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The Top Five Skills Needed to Help Build Social Capital

The following blog was written by Ernie Hendricks, one of the learners on MutualiLearn.  The blog was submitted as part of his endeavours to achieve a level 4 qualification in Building Social Capital Through Community Engagement.

People have been asking about the community engagement work I’ve been doing. I figured I’d pen a quick note to let you all know how things are progressing. I’ve been involved in a World Café and taken part in an Appreciative Inquiry work-up with Durham police; this meant repping as a facilitator at a community visioning event, which went well.

I figured I’d start by reflecting on the top five skills I used to get me through the programmes.  For those who are thinking about a career in public service where you will need to ‘engage’ with the community as a responsive civil servant, read on!

  1. Be a good listener – this is tantamount; you need to be able to listen intently – most of the time, you’ll need to keep your own personal thoughts to yourself. You will also need to keep your eyes peeled –– read the room and be observant so you can be ready to respond to problems before they land.
  2. Be supportive – the community may need their ‘hands held’ while on their way to banking ‘social capital’ where they will, eventually, establish new social networks. It is important to be supportive of the delivery team too, it may be that the approach you are using is new to them, and success is dependent upon the trust they have in each other, but also on the approach you have chosen to deliver the desired outcome.
  3. Be aware – be sure not to bring your own values and assumptions to bear on the process. Remember, any conclusions have to be reached by the community if they are to feel truly empowered at the end of the process.
  4. Be good at planning – ensure you pick the right approach for the outcome you want to achieve. Like all good operatives, you will need to be punctual as well as being a good planner. Stick to your schedule, but remember the community is fluid, they might raise something that is important to them and you will need to give the subject matter some time, so be prepared to be flexible too!
  5. Be inclusive – you need to reach right into the corners of the communities you want to deal with; getting those who are ‘hard to reach’ to contribute to the end goal is where you find the true magic. Be empathic to their needs and concerns.

You will know you have been successful when the community opens up and begin to share their life experiences with you – something that can only be achieved through good quality engagement.

For example, one resident told me of having no confidence in the police because he had reported a neighbour for drug dealing; but when he could take it no more, he called 101. He became angry when the police arrested him, upon entering his home, for holding counterfeit DVDs. This incident, he stated, gave him zero confidence in the constabulary. Imagine my surprise to see, at the end of the visioning session, the same man shaking the hand of the local sergeant and telling him what a ‘great’ time he’d had; the first buds of social capital being demonstrated, perhaps?

Then there were the fabulous solutions the residents on our table suggested to tackle the drug dealing on the estate. Including a drug outreach worker, who could be hosted at the local church, to a small park or grassed area where the community could sit out with the  children; sound ideas I anticipate will be discussed at the Design phase, the next stage in the AI process.

So there it is, the top five skills required to support your local community in the building of social capital as demonstrated by myself in my endeavours to become an established engagement practitioner.

Remember, it’s about building webs of ‘connectivity’ between individuals and stakeholders – if you can achieve this, new ways of working will emerge based on consensus, built from the bottom up. This will, ultimately, lead to a well-positioned community who are much more ‘connected’ and involved in the development of social policy that affects them.

Published with kind permission of the author and West Midlands Police