England & Wales, Scotland Communities and society, Personal and organisational development

Using Participatory Appraisal to build community involvement

Image by Brian Merrill from Pixabay

PA is an holistic approach used to enable people to present, share and analyse their knowledge of life and conditions, to allow them to plan and act in their own community and it allows you, the facilitator, to design a whole approach from the consultation to the project development in a simple style that lets everyone play a part.

The need to consult your communities will not change but the money or the amount of staff to deliver consultation has, meaning you need to think smart about the methods you use. It’s easy to send out a questionnaire or to buy in consultations to deliver an ‘off the shelf’ package, but is that really money well spent and more importantly, has it given you the results you needed or reached a wide demographic?Probably not.

So what is different about PA?

Firstly PA is a visual method of consulting that gives you the tools to consult a wide audience of different ages, abilities and backgrounds. It is hands on and needs to be delivered face to face so the officer is reaching communities and building active relationships. Volunteers can be trained to deliver it and as we all know, community champions know their own communities better than anyone.

PA can be used to consult on a single issue but it can also be a framework for project development, volunteer training, co-production and community capacity building; it’s that flexible.

But PA has something special that no other form of consultation has. It allows the user to not only find out about residents’ priorities, but it also, uniquely, allows the user to find solutions to those issues using local knowledge and experiences to unpick problems. On top of this, it lets you to include the community in the way forward and that is essential in keeping policy ideas real and active in our communities.

Suddenly your process of consultation has changed the way you are also working and empowering your community, making them part of the way forward and helping them to understand the issues you face as officers. Consultation can lead to participation and also co-production, developing a way forward together.

So why is this important and why not carry on the same way?

Empowering residents can change behaviour and enlisting support for that change can only be done when service providers and volunteers in communities come together. In my experience, huge improvements can be made and public money saved. PA gives you the tools you need to start on this path.

This is a tried-and-tested method of bringing together residents and public authorities to radically improve a community. When trusted, involved and part of the process and when language is understood, people become more involved in helping delivery by becoming the eyes and ears of the partner organisations. Instead of residents being the passive and often hostile recipients of services, they become active partners. Community champions are often the best way to work within the heart of a community. Capacity building develops advocates who are able to support residents across the barriers local authorities face, including cultural and language differences, social media connections and young people’s needs.

Additionally it is often not just residents who don’t know the roles of local services. Stakeholders and different departments can also be unaware and joint approaches provide the opportunity
to stock-take and inform across partnerships.

As a non-statutory service, community engagement funding has all but been wiped out. Yet experience proves that neighbour intervention can significantly reduce public expenditure through prevention and sharing. A prerequisite is an active, critical group of residents. If there isn’t one in an area, the process of developing a PA project creates one. The public do respond. And, you have to have faith in people.

From a small step in training officers to work in the style of PA a whole new and exciting way of working can evolve. PA can change not only the roles for communities but help to turn residents into advocates by redesigning how you consult. Working with communities should be rewarding and meaningful and not just ‘something we do’.

Our next Participatory Appraisal seminar is on 31st March.

Find out more about other LGiU learning and development events.

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