masthead abstract illustrative image

Positivity is nothing without action: My experiences of leadership in Litherland, Merseyside




…… there seems to be a common theme of me writing my blogs while contemplating things sat on the train. I am coming back from the Participatory Budgeting Event that we held at Hugh Baird College in Litherland, Merseyside. I reflected that this may be the final time that I am going to see my new friends from Litherland community and neighbourhood policing team. During my journey learning about Participatory Budgeting (see more here – ) I was in the middle of reading a fascinating paper covering the ‘Stockdale Paradox’(Oettingen 2014), and the content made me reflect on my experiences at Litherland. It will take me too long to talk you through the whole content, but the key principle is that Positivity is nothing without action’.

I have some great memories of my working in this part of Merseyside, but if I’m honest it has not been all plain sailing and I would like to reflect on the different approaches.

Let me go back to the beginning … training for a strength-based process, such as a World Café (see more here –, is a structured programme that requires the participants to attend all, or at least most, of the different stages. It also requires leadership to demonstrate a positive approach.

The leadership is not just about senior people making decisions it is also about individuals taking ownership as we run through the programme. The positive approach is not about people being consistently cheerful (that can be really annoying) – it is much more complex than that. The Stockdale Paradox talks through the fact that life is tough, and you need to be realistic about the challenges in front of you, and you have to take responsibility and deal with them.

Our difficulty in planning the World Café was that we seemed to have different people at every training event and then what appeared to be a withdrawal of support by the partners.  Beset with communication issues and a desire from a group of voluntary organisations to use the World Café as a ‘drop in’ process, it was decided to use focus groups to listen to the view of residents in relation to serious and organised crime.  This decision worked well.  The focus groups shared experiences and insights that helped shape the subsequent Participatory Budgeting programme.

This was something of a phoenix from the ashes moment as we then began to develop the PB process with an incredible core of ten to fifteen Litherland residents (most of whom had attended the focus groups), and staff from the Litherland neighbourhood team.

As the PB programme began to take shape, we saw a real emphasis on shared leadership, with both the community and police volunteering to undertake tasks to ensure that we had an effective PB process that met the requirements of the community and the police team.  At this stage there was an abundance of leadership and positive thinking as they dealt with everything that was thrown at them; the difference between the approaches to the World Café planning and the PB planning was tangible. 

The Linking Litherland PB event took place on 3rdAugust 2019.  Here are the headlines. 

  • A total of 28 bids totalling just under £36,000 were received (there was £20,000 available)
  • 200 people attended the PB event
  • 15 community projects aimed at protecting vulnerable people from serious and organised crime were funded
  • Throughout the event networks and connections were being created
  • Groups connected with groups, people with people and all under the banner of Linking Litherland
  • The feedback was fantastic with the community asking for further events of a similar nature
  • There was a great deal of positivity towards the neighbourhood police team

There are still some real challenges in Litherland but after the ‘Linking Litherland’ PB event it felt like a small watershed moment for that community. They overcame the problems, they took responsibility, they made all the decisions and I left Litherland with the most uplifting feeling that will stay with me.

The power of positivity? This should not be underestimated.  The positivity shown by the PB community steering group was exceptional, as was that from the neighbourhood policing team. 

However, I am left wondering what else could have been achieved if the partners in Litherland had also engaged in the programme?  Going back to Oettingen, there was a clear missed opportunity on their part to demonstrate positivity and action.

Written by Brian Roberts BSc (Hons)
August 2019