

Listen to what people are saying, respond to their input, and be prepared to change. The best outcome for an audit of this type is that new possibilities and new projects are taken up, and in that case it's the new activities that are the true record of the search project.

A community assets register can be used for purposes as diverse as:

Community needs assessment

After a community audit and development of a community assets register comes a community needs assessment.

The goals of your group will be set by the interplay between what you can provide and the needs of your immediate community.

Once you've gone through the processes of identifying and understanding who in the broader community is an asset or resource, you're in a position to work out how these assets and resources will help to serve the needs of your immediate community.

You may think you know your immediate community's needs. You may even be right. Nevertheless, you must still consult the community first to find out what it wants - and you must do this genuinely, with a mind open to change.

What your immediate community wants may not always be the same as what it needs - your job may be to persuade it that it has needs it hadn't turned its mind to - and if there are large differences between wants and needs you need to know about that, too.

You may decide to change your direction, or you may decide to spend more energy on community education, but you must establish a clear link between your goals and the goals of the people you want to involve.

Finding out what your community says it needs is incredibly important because unless there are common goals, you may be unable to gain committed and motivated volunteers, you may lack your community's commitment, and you will have little support from potential funders and stakeholders.

Once you know what's needed, you have to look around for people who can help you get from here to there.

Identifying agents of change

When doing work in your community, the first thing to decide is what is the issue or problem you want to address. Whether you're a small, informal mutual support group or you're trying to create an awareness campaign about human rights, it's your group's reason for being; it's what you're all about.

But you and your group are not alone. There are people who can benefit and people who can help. That is, there are people for whom your initiative has things to offer and people from whom you can learn and get assistance. We need to be clear about who will benefit from our activities. And knowing just who these people are is an important step.

Your group or initiative is trying to reach people with the help of agents of change. You'll need to develop a plan to make sure you've found everyone who can benefit from what you're doing and everyone who can help, and not just the most obvious candidates.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? And it is. It's just a question of being clear, complete, and making sure you look at every angle.



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