These days we know that more and more people want to participate in things that are important to them – and there are many ways to do this. This could be simply helping a neighbour, leading a friends craft group, providing feedback on a project in their community, being part of a club, or giving time to help support their neighbours, community event or activity, or the environment.
The latter, which is generally referred to as ‘volunteering’, is an important part of in the fabric of Maribyrnong. More than 3000 community members give either their time or expertise to support community groups and non-profit organisations to deliver services for residents in our City.
Filling in surveys, or attending focus groups and workshops, is another form of participation that helps build stronger communities.
In June 2022, Council adopted its People and Participation Strategy, which looks at ways Council can reframe how it supports, develops and empowers its community to build this social capital through a culture of active participation in community life.
This document specifically references the need to strengthen partnerships, build networks and connections, share knowledge and information, recognise, communicate, promote and celebrate the value and impact of volunteers and participation.
The document was informed by feedback from two community conversations.
The first in 2021 was designed to help understand your experiences and your perspectives on contributing and participating, specifically through the traditional volunteering and leadership, noting the impacts also of COVID-19.
You highlighted a number of challenges:
- A lack of information about ways to participate and contribute
- Not enough free time and ongoing personal commitments
- A lack of systems and processes in place to ensure volunteer protection, and resources to recruit, train and manage people
- People no longer want to commit to long-term volunteering arrangements
- A ‘lack of community connections’ and ‘emotional stress’ during the pandemic.
We followed up this conversation in early 2022 seeking feedback on five key principles and seven priorities outlined in the draft People and Participation Strategy that were informed by the earlier feedback, along with information gathered from organisations and groups who rely on community members to support their service delivery.
Of the 70 responses received
- 62.7% voluntarily gave their time or expertise to a community group or organisation.
- 93.9% agreed Council can help break down some of the barriers to participation.
- 79% supported all key principles and
- 70% supported the key priorities
- 'Building Capacity' and 'Communication, Promotion and Celebration' were the most highly ranked
Many remain concerned at the risk of catching COVID from volunteering activities.
The Maribyrnong People Participation Strategy is underpinned by a community development and social justice framework that respects diversity, equity, people, place, and planet, and is guided by the following principles:
We build partnerships and networks that foster strong connections and supporting structures to enable knowledge and skills sharing. We provide the infrastructure backbone that supports ecosystems of participation to flourish.
We are responsive, adapting to the needs of the community, recognising that they are seeking more meaningful roles with greater flexibility and that participation happens across a spectrum and takes many forms.
We support place-based, community-led, and co-designed programs that cultivate a sense of reciprocity where community members influence decisions and pursue opportunities that align with their aspirations, ideas, capacity, and capabilities. We support opportunities for participation that are built around people not institutions.
We champion and celebrate the skills, expertise, and wisdom of our community, their strengths, aspirations, and the value of their contributions. We communicate, promote, and celebrate all forms of participation, raising awareness and acknowledging that voluntary actions take many forms.
We work with everyone and put intercultural and intergenerational perspectives at the heart of what we do. We work to remove barriers to particiatpion, to ensure opportunities are accessible and available to all in our diverse community. We support and encourage practices and opportunities that are inclusive, accessible, culturally aware, and safe.
Time willingly for the common good without financial gain, given outside an organisational setting.
Easy, 'bite-sized' activities that can be done anywhere, anytime, on an individual's own terms. E.g. counting birds in your garden for a research project, participating in a community clean-up day or weeding a community garden.
Activities that take place in whole or part online. E.g. singing an online petition, sharing a cause on social media.
Activities that are periodic or on a recurring basis, rather than ongoing. E.g. volunteering for a community planting day, to support a one-off community event, to participate and share expertise for a programmed activity.
Time willingly given for the common good without financial gain. Usually within an organisation and in a formal, ongoing role. E.g. volunteering for an organisation, club, or group. Usually involves a level of structure and management.
Includes activities where an organsiation supports staff to give their time, skills or support to another organisation during work or paid hours.
Attached to Council's Community Leadership programs, participants are enabled to pursue place-based projects that align with their aspirations and interests within an overarching theme. Strong connections with pathways into local leadership roles, and development of social enterprise.
Civic participation / active participation / participatory democracy
Where individuals participate in government decision making. Sometimes described as 'invited spaces' where community is asked to provide input or help make a decision but are not ultimately in control of the agenda. Can be instrumental in building trust and empowerment. E.g. being part of an advisory group, attending a Council meeting, participating in community engagement.
Acting in mutual support
Where individuals support each other outside structures of volunteering. E.g. helping a neighbour, friend, or family member, or helping a stranger.
Participating in group activities that help bring communities together. E.g. playing a team sport, being part of a band, being in a book club, or speaking up about a social issue.
Online or offline acitvities to mobilise support for a social, environmental, or political aim.
Online or offline effrorts to promote, direct, impede or intervene in social, political, or enviornmental reform.
- Enable place-based, community-led approaches.
- Support co-designed and collaborative opportunities that are flexible and adaptable.
- Support and implement asset-based community development approaches.
- Support the community to address local needs and self-organise.
- Recognition that pathways to participation are not equal. Work to remove barriers to participation.
- Recognise and invest in our community leaders.
- Engage harder to reach groups (First Nations communities, CALD groups, young people, people with disability) and address and remove barriers to participation.
- Encourage practices and opportunities that are inclusive, accessible, culturally aware, and safe.
- Design opportunities around people not institutions.
- Boost the volunteering sector through capacity building activities in partnership with peak bodies, other levels of government, the community, and private sectors.
- Be a champion for change.
- Support VIO's through training, council officer and in-kind support.
- Support VIO's to match opportunities to new technologies.
Foster an ecosystem
- Strengthen networks and partnerships with the community and volunteer sector.
- Link the work of the Maribyrnong People Participation Strategy across Council departments to avoid siloing and increase collaboration.
- Leverage Council's extensive connections and comprehensive understanding of local communities.
- Provide access to Council facilities e.g. indoor spaces within Council facilities (community centres, libraries) and outdoor spaces (community gardens) to create informal volunteering and participation opportunities.
Communication, promotion, and celebration
- Share information and opportunities to participate.
- Communicate, promote and celebrate all types of participation, the informal and formal.
- Recognise and value the skill and expertise in the community.
- Recognition, promotion, and celebration to raise the profiles of these who participate and the contribution they make to the community.
Knowledge sharing and evaluation
- Undertake deeper localised research into formal volunteering in Maribyrnong.
- Monitor how key principles and new practices are embedded.
- Act as a central point for knowledge sharing in collaboration with VIO's and VRC's.
Community Leadership programming
The Community Leadership Programming is an essential part of supporting a participation ecosystem. It supports place-based, community-led actions and allows community members to build competencies and a sense of agency around matters that are important to them.
Community Grants programming
Enact the four interlinks actions as per the recommended actions of the Community Grants program redesign:
- Embed community grant making into a community development approach.
- Integrate community grant making into the broader suite of support that is offered to community organisations.
- Develop an outcomes focused approach to community grant making with an explicit focus on identified organisational priorities.
- Utilise online platforms more effectively to streamline process and centralise administration.
With the climate emergency the issue of our age, and the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to effect communities locally and globally, better supporting a diversity of participation is key in helping the volunteer sector and communtiy to build resilience and prepardness for the challenges ahead.
A safe climate and healthy enviornment is one of Council's key objectives in the Council Plan 2021-25, pledging to work with our community to respond to climate emergency challenges. Community members, volunteers and community leaders will all be an essential part of the solution.
Council must act as the capacity builder and connector to support diverse ecosystems of particpation that enable agility, adaptability, and innovation.