It can be incredibly valuable to read up, share knowledge and get training on techniques like consensus decision making, facilitating meetings, dealing with conflict in groups and creative planning. These techniques and skills can help provide a constructive environment which can contribute to the following:
- Keeping decision making and decision making forums inclusive
- Helping meetings stay productive
- Quick decision making
- Getting consensus in large groups
- Warm up activities or techniques to break through blocks in meetings
- Dealing with difficult issues
- Effective questioning and active listening
The Seeds for Change website has some excellent resources on these techniques. http://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/free/resources
Am I in the right meeting?
It‟s vital to be clear about the remit of your group or groups. There is nothing worse than feeling as if you are in the wrong meeting. You may also find yourself in a situation where you feel that the remit of your group is too large. This may become clear if there are a lot of
diverse issues and projects to discuss and make decisions on.
As a precursor to the Green Zone project, the housing association and residents started to discuss issues to do with energy saving and sustainability in great detail. At this point, it made sense to start a sub-group of the Tenants and Residents group (TARA) which met
separately. This meant that people who were particularly interested in the details of sustainability did not have to deal with the day-to-day issues of the estate and vice versa.
Meetings vs more informal forums
Organising is about more than just making decisions in meetings. It is about communication, getting feedback and getting things done. With the Green Zone project we faced a challenge of reaching and working with people who did not regularly attend meetings. At the beginning
of the project we tried to get everyone to turn up to more formal meetings and give them a more informal structure. This was met with resistance from some who saw the value in a more structured approach to keep things moving forward and make clear decisions.
After this setback we found different forums to allow us to work with people who did not usually attend meetings. These took a variety of forms including: garden work days, email
discussion lists, skills workshops, community events, meals, film and radio events and project open-planning sessions. These, and others, are discussed in the community participation section.
How much of a say do you really have?
If you are a tenant group, try to find out what power you have over decisions that are to be made or if you just have an advisory role. There may be financial, planning restrictions, time factors or other limitations that affect what is possible. It is good to make sure that what you are asking for is realistic.
If you want to be taken seriously and be treated equally it will be important to do research, make decisions and give feedback within a given time scale and budget. If you do not feel that you are being given enough information about time scale and budgets you should point
this out early on. No one really wants projects to drag on. There is a danger that unless you are clear about what you can and can‟t do, and what information you need to complete your project, that you will appear a bit ‘flaky’ or unreliable in the eyes of the housing association or other partners you are working with.
Some tips on increasing your voice as tenants
Your housing association has a legal duty to make the final decision on everything that happens on your estate. But there may be ways you can increase the influence of the voice of your group. Some of the following suggestions may increase the power of your advisory role:
- Work with the regeneration team of housing association to help them complete their obligations concerning tenant involvement
- Point out that non-compliance to controversial plans may make life more difficult and expensive for your housing association
- Adopt less formal ways of organising if traditional meetings are a barrier which holds you back
Lessons we learned
There are many skills and resources that can be shared to improve organising
- It’s important to be clear about the remit of groups and meetings
- Trying to make the tone of meetings more informal may be met with resistance
- It is possible to organise in less formal forums than meetings
- Groups need to be clear about what information they need to make decisions early on
- It is possible to increase your voice within your housing association
- Spontaneous, targeted, informal gatherings on the ground can be very powerful and inclusive