Community Organising – Power is the ability to act

citizens ukThis is a guest post by Jon Smith.

I recently attended a course over six days run by Citizens UK (CUK).  My place on the course was kindly funded by Diocese of Chelmsford and OK’d by the Bishop of Colchester.  There were several other participants from the Diocese of Chelmsford area attending the course.  The Contextual Theology Centre in East London also has links to CUK and grew out of local churches in membership of Citizens UK.

From their stories it seems to me the CUK apporach is something churches in the Diocese are already using to connect better with their communities or to think about internal changes   And others in the Diocese are also looking at CUK’s approach.

From my perspective after looking at a number of approaches to doing good in communities, CUKs methodology is one that fits best with what I understand my faith to mean in terms of:

  • being relational;
  • being transparent;
  • helping those with less power to have a voice;
  • making leadership accessible to all;
  • being realistic about what can be achieved;
  • being focused on actions to achieve change rather than just relying on protest;
  • being canny in understanding that power needs to be gained to achieve the changes we want.


If you want to understand a bit more about CUKs methodology then read on …..

Over the six days the excellent trainers took us through Citizen UK’s approach to community organising and achieving changes for the common good.  Their approach is based on the premise that to achieve change you need power.  So they bring institutions like the church, educational institutions, mosques and other civic institutions together in Chapters and Alliances.

Currently most examples of actions by groups and institutions are in urban settings.  There are some in more rural contexts and I want to find out more about these.

20 to 40 institutions in a Chapter pay an annual fee and that pays for a Community Organiser.  Ideas for issues for action are put forward and representatives of each institution vote on which one they want to take forward.  Actions are planned and carried out to help citizens gain relational power as they interact with each other and with government and business.

Institutions support actions by getting their people to turnout to support them.  Actions aren’t random unplanned and angry protests.  In doing all this the institutions’ capacity is also enhanced.

The methodology can also be used internally within an institution to achieve change.

It seems to me that starting with actions to achieve internal institutional change will also develop that institution’s capacity and skills to achieve change using relational power.  In doing so the institution will be more practiced in the CUK approach when they come to working with others externally to achieve change.

My impression was that the methodology that CUK use is one that is continually evolving as they learn from their frequent evaluation and leadership development activities.  I’d guess that as they work with other institutions they also learn and add to their methodology language and approaches when such are useful.

There were a number of tools and models that I thought were very good and worth looking at.  These were:

Power Analysis – a way of understanding who has what power.  The state and business have power from organising money and people.  Citizens and institutions can have relational power, ( power with others, not over them ), by identifying their common shared self-interests and mobilising turnout to actions from their people.  Power is defined as the ability to act.

Stick person – a simple way of understanding your own self-interests.

1 on 1’s – relational conversations – a tool for understanding others self-interests, refining your understanding of your own, identifing common self-interests and building relational power.

Change focus – a focus on what issues people are angry or passionate about and the need to take realistic action to achieve that change – by creating relational power between citizens and with those who have positional power.

An Action Cycle – of research, action and evaluation – often proceeded with Listening Campaigns and House Meetings and supported by 1 on 1’s.

An example of an action I attended was the handing of  a letter to a senior police officer in Lewisham, London.  The letter asked him to urge other police officers at a national meeting to agree to misogyny being recorded as a hate crime.  The action was planned by school age young adults.

A brief description of an action – Around 50 of us gathered outside Lewisham Police Station for the handing over of a letter to a senior police officer.  There were banners and placards and school age young adults at the centre of the action.  They’d planned and organised the action in a week or so.  The police came out to see what was going on and said the crowd was one of the most diverse and friendliest they’d seen at a “protest” (which it wasn’t).

The young people told the assembled crowd about their experiences of misogyny and the change they wanted.  The senior police officer came out to receive the letter from the young people.  ITV London and press covered the event and there was a piece on that evenings London ITV news.  Follow the link to see the piece – its well worth a look to get a visual account of what an action looks like.

Afterwards in a circle on the street the young people evaluated how things had gone as we their supporters looked on.  I was mightly impressed with the courage of the young adults involved and the power of their stories and their collective leadership in organisng the action.

Collective Leadership – using activities and actions to develop leaders who will operate in a collective approach to leadership – this approach is accessible to all and transparent in its operation.

Story telling – sharing stories about themselves and about successful actions to develop relational power and spread good practice.


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