The Effectiveness of LBBD’s Community Engagement Strategies
Even before the Localism Act 2011 made community engagement a statutory obligation, involving residents in social housing management had already been earmarked as a best practice. Housing managers had already realised that the level of satisfaction is higher when residents have a say in how, when and where they receive services (Audit Commission 2004; Robinson, 2009). As a result, most of the social housing managers and policy makers have designed various strategies to ensure the resident’s have a say in the way services are designed and delivered. The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham (LBBD) has provided avenues to ensure that residents influence decisions on the management of their homes. Some of these avenues include Tenant and Resident Associations, Estate Representatives, Steering Groups, The Tenants’ Federation, Housing Forums and the Borough Wide Community Engagement and Consultation forum. While these are plausible avenues, it is always important to investigate whether they are living up to their expectation which is to provide avenues for residents to participate in designing and delivery of services.
2.0 Purpose of the Study
Community engagement is one of the three main priorities of LBBD. The council has realised that to transform people’s life, they must be involved in making decision in the development and management of the places they call home. In its 2012-2017 housing strategy, the council has lined a number of developmental activities including regeneration, new housing supply, estate renewal, tackling tenancy fraud and locality management. All this activities can be fruitful if the council has the best framework to engage local people.
The purpose of this study therefore is to investigate whether the strategies employed by LBBD to encourage resident participation are effective. The LBBD has carried various surveys to determine the satisfaction levels of residents, but there is none that has been carried to show to what extent community participation contribute to resident’s satisfaction in the borough. It is only after such an assessment that the borough can realign its community engagement strategies with best practices. In addition, a research into the effectiveness of the council’s engagement strategies will help in designing a community engagement toolkit that can guide staff, partners and other interested parties.
Researching on the effectiveness of community engagement study is important especially at this particular time when social housing has taken a business approach to provision of houses. Tenants are now treated as customers of the council. Like in a business setting, it is important to carry out research to determine the preferences and aspiration of the customers. In the social housing, customer preferences can be known when their views are taken on board before new services are rolled out. There is so much benefits that the council can gain if it manages to bring all resident on board. The council is responsible for repairs and maintenance of houses, rent collection, dealing with anti-social behaviours, allocation, regeneration and designing and construction of new houses. Collaborating with residents on all these areas and other indirect services the council is involved in has more chances of improving resident’s satisfaction. The audience of this study will be elected councillors and senior management since they are the policy makers of the council.
3.0 Importance of Research in Planning and Providing Services to the community
The purpose of research is to produce information that can be acted upon outside the research setting (Miles and Huberman, 1994). The outcome of a research is important in guiding a policy direction. Most of researches are geared towards finding the solution to a problem. This is why enumerating recommendation on how a particular problem can be solved is considered a commendable achievement. In the housing sector, for instance, research yields the required information that can be used to plan ahead and improve resident’s quality of life. It is also used to assess the community needs, and the best way to fulfil those needs. Community engagement, in this case, is a response to resident protest that they were not being involved.
4.0 Stages in the Research Study
(i) Aim of the Project
The aim of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of the strategies used by the borough to encourage residents to participate in decision making.
(ii) The Importance of the findings and conclusion to the audience
The finding and the conclusion of the study will help the housing managers and elected councillors to understand whether they are achieving their goal of community engagement. If there will be any weakness identified, the study will recommend the best approaches to residents participation.
(iii) Collecting all the information
The information to be used in this research will be collected among the tenants of LBBD.
(iv) Interpreting the finding of the research
In this section, the study will put the gathered information into perspective. The result of the research will be weighed against the expectation or considered in line with the original goals of the research.
(v) Writing up the Project and disseminating it to the intended audience
The project will be written in the best method that the elected councillors and housing managers can understand
(vi) Deciding which method to use in order to meet the aims of the project
This study will choose between the primary research method and the secondary research method. It will also choose between quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.
5.0 Literature Review
Community engagement is widely researched concept. It is a concept used in all public service delivery. Some of the literature has focused in explaining the concept of community engagement which is used interchangeably with other concept such as “involvement” and participation (Taylor, 2003; Taylor, 2006; Churchill, 2008). Although community engagement may describe a range of activities in different fields, in the housing sector, as Barnes et al (2008) notes, it means involving the local community in designing and delivery of services.
Initially, the concept was advocated by professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Housing and organisations such as Joseph Rowntree Foundation as a best practice to improve public service delivery. The government in 2011 made community engagement a statutory obligation through the enactment of the Localism Act 2011. While enacting the law, the government noted that part of the challenges to public service delivery was a top-down approach that alienated communities from decision making. This problem, according to the government had led public to oppose development. As a result, the government enacted the law to make it a duty of the public authorities, including local authorities, to involve the public in the design and delivery of services.
The Localism Act empowers local communities to take responsibility for public service delivery through a Neighbourhood Plan or to initiate development themselves through a Community Right to Build (Communities and Local Government, 2012). Failure to engage the public in service delivery and development now contravenes the Localism Act. Most of the local authorities now have development strategies to ensure that they conform to the law. The act is outcome of various government reports to decentralise power and decision making. Some of the government White Papers such as the Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power and Strong and prosperous communities shows how the need to legislate on community engagement developed. Through several regulations, the government has set the principles and goals of community engagement (DCLG 2006; DCLG 2007)
But even before the enactment of the Localism Act, social landlords had already appreciated community engagement as one of the best practices. Through the advocacy of the housing professional body, CIH, and borrowing from private sector, housing managers had already incorporated the concept in service delivery. The CIH has come up with what is considered as good practice in community engagement. According to the practice, which is more or less the same as the spectrum in the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), the goal of the public participation should be to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. It will be interesting to investigate how the LBBD community engagement process conforms to this internationally acclaimed goal. Most of local authorities in England have also developed community engagement guidelines (Lyons, 2007; Herefordshire Council 2014). The research will look at several of them with an aim of deriving the common themes in community engagement processes.
The Lister and John and Thornley (2008) have discussed the critical success factors in engaging with residents which include getting Known, understanding each neighbourhood, sharing power, sharing information, building commitment, reaching the non-joiners, developing residents confidence and capacity, aiming for lasting change, being realistic and having clear limits. Other literatures have focused in challenges faced in decentralising the decision making power (Taylor, 2003; Blake et al 2008, Tanner, 2008).Blake et al (2008) explore the challenges that public authorities face in designing an inclusive community engagement framework in the face of fluid communities. Such literature will be crucial in checking the realities of coming up with an effective community engagement strategy.
6.0 Research Methodology
The research will collect primary data and use a qualitative research methodology (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000).
6.1 Why Primary Research
In studying the effectiveness of community engagement strategies used by LBBD, it is better to collect data from the actual residents. It is only the response from the council tenants that can be able to tell whether the avenues provided for engagement help them to participate in the decision making process. In addition, whether the residents feel engaged in the running of the delivery of the services is really a local problem and there might be no or little secondary data to support this research. The disadvantage of this method is that it is involving and requires a lot of skills especially in designing questionnaires.
6.2 Why Qualitative research
The study in question is purely descriptive. it is the best to explore a phenomena rather than quantitative research is could have been preferred where the study was to confirm hypotheses about a phenomena.
One of the important advantages of qualitative research is flexibility. Most of the questions in qualitative research are open-ended (Ritchie and Lewis 2003). This flexibility allows the researcher greater spontaneity and adaptation while dealing with the respondent. For this reason, qualitative research is more preferable in this study since it will allow resident to register their feelings on how the borough engages them in service delivery. Such flexibility will also allow the respondents to suggest the best ways in which the borough can effectively engage them in development. This is unlike in a quantitative method where the questions are mostly “cross-ended”.
In addition, the “open-ended” structure allows for deeper probing and gives the respondents a chance to answer the question in their own words. This means that the qualitative method will allow the topic of study (community engagement) to be examined in detail and in depth. The data gained from this approach, is therefore likely to be more powerful and compelling than a data that could be obtained from a quantitative research (Berg, 2006). Qualitative research will capture the real feelings of the resident about the effectiveness of community engagement.
With about 20, 000 council properties, LBBD manage one of the largest housing stocks in London. This expansive field may make the collection of data and its subsequent analysis difficult and time consuming. Due to this challenge, it is logical that this researcher will rely on small sample. This means that the findings from the sample cannot be said to be adequate representation of the entire population.
7.0 Ethical Considerations
Some of the ethical issues that will be taken into consideration in this research include:
(i) Do no harm to the participant: It is better to discontinue a research that may end up harming the respondent (Anderson and Taylor, 2009).
(ii) Privacy and anonymity: the privacy of all those who will participate in the research will be guaranteed.
(iii) Confidentiality: any information obtained from participant will be treated as confidential.
(iv) Informed consent: No participant will be coerced or tricked to participate. The researcher will take all measures to ensure that the participants understand the nature of the research to enable them make an informed choice.
(v) The researcher shall ensure that the environment surrounding this research is trustworthy
(vi) Intrusiveness: in this research, the researcher commits not to excessively intrude into the lives and the residents of the participants.
(vii) Although the outcome of this research may not yield any monetary benefits, the participants will benefit from improved avenues for community engagement.
(viii) In the interpretation of the data, the researcher shall divorce biasness and misstatements.
8.0 Results Analysis
The result of the research will move from content analysis to thematic analysis (Weber, RP 1990; Miles and Huberman, 1994). The content analysis, as Holsti (1968) observed will allow inferences to be systematically made and any special characteristics of the messages be objectively identified.
The main method of analysis, however, will be thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006, p.79). Thematic analysis, in this study will be used to encode qualitative information (Boyatzis 1998). In line with international standards of community engagement, there are themes that will recur in this study. Such themes include informing, consulting, involving, collaborating and empowerment. Thematic approach will analyse these themes in line with the qualitative information obtained from the study. Some of factors cited by CIH (2012) as critical for the success of community engagement such as getting Known, understanding each neighbourhood, sharing power, sharing information, building commitment, reaching the non-joiners, developing residents confidence and capacity, aiming for lasting change, being realistic and having clear limits will be analysed in line with the information gathered.
9.0 Evaluation of the Whole Project
Carrying out a research to investigate the effectiveness of LBBD’s community engagement strategies is both timely and important. Since community engagement is one of the three main priorities of the borough, coming up with information that can improve the functionality of the community engagement toolkit will go a long way in improving the quality of services delivered to the resident. In addition, some of the best practices likely to emerge from this research can as well be adopted by other local authorities.
The strength of this research is that it will rely on primary data. This will make sure that the outcome of the study resonates with the actual status of the residents. The data gathered from this approach will be recent and real. The qualitative research methodology adopted by this study will help in capturing the actual feeling on the ground. For instance, if the community engagement avenues available in the borough are exclusive, the study will unearth the reason for exclusion and the best way involve all the residents in service delivery.
The downside of the research is that collecting primary data within such an expansive borough will be involving. This reality, coupled with the research choice of qualitative method will be expensive, involving and time consuming. Nonetheless, such approach is necessary to improve the quality of the research outcome.
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