for developing a
Community Relations Plan
for District Councils
It is very important when drawing up a Community Relations Plan for your District Council to establish a context for your work. This can be done in a variety of ways.
Using research, audits, studies, census information, published information on your District Council area. Much information already exists on issues such as areas of geographical polarisation, levels of sectarian violence and CR issues particular to your area. Often you will not need to carry out new research. Gather as much relevant existing information as you can then extract the sections in it that are relevant to your work and use this to begin forming your background. Always ensure that the information you are using is as up to date as possible.
Read the Capita report again and extract the information relevant to you. Also look at current practice in the community relations field. Contact Community Relations Council, INCORE, DENI, District Partnerships, Centre for the Study of Conflict and talk to other Community Relations Officers about their work. Find out as much as you can about what other people are doing and how this could be useful to you.
There are several Internet websites established outlining community relations practice. If you have access to the Internet, you may find these useful. For further information on this, contact the Community Relations Council Information Centre. They can arrange for you to access the Internet.
It would also be useful to conduct a local consultation; this can be as big or small as you wish.
It is good practice to ensure that the work you do and the work you intend to do meets the needs of the user groups/stakeholders you work with and also those with whom you do not currently work. This is a central theme of the new ‘best value’ documentation which local government in Northern Ireland is currently considering.
Your consultation could take the form of focus group meetings. Getting together key individuals who have taken part in your programme to assess their views of the programme to date and their ideas for future developments should prove useful. It may also be useful to have a focus group with individuals you would like to work with in the future, in order to find Out ways in which you could co-operate. It is important that these groups are properly facilitated. If you wish to facilitate the group yourself, ensure that you have another person present to support you and document the discussion. If you use an outside facilitator, ensure that they are experienced in facilitating community relations discussions and that they are clear about your desired outcomes from the focus group meeting. Community Relations Officers could co-operate and conduct focus groups in each others’ areas. Alternatively you could have individual discussions with key stakeholders in your area, or distribute a questionnaire for them to answer to give you detailed information about your programme and their ideas for future development.
You should then review your current program, perhaps by doing a SWOT analysis (see Appendix 1, Diagram A). This should enable you to decide which areas of your current work need prioritising and which need reviewing for their usefulness in light of your research.
Once you have collated all the necessary background information, you should consider the top ten issues identified in the Capita report and other CR issues identified by your Council as important areas to address. These might include:
A more detailed explanation of some of these issues is listed in Appendix 2.
When developing your background/context for your work you will wish to reach decisions as to which of these (or perhaps other issues) take highest priority and require addressing with regard to your Council. You might then focus on between six and eight key issues and use these as headings in your plan. These will then also become the headings under which your budget will be summarised.
It is also important to identify your stakeholder groups and potential partners for collaborative work, how their work affects your work, and how you will relate to them.
‘The needs of Councils and the requirement to engage specific client groups is considered deliberately at the planning stage and documented clearly within their CR plans’
Some potential stakeholders mentioned in the Capita report were churches, District Partnerships, community and voluntary groups, business organisations, the Council itself, etc. Other stakeholders could include economic development groups, enterprise agencies, DENI, etc. This list is in no way exhaustive. You will be much more aware of your stakeholders than anyone else.
At this stage you may wish to do a stakeholder analysis to identify who are your key players, who you need to keep satisfied, who you need to keep informed and with whom you need to expend minimum effort (see Appendix 1, Diagram B).
It is important not only to identify potential partner organisations but also to outline how you will relate to these groups and the nature of your relationship with them.
A stakeholder is:
'...any person or organisation that can place a claim on another organisation’s attention, resources, or output, or is affected by that Output?
In the context of everything examined so far in your background, it is also important to consider internal and external work, as mentioned in the Capita report (see Appendix 3).
Based on the research you have done so far, it should now be possible to highlight the internal and external work required in your District Council to form the basis of your CR plan.
This information does not all have to go into your plan. It simply gives you a rationale for choosing to work in the way you do. The background section in your plan should be no longer than three A4 pages and should summarise the findings of your research.
Your background should be a rationale for your new plan
The idea of having a mission is so that you can have a short memorable statement that conveys a sense of what it is you are trying to achieve. Your mission should be compatible with the corporate mission of your Council and CCRU’s strategic objective of promoting a more ‘equitable society’. You may also wish to take account of the mission suggested in the Capita report to represent the work of CCRU with District Councils.
‘To support individual Councils to meet their respective corporate aims through increasing mutual respect and understanding for all sections of the community and through its work helping constituents to acknowledge their interdependence’
Developing a mission statement often requires a certain degree of inspiration and creativity. It may be useful to write down all the words you think need to be in your mission, then prioritise these into the top seven and try to work these into a phrase. It is also suggested that you consult your line manager, colleagues, chief executive and councillors where possible, to ensure entire Council ownership of your mission.
Some examples of existing mission/vision statements are:
‘Taking a leading role in addressing communal divisions in Northern Ireland’
‘To provide the framework within which the best use is made of the resources available to the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland in pursuit of Government policies and objectives, for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.’
Do not get stuck initially with trying to come up with the precise wording of a mission statement. You can start by jotting down the main elements you feel should go into it and carry on with your plan, returning to your mission statement later. By this stage, you should have a clearer idea as to how it could best be articulated.
When setting out the aims of your programme, you must be careful to ensure that they meet with the Government’s aims for community relations:
You will also wish to ensure that your aims tie in with any relevant Council aims which may be outlined in your own Council Corporate Strategy.
Aims should be kept fairly broad and general. They should contain themes such as cross-community contact, mutual understanding, cultural traditions, equity, diversity, interdependence, evaluation, information, support and partnership.
It is best not to have too many aims. There may be difficulty in coping with more than five.
Examples of other organisations’ aims:
Community Relations Council (Strategic Plan 1998-2001)
Western Routes Project
Multi-Cultural Resource Centre
This section of your report is one of the most crucial. It outlines clearly how you are going to meet your aims. It identifies who you will work with, what issues you intend to focus on, and how you will carry out your work. Your objectives should also reflect the internal and external work suggested in the Capita report. It may also be possible in this section to begin to outline desired outcomes or performance indicators for your work along with target dates.
Objectives should be SM.A.R.T.:
Examples of objectives of other organisations are:
Community Relations Council (Strategic Plan 1998-2001)
CCRU Support and Development Officers Plan 1998-1999
Sports Council Northern Ireland Sports Development Fact-sheet (Model Strategies)
Belfast City Council Corporate Plan 1998 - 2002 Strategic Objectives
On Civic Leadership
5. Action/Operational Plan
5. Action/Operational Plan
You could also include a rough breakdown of person/days to be spent on each project. This may help you be realistic in the amount of projects you take on and also to have a clear agenda from which to work.
Your operational plan should also contain targets/performance indicators for each objective. These can be quantitative, qualitative or both.
At this stage, Councils are being asked to determine their own performance indicators for their CR objectives. In other words, what should be measured in order to assess the success of each project and its contribution towards the objective(s) concerned?
In due course CCRU will be seeking to develop an agreed set of performance indicators and baselines which can be applied across the whole District Council Programme. However, this is a complex matter, which will require more detailed study and research.
The following advice is taken from the Sports Council Northern Ireland Sports Development Fact-sheet:
Although this advice was given for the production of work plans for District Council Sports Development Officers, it can also be applied to the production of Action/Operational plans for the Community Relations Officers of District Councils.
The following is an example of how a Community Relations Plan could structured:
This is only one of the ways in which your plan could be laid out. It will be important that work can be easily reviewed quarterly and for this reason to use a table format may be useful.
This section in your plan should outline how you plan to monitor and evaluate your work during the year 1999-2000.
This is the means whereby you will know if you have been successful in terms of your investments or interventions, designed for improving community relations in your District Council area. It is therefore a very important section in your plan.
There is currently a monitoring process in place for the DCCRP and you should include in your plan how you will incorporate this as part of your work e.g. fill in and return monitoring forms annually, complete monitoring forms quarterly and submit at quarterly review meetings, join monitoring review group to look at ways of improving monitoring of the programme, devise an additional, local monitoring process useful to the development of your individual Council plan.
Whatever you decide to do in terms of monitoring, you must include provision for monitoring in your plan.
It is normal CCRU practice to have the DCCRP as a whole evaluated every three years in connection with ministerial discussions on its extension and further funding. The development of more clearly defined aims, objectives and performance indicators will facilitate this process. However, individual Councils will no doubt also wish to carry out their own evaluations to assess the impact of CR work carried Out locally and to review CR plans. You should outline in your plan how you will be evaluating your work.
Evaluation involves checking the progress of activities to decide whether they are doing what they set out to do, and finding out about the wider effects the work has had. When evaluating, it is also important to note other outside factors likely to have had an effect.
Evaluation can be carried out at different times in the life of a piece of work/programme.
A useful reference when thinking about evaluation is ‘Measuring Community Development in Northern Ireland - a handbook for practitioners ‘,produced by the Voluntary Activity Unit.
CCRU also recommend that Councils have a monitoring and evaluation process in place for groups in receipt of grant aid. You may do this via questionnaire, telephone or face to face interview. You could use the current evaluation form used by Community Relations Council’s Small Grants Schemes as a model.
‘Setting Objectives and Performance Measures’
‘Strategy Business Case’
‘Telling the Story of CR and the Role of Europe through the PSEP Sub-programme (1994-1999)’
‘Into the Mainstream’
‘Developing a Strategic Plan’
‘Best Value Guidelines’
‘Sports Development Fact-sheet’
‘Sports Development in Northern Ireland’
‘Sports Development Officer Initiative - Progress and Lessons Learned’
‘Appraisal and Evaluation in Central Government’
‘Corporate Plan 1998 -2002’
Diagram A: SWOT Analysis
Diagram B: Identifying Key Stakeholders
Appendix 2: CR Issues
Appendix 3: Proposed structure of Council Community Relations Plan
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