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A journey of a 1000 miles, starts with a single step…

It was 2016. The bare school sports hall was harshly lit with neon tube lighting, flickering occasionally on the few people present who were sat, perched on uncomfortably low chairs; those chairs seemed huge when I was a kid. Conversation was stilted. Despite my repeated outline of reduced staff against a backdrop of austerity budgets and ever more competing demands.  “What you doing to sort X, Y and Z?” the room demanded, interspersed with, “while you’re at it, “what about A, B and C too?”  There were more questions than I had answers. I hated Community Forums (CF).

It is 2018. The room was comfortable, subtle lighting, air-con, adult chairs. There were tablecloths, pens, even sweets. The room was full. The people engaged. I was nervous, but something seemed different. Conversation was lively, discussion brisk, despite there being only three questions. I thought to myself; I can see the paradigm shift Andrew Fisher, the chap with the funny accent, had asked me to read about. The desire from the room was “what can we do to help ourselves,” interspersed with, “well I know someone who can help with that”. Social capital was real after all, tangible, I could see it being built, linked, and structured, in front of my eyes. I love a World Café.

I’d be wrong to say I didn’t have misgivings about all this, prior to starting, however this journey with MutualiLearn [MutualGain’s on line learning platform], to support a paradigm shift in the way I conduct public service engagement, has been interesting and exciting.

The CF model of engagement I was used to, I realise now, featured lower on Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969). The CF offered no opportunity for any shared decision making or shared responsibility to take place. I realise now it was not true engagement.

In learning about this, and for example reading issues highlighted in, “Are you telling or listening to your community? “ available online at MutualGain, I’ve gained valuable insight into the principles of what the real objective of engagement is and what it can achieve. I’ve made a key change from “telling”, to “listening and influencing”. Through my journey, I’ve found it is that “true engagement”, in strength based approaches like a World Café, which ignites citizen empowerment and builds on social capital.

This massive paradigm shift is seen in the simple 2016 and 2018 examples above. Having experienced this first hand, I’m now an advocate. It is my responsibility to bring my colleagues along with me on this journey into the new world, leading by example, assisting in their paradigm shift.

My journey is not complete. No doubt my feet will hurt in the many miles I have ahead. But the fact is my journey has begun. I am not in the place I was and the scenery is already different. With the map of MutualGain training in place, I hope I will stay on course and reach the final destination.

Written by Sgt David Skelhorn, West Midlands Police

Reproduced with kind permission of West Midlands Police