In this third article I suggest how a community can choose collectively the best projects to fulfill its own vision.

Blog summary so far.

In the first article (Winners and losers in the community stakes, 4th Feb 2019) I described how communities need to reassert their independence and set about creating their own vision for their future and to avoid drifting from one project application to another.

In the second article (Letting communities think for themselves, 16th Feb 2019) I describe how a community can set about a process of asking of itself powerful questions, coming up with fearless answers and getting the whole community behind one fresh vision.

Now in this third article in a five-part series I suggest how a community can chose collectively the best projects to fulfill its own vision.

Lots of people, lots of themes, lots of projects

How do you make sure everyone has a say? How do you prioritise which are most important projects? How do you get as many people as possible engaged in action so that it is not just down to a few people. At the initial community gathering people may have identified as many as 70 projects. So how do get from there to a prioritised plan of action?

Form groups around key themes

From the previous session (See my previous blog on “Letting communities think for themselves”) your group will have identified various themes that reflect the vision of its community. These themes can typically include tourism, social interaction, young people, enterprise, environment infrastructure, population and so on.

Before your 70 people turn up for their next session, place one theme on each table.  Then ask people as they arrive to choose the table where the topic there is of most interest to them. For instance a group may converge on one table having projects under the broad banner of “environment.” Another group may converge on a table with projects under the “population” theme.

Defining projects properly

Now ask each group to come up with projects that will realise the theme for their table. This should be a free brainstorm without limiting what people suggest. So each theme could have at least a dozen projects each.  They will need to identify:

  • What the project will achieve, especially in relation to the vision?
  • How does it work?
  • Who in the community will carry it out?
  • Which supports (in broad terms) are needed to make it happen?
  • When might it start and finish?

To do this the group might want to reconvene over the coming weeks and work out the basic answers to the questions above. These initial questions can act as a means to “weeding out” projects that have no hope of happening. If someone has a great idea but there are no one volunteering to do it then it is off the table for now but may well be a longer-term aspiration.

Working inside your group’s capacity

Suppose a group choses a theme such as attracting additional housing and population.  The local group need not waste its time dealing with this directly. Instead it can focus its energy far more effectively by joining with other groups in seeking a change of policy in this area by e.g. lobbying legislators. I like to see communities address broader policy issues as well as local projects, since very often existing policies are blocking the growth that communities need in critical areas. In groups which I facilitate we often create a “policy” group which will lobby for a range of policies.

How to begin prioritising projects

One way to prioritise projects simply and fairly is to get groups to score each project from 1 to 10 on:

  1. How they rate the IMPACT of the project in achieving the vision (10 being highest impact and 1 being lowest impact) and
  2. How they rate the EASE by which the project can be implemented (10 being easiest and 1 being most difficult)

For instance a project to dredge the Shannon may have a high economic impact score of 10 but ease of implementation might be a low 1, thus giving it a score of 11.  A project to repaint/redecorate every building in the village may get 8 for impact on visual attractiveness and 9 for ease of implementation, giving it a total score of 17.  The repainting is likely to get done first while the dredging of the Shannon may be a long-term initiative.

Now re-convene and let each group share its priorities.  This action helps the wider group to Identify areas of overlap or cross-fertilisation.

Applying the LIAM rule to key priorities

When it comes to choosing the top priorities I always a rule with initials the same as my name, so I can remember it!! – The LIAM rule.

L: Legal

Make sure the project is legal, that it has legal title and is not contravening legislation in planning or other areas.

I: Investment

Make sure the investment is viable, that you can raise matching funding, that it does not lead to an unaffordable ongoing financial burden and that the investment is focused on the core objective you want to achieve. Be careful of large energy sapping capital projects and encourage people to get something started right away that keeps everyone engaged and motivated together.

A: Agreement

Make sure it is a project that has the strong agreement of the entire community and that it is not the hobby horse for a small elite group.

M: Management

Make sure you have the capacity not just to set up the project but to manage its operations for many years to come.

Getting total community agreement

Write up the results the projects, share with the whole community and give everyone time to respond. You are now well on the way to achieving:

  • A broad consensus around the vision and projects that your community will unite behind
  • New volunteers and better leadership in your community
  • A stronger atmosphere of trust.

The community is now ready to move to the next stage of implementation.