Secret ingredient for community engagement: a slice of pie

The recent Pathways through Participation report highlighted how difficult it can be for councils and other official bodies to engage “the community”. Community is lots of different people, and they usually follow their enthusiasms rather than the prescription of policy makers, connecting around interests or concerns. As I wrote over here, it’s proving a challenge, for example, for those who want people to set up new local councils.
On the other hand, there are thousands of examples of people engaged in amazing local projects. The Transition Network has recently produced a set of ingredients to help projects develop – as I wrote here – with guidance on how people can create their own recipes.
Although a network like Transition can provide enormous support and inspiration, people powered change doesn’t necessarily need a cookbook … though as I found last week, tasty cooking can provide a good starter for community-related conversations.
Community kitchen
Over the past couple of years Tessy Britton and friends have developed the Social Spaces project, where food is a recurring theme. When Tessy set off to run a series of workshops around the country, it was as the Travelling Pantry. That has now evolved into the Community Kitchen.
In order to document and inspire more projects, Tessy and editors have created Hand Made books using the Blurb self-publishing system. As Tessy explains here, more editors volunteered, and there are scores more Community Lovers Guides in prospect.
I picked up the latest developments when I dropped in to the Changemakers Fayre at the new Westminster Hub  last week. There Tessy and Laura Billings had a simple yet effective recipe for engagement: a free piece of pie. Or even two. Tessy explained on the Thriving Too blog:

Our first thought was to shape an event that brought together some of the amazing people we know to share some of the research, strategies, and other transdisciplinary emergent community stuff our heads are currently immersed in.  Which of course would have been lovely… and we hope to be doing a lot of that sort of event in the coming months.
But instead we decided to do a PieLab event for the whole day on the 28th  – thanks to some bright thinking from Laura Billings.  This means that we will just to be hanging out at the Hub, sharing free pie and chatting to everyone that wants to pop by.
In all our workshops we talk about PieLab in Greensboro Alabama – one of our most inspiring projects. The Changemakers’ Fayre gives us an opportunity not only to talk about PieLab, publish books about PieLab … but to actually ‘do’ PieLab.

Over a hundred people turned up for a chat, and so rather than press Tessy for an interview on the spot I asked if she would provide an update afterwards on the Guides. Here it is:

Community Lover’s Guides – with over 35 local editors volunteered so far – are surfacing creative new-style community projects across the world. Not only are these stories inspirational, but they are revealing and sharing new knowledge being created at community level, by communities themselves, about how to develop successful projects.
Communities need to learn from one another about how to design whole-community change more strategically – rather than continue to start up projects which do not work collaboratively with other projects locally, which are undervalued by government or themselves (largely because they start need to start small), or that don’t get built upon in a strategic and developmental way.
Roughly 75% of organisational change efforts fail in their attempts to effect transformational whole-scale change. At community level we are only just starting to think about how we might measure the effects of people-led initiatives properly. At Social Spaces we are concerned not just with direct impact assessment and engagement numbers – but in the important multiple layers of effects (1st, 2nd and 3rd hand effects) these many projects have on very serious issues such as isolation, depression, youth offending and unemployment. The level of sophistication in our thinking that we need to start deploying is now urgent, if we are to understand how to co-produce our communities (rather than services), working in collaboration with local authorities and businesses. I feel that we all need to become much tougher on ourselves about how we support this essential level of collaboration, particularly how our policies and funding strategies encourage or harm collaboration at local level.
Projects and strategies largely don’t fail because of motivation – but they can and do fail because the knowhow about how to effect change strategically is emergent expertise at local level. This new knowhow needs to be recognised and disseminated into practical, working knowledge. Community Kitchen is our project which aims to to this. People living in all communities have the capacity to become ‘social designers’ – very many already are. With the help of hundreds of projects and editors, the Community Lover’s Guides are going to help this knowledge of how to do this successfully become more widespread- using their imaginations and assets – but also the emergent creative tools and methods available to communities today.

As you can see from Tessy’s description, change takes more than a piece of piece … but it’s a great place to start.

  1. 🙄
    Most community development comes down to free food and drink and self-interest……what serves me (and my community)…..
    Make mine a slice of pie 🙂

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