Management

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Effective management is not only of practical importance, ensuring the smooth running of your projects and related day-to-day activities, but also about enhancing morale and ensuring everyone involved has an enjoyable, rewarding and engaging experience. Managing people effectively will help to keep the momentum going and lower your turnover of core group members and volunteers, thereby unlocking the potential for achieving great things together as a team.

Click on the ideas below for practical suggestions and detailed case studies.

Information sharing

As well as communicating face-to-face at meetings, there are a variety of means for sharing information remotely within your core group and team of volunteers. Sharing information remotely is a good way to have the flexibility to ensure that a wide range of people can become engaged, as those with limited time available to meet in person are not prevented from being involved.


Some examples of information sharing tools include:


Video calls. Platforms such as Skype, Google Hangout or Omnijoin can allow you to use video calls or web conferencing for holding group meetings and catch ups. Using webcams and screen sharing features can be useful for giving demonstrations or presentations.


Scheduling events and meetings. Online tools such as Doodle polls enable easy scheduling of events and meetings by allowing those invited to the poll to state their availability or preferences for particular dates and times from a given range of options. This can save a lot of hassle and makes sure everyone has a chance to have their say.


Sharing documents. File storage and synchronisation services, such as Google Drive, can provide a single place where you can create, share, collaborate on and store your group’s documents and files. This can enable everyone to access relevant files, and settings can be put in place to allow everyone or certain people to edit and add to documents.


Mind mapping. Free online mind mapping software can provide a useful, creative and visual means for recording different people’s ideas and suggestions.


Contact details. Keeping your core group and volunteers’ contact details on record is a good idea, not only for keeping in touch, but also in case of an emergency. Keeping a record of different people’s interests and areas of expertise can also help with utilising the skills you have available.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Southend in Transition use a range of online tools to facilitate the work of their core group. They hold weekly video call meetings using Google Hangouts to allow group members to feedback on progress, plan future activities, and research and take forward their ideas together. They use Doodle polls to schedule their meetings and work days at their community allotment, and all the group’s files and documents are stored on a shared Google Drive, so that everything is in one place and everyone can access them. Mind42 free online mind mapping software is also used to allow members to feed into the future vision of the group and contribute ideas for new activities and future opportunities.

Training

Ensuring your core group and volunteers have enough information about their role and are properly trained is key to ensure they perform effectively and get the most out of the experience. This can enable more effective engagement by helping to build a common message, sense of purpose and shared understanding of what the group is trying to achieve and what the priorities are.


Internal vs external training providers


Training provided by group members. Training sessions run by your group, for your group make good use of the knowledge and skills already present and available. To help identify possible opportunities, it is worth keeping a record of your core group and volunteers’ skills and areas of expertise – this could be a question on a form that is filled out when someone initially joins the group, for instance.


Training provided by the community. Members of the wider community may also have relevant skills or expertise and be willing to run a training session or workshop for your group. The benefits of this approach are two-way: increasing the group’s community connections, and providing the trainer with the opportunity to develop their training skills while supporting a local project.


Training provided externally. Training sessions run by external training providers can be useful to offer outside perspective and expertise in areas that are not within your group or community’s skillset. While external training is likely to involve additional costs, it may be possible to negotiate a free or discounted session if you arrange it through a community connection or with an organisation that is sympathetic to your project’s aims. Some possible sources of resources and support relating to community action include Seeds for Change and The Change Agency.


Types of training to consider


Before deciding on training topics to offer, it is worth appealing to the group to find out what is needed, where gaps exist and the skills people are most interested in developing. Ask the group what they want and encourage them to contribute suggestions and to look out for opportunities.


Ideas for types of training include:


Inductions. Inductions give new people the opportunity to ask questions and helps to ensure they are able to carry out their role effectively and have an idea of what to expect. Inductions can simply involve introductions to other team members, an explanation of their role and how the group works, and bringing them up to speed with where the project is at. There may be other special considerations that need to be communicated about particular projects, such as relating to health and safety. Inductions are also a good opportunity to record information when people join the team – consider developing a standard form to be filled out to record contact details and relevant skills and interests.


Hard skills training. Hard skills training is likely to be most relevant when there are specific technical tasks, operational actions or systems and procedures to follow in order to carry out a particular role. This could relate to provision of technical advice, customer service, accounting procedures, volunteer management, project management, use of equipment or marketing tools.


Soft skills training. Soft skills that are specifically relevant for community engagement include verbal and non-verbal communication styles, building relationships, awareness and empathy. Soft skills are also central for developing behaviours that support effective project delivery – skills such as leadership, teamwork, problem solving and inspiring and motivating others will all help to improve the working of your group and to achieve the aims of your project.

Case Studies
Country: UK

The Big Lemon recognise that in order to provide the best possible service, the drivers of their community bus service need to receive appropriate training. Training is used as an opportunity to develop customer service skills and to instil the values of the business into the team. When providing training on customer service, they emphasise the importance of making eye contact with customers, greeting everyone when they get on the bus and acknowledging them when they leave. They also seek to motivate the team by reminding drivers about the bigger picture that their work is contributing to – the drivers may think they are simply driving up and down the same road all day, but what they are actually doing is providing a vital public service, contributing to the local economy, reducing congestion and pollution, giving hundreds of people a pleasurable experience, and developing the company’s expertise. Training is offered on a regular basis in order to keep people up to date on new procedures and to provide feedback on work, and efforts are made to tailor support to meet the varying needs of the team.

Source: Community-Led Transport Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Transition Town Totnes recognised early on that while people were coming forward to form and manage different sub-groups, they didn’t always have the relevant skills to do so. They therefore decided to offer training sessions on facilitation and designing successful meetings. They organised a day with Andy Langford and Liora Adler from Gaia University on the subject of Designing Productive Meetings. This introduced them to tools such as ‘Go-rounds’ and ‘Think and Listens’. ‘Go-rounds’ involve giving each person the opportunity at the start of the meeting to feedback on what has been happening since the last meeting, how they are currently feeling and to put forward agenda items. ‘Think and Listens’ involve spending five minutes talking and five minutes listening with a partner on a particular topic.

Country: UK

Southend in Transition regularly use informal skill shares for their core group members to learn different skills from each other. They have found this to be particularly useful when new members join the group in order to introduce them to their projects and the tools they use to manage them. Skills shared have included writing WordPress blogs and using Google Docs, and usually take the form of casual meetings over coffee at a café or in the comfort of a group member's home.

Country: UK

Buckinghamshire Community Energy Champions received training from the National Energy Foundation, an independent charity working to improve the use of energy in buildings, to help them deliver thermal imaging initiatives in their local community. The group wanted to use thermal imaging as a tool to engage more people in energy issues – by converting infrared radiation (heat loss from a property) into a visible colour palette, they could show householders where heat, and therefore their money is leaking away from their home.

The training sessions involved three key aspects:

1. Options for running the project: pros and cons of undertaking pre-booked surveys and engaging the householder there and then, vs. undertaking surveys and inviting householders to a public feedback session at the end of the project.

2. How to use the camera: important parameters to consider and atmospheric conditions required to take the perfect image.

3. Interpretation of resulting images and running public feedback events: this was a key section, as many Champions and community groups didn’t feel confident in advising the public. With input from Champions and the National Energy Foundation, a briefing sheet was produced to help guide people through the available help, including available financial assistance for energy-efficiency improvements.

The public feedback sessions proved highly effective for a number of reasons:

• A ‘buzz’ was created in the room, with residents talking to each other about their results.

• Running a feedback event created the opportunity for local installers, councils and advice organisations to have information stands around the room.

• Advertisement of the event resulted in additional requests for surveys, and some households signed up for a future survey so that they could see if planned improvements from their recommendations did result in improvements.

Well-being and motivation

Running a community project is exhilarating, but also involves a lot of hard work. Supporting your core group and volunteers and preventing burnout is essential to maintain momentum and peoples’ motivation.


Some ideas for promoting the well-being and motivation of your core group and volunteers include:


Training and guidance. Providing training and guidance for your core group and volunteers to ensure they fully understand their role and how they contribute towards achieving the aims of the project is important. It is difficult to feel motivated when you aren’t sure what you are supposed to be doing, and providing clarity on this can make all the difference, enabling people to take ownership of their role. Helping people settle into new roles through basic familiarisation is also a good idea.


Feedback and support. Core group members and volunteers will feel more valued and motivated if their efforts get noticed, so pay attention and express your appreciation, even for the little things – it only takes a second to say thank you! This can also help to identify areas for improvement or where someone would benefit from more support.


Tap into motivations. Find out why volunteers are giving up their free time to help with the project. By tapping into these motivations and meeting the needs identified, it can improve their experience and encourage other people to become involved.


Managing expectations and agreeing objectives. Having agreed aims and objectives for the group can help to manage expectations and creates a common goal for the group to work towards. This is best carried out at an early stage (the earlier any differences are ironed out the better!) and can be achieved through discussions during a meeting or workshop, with the outcomes being summarised into an informal document, or more formally through drawing up an official document, such as a constitution.


Social activities. Social activities provide an important balance with project planning meetings and the practical day-to-day running of your project. Social activities can either be incorporated into ongoing activities, such as group meetings, or organised as separate standalone events.


Celebrating achievements. Celebrating achievements, no matter how small, is key for maintaining motivation within the group.


Opportunities for new people. Opportunities for new people to become involved can enable a steady stream of new ideas, insights from fresh eyes and participation from a wider range of people in the community. This could be achieved through specific agreed rules such as one third of the management group must retire every year or nobody can stay on the management group for more than three years.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Transition Town Lewes have agreed principles and aims which guide the way they work. On their website their core purpose is stated as “to mobilise and facilitate community action in order to respond effectively and positively to climate change and peak oil”. Their work towards this core purpose is guided by a range of principles which include working together, having a non-hierarchical structure, trusting one another, welcoming diversity and pursuing things they enjoy (amongst others).

Country: UK

Transition Town Totnes offers mentoring and support to promote the individual resilience of those working on its projects. It offers Time to Breathe, a weekly stress-relieving meditation group, and free support to all those involved through its Mentoring Project and Complementary Therapies. Feedback from those who have used the scheme suggests that Transition Mentoring is hugely appreciated, both as a personal support and in enabling participants to be even more effective in their work on their projects. All Transition coaches are trained and experiences professionals and choose to contribute their time and skills to TTT free of charge. Transition Town Totnes also has a Transition Support Group which meets regularly to provide mutual support, using a Co-Counselling format, looking at both the challenges we encounter in our work, and the deeper challenges of how to not let our fears and despair over climate change and environmental damage get in the way of us being active in the world.

Country: UK

Southend in Transition start their weekly meetings with everyone feeding back on how their weeks have been. This helps the group to provide mutual support and to gain an understanding of the pressures each member is currently under, enabling sympathetic distribution of responsibilities. The group also always ensures there is a social element to every core group meeting through organising a bring and share meal, and holds monthly Transition Drinks in a local pub for anyone interested to attend.