Goals 2014: 3 Questions To Help Manage Community First Panel Legacies

Community First Money

What Community First Funding Meant To One Ward In Year 1 And 2

Are you familiar with the concept of a Community First panel? 

If the answer is, ‘No’, here’s a brief explanation from my perspective, as a former panel chair.

‘Community First’ is the government’s neighbourhood improvement programme, running in England between 2012 and 2015.  The programme’s goal is to make funding available via a residents’ panel to not-for-profit organisations.  Those organisations will improve the quality of life in disadvantaged wards.

I think this approach could actually form the blue print for a future government wanting to devolve additional voluntary funding down to local communities via resident led panels.  That will depend on the panels functioning effectively, like the best project teams do.  The panels will still require thoughtful leadership and the input of skilled and confident volunteers.  Their legacy will involve changing the face of their neighbourhood.  A little work is necessary now to help make that legacy possible.

What are the panels doing at the moment?

As I write this post, residents‘ panels are deciding which local projects should receive a share of the final year of funding starting from April 2014.  The clock is ticking though, as panels need to submit their decisions to the government’s key delivery partner (the Community Development Foundation or CDF) by the end of March.

Local panels are a key part of the community based process, while other bodies have an overview of the bigger picture:  CDF is one of those bodies; Ipsos Mori the market research company is too, having evaluated the programme’s outcomes last year; the Young Foundation  is also an external partner supporting panels’ learning processes.

Which questions can the panel answer to help produce better future results?

Any project can benefit from holding a lessons learned exercise.  This exercise can provide valuable information to be used the next time similar work is commissioned.  I think the Young Foundation should encourage the panels to hold such an exercise and provide the answers to three questions this year.  This action forms a key part of the process of securing Community First’s panel legacy:

  • Which of the panel’s skills produced the bulk of the panel’s results?
  • What skills did the panel lack?
  • How could the panel produce even better results for their community if funding was available after 2015?

Answers to those questions should build up a picture of how panels produced good quality timely results, in a tough financial climate, and with limited volunteer resources.  Knowledge or skills gaps can then be filled by coaching or by mentoring.  Mapping that legacy now will also be invaluable if better results are expected from similar panels, by a future government.

Where can I find more information?

You can see some tweets about the programme from CDF, panels, and funded projects on Twitter if you use he #commfirst hashtag.

Click on the Podcasts tab above to listen to some questions you can answer to help you lead a panel (or a voluntary project) more easily.

Feel free to check out the Archive section for more thoughts on work and life goals.  There are further ideas relating to your work and life goals on Facebook and Google+ too

‘What Do We Want…?’

English: Lord Nat Wei, Government Adviser for ...

English: Lord Nat Wei, Government Adviser for Big Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been volunteering, in different contexts, for more than a decade.  I do that to change the neighbourhood I live in, for the better.

Back in the old days making change happen used to involve pressing the state for action: ‘What do we want [fill in the blank]…When do we want it? Now!’

Times have changed and the state has aspirations to enable outcomes through the Big SocietyPower is in the being placed in the hands of communities, which notionally makes it easier for change to come about from the grass roots.

Now that the pressure on peoples’ discretionary time is great, and available resources are few, volunteering is a challenging activity.  I think having a clear volunteering goal is probably going to help one’s focus on delivery.

For instance this year I know that my voluntary actions are going to entail:

– working with others to ensure my apartment building is cleaner, safer and better maintained

– collaborating with residents to allocate charity funding to local projects in a fair and timely way

– chairing a diverse group of community stakeholders to influence policing priorities

– helping other volunteers to develop their capacity to produce event better results

Having clarity over those  areas means I can channel my energies accordingly.  I think the more narrowly defined one’s goal – as long as it is realistic – then the easier it is to attain.

On a national scale I really like the simplicity of the goal reached by one successful Welsh volunteer body.  Knowing that you are going to protect an area of rainforest ‘the size of Wales’ puts everything nicely into perspective.


I am pretty glad though that I am not devoting time to the role of school governor.  Those post holders seem to be receiving criticism over the quality of their outputs from Sir Michael Wilshaw, who is head of the school inspection body Ofsted.

From what I remember of contacts with governors they are not glory seekers, just people dedicated to improving the standards at the local schools they work with.  How demoralising Sir Michael’s criticisms must seem.  Hopefully governor numbers won’t decline as a result of the feedback.  Difficult to see how that Big Society outcome can prosper in a negative climate.


Sign Of The Times

self-esteem, groups and hate

self-esteem, groups and hate (Photo credit: Will Lion)

Blogging about personal development in a time of austerity is highlighting some powerful contrasts and connections.

On one hand there are young – and not so young – people who are motivated high achievers (like the former Olympian Rebecca Adlington or footballer Robbie Rogers I have recently blogged about) who are confident of their own ability to make choices which allow for self-development.

On the other hand there are people not in education employment or training (the so called Neets) or offenders like those documented by commercial television living in Her Majesty’s Prison Aylesbury.




Their lives and those of youth not (yet) involved in the criminal justice system are seemingly defined by low self- esteem, disengagement with / alienation from society, and perhaps adverse mental health outcomes.



Either cohort could be supported to develop better outcomes for themselves and those their lives touch.  The question is who should have the majority interest in providing that support?


Should it be central government policy which highlights the need to resource those people, and which provides such support directly (so young people’s energies are channelled into social rather than anti-social activity)?


Or should local communities come together, to make the most of central government Big Society funds, using their skills to deliver change in the lives of the least fortunate neighbourhoods?


I have led a Community First panel for 12 months and I will be reflecting on my Big Society experience in coming posts.  Meanwhile I am aware of the pressures on the potential pool of volunteers for those sort of projects (people with the skills, confidence and desire to help make change happen).


Proposed cutbacks on numbers of civil servants in the Education department seem counterproductive too.  After all, they and their peers in other departments are part of the pool of potential volunteers for Big Society activity.



Obviously there are major questions about the best route by which to reduce the fiscal deficit and balance national spending.  However there’s a question mark against the wisdom of leaving some under supported people entirely to the operation of volunteerism (where individuals delivering those outcomes may be under pressure to produce high level outcomes while being a little under prepared to so).


Maybe there is work to be done to increase the capacity of the voluntary sector to deliver better quality outcomes.  Doing that first may reduce the potential for further drains on health, welfare, education, and criminal justice resources further down the line.