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.