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  • Author or Editor: Sue Briggs x
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Self-evaluation is founded on the principle that we want to characterise our work by the quality of what we do and that self-evaluation helps us to know whether this quality is, indeed, present. It is also important for keeping ourselves on track and avoiding getting lost in the paperwork of every day, at the expense of what we should be doing as our main professional purpose. It is a process of checking our quality and purpose, and leads to identifying outcomes for our community work so that we can then evaluate it. In this chapter we focus on a systematic framework for self-evaluation that builds a baseline for reflection. This kind of framework may not exist where you work, but the principles still apply. A framework for self-evaluation provides a safety net that prevents us from falling into self-delusion. It allows us to stop and check what we do and ensure good, effective work. The backbone of effective self-evaluation is the morale of staff; it depends on morale and, indeed, increases morale. This morale increase is a product of the awareness of the community worker of what exactly is working and what can be done to improve practice. It is an affirmation of their practice. A system of self-evaluation is very important for providing consistency and checks and balances about what is being done in professional practice, and a framework for self-evaluation in a team or across a profession can provide consistency of language and a common agreed purpose for the work.

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This opening chapter focuses on the importance of professional learning in keeping practice on track, fulfilling and of a high quality. We introduce the impact of collaborative writing on our own learning as a driver in this publication and introduce the inseparable nature of practice and theory in the world of community work. Our intent is to underscore professional learning as something which is lifelong and beyond the walls of establishment experiences, and we voice the importance of the workplace and those we work with in our own development. Practitioner quotes and case studies illustrate key messages throughout, and we leave the reader with a set of challenge questions, some principles for practice and a simple tool to support further reflection on the chapter’s content.

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This chapter opens with a practitioner quote emphasising that arts approaches can open doors for people in a transformative way. The authors follow this thread through and build on it with strong images of change for individuals and communities and references to creative and arts-focused interventions. We reflect on activism in communities, stimulated through arts engagement, make the links between community development and culture, arts and health improvement, and harness important writing through our references. Building relationships is highlighted as essential to community work practice in general and is raised in the context of this chapter along with potential challenges of funding and policy realities in the world of community arts. Our case studies reflect international experiences and frequently reference empowerment leading to social change.

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Who are the leaders when we talk about community work practice – and where are they? This was the starting point for this chapter, leading to a wide exploration across interesting terrain with an emergent focus on leadership courage and values in action. The reader will find practical case studies and the voice of practitioners as leaders in uncertain times as the role of leadership – as distinct from management – becomes more critical. The valuable role of community leaders is unpicked through the chapter in parallel with the practice of those operating in organisational community work settings. We look more closely at leadership under the headings of agile transformation, design thinking and digital transformation as we face a rapidly changing field of work and seek to prepare our workforce skills in tune with this. We uncover an emphasis on team and collective decision making within a context of both individual responsibility and leadership requirements. Our challenge questions and principles for practice provide support for reflection in this regard, accepting that we are all leaders at times.

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A female community worker, Marion, is interested in who participates in her town’s community centres. She consults the organisation’s management information system (MIS) and discovers that her perceptions and suspicions of gender bias are accurate. The participants are 78% female and over the age of 65. She decides to run some dads’ groups that target younger men with school-age children. In this example, a community worker has used an MIS for needs analysis to confirm what was originally just suspicion. An MIS may be characterised as a repository for key information that helps an organisation keep itself on track. It is a secure and safe way used by organisations to record the personal information of clients, participants or service users. The word management is often considered to be a noun in the MIS phrase; it implies that the system is for a particular group of people – managers. We suggest it should be a verb and is a system about the process of management for all people in an organisation. The information a system retains is most often quantitative and most often electronic, though not necessarily so. Paper systems do exist and often MISs act as a repository for some qualitative information, such as qualitative evaluation findings or records of progress/achievement. It is referred to as a system because it implies a wide coverage of information and a comprehensive approach to gathering information. In short, it does not work if there are holes in it, a topic we return to later in this chapter.

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Theory into Practice

Written by community workers from diverse contexts, this highly accessible guide equips practitioners and students working in a range of community settings to make the best use of theory in their work. The book focuses on the hope, excitement and possibilities that contemporary theory brings to practice and is essential reading for all those concerned with social justice, inclusion and equality.

Drawing on voices from across the world, influential thinking, both old and new, is applied to the practice that underpins work with individuals, groups and communities. The book will inform and enhance practice for a wide range of students and professionals working in community contexts such as community development, adult education, youth work, community health and social work.

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Prominent throughout this book has been social justice and the need to challenge neoliberalism. One takeaway thought is that we all need to be political. Being political is not easy and we do a disservice to our communities if we do not engage with theory and make the links. To support this work, we need community workers who are brave and politically engaged themselves. This is a profession that asks a lot of us. Our work is about identifying needs, co-designing programmes of learning, reducing barriers and addressing power imbalances. To understand why what we do matters, as community workers we need empathy, something which arguably cannot be taught. The work we do is complex and we are frequently asked to step outside our comfort zone and engage across differences. The work we do is demanding as we seek to engage with communities at times and in places that reduce the barriers for them; can be heart-breaking as we see the discrimination faced by the communities we serve and the trauma that they carry with them; it is sometimes risky and we often find ourselves working against the desired outcome of our employer or funder. But the work we do is rewarding and life changing for the communities we serve and for us as workers.

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This introduction describes the target audience for the book. The book is intended for community workers – professionals working in many different disciplines; working, for example, in practice linked to adult learning, youth work and community development, in the disciplines of health, social work, planning, environment and education. It is intended for people at all stages of practice, be they students, more experienced colleagues or leaders in their field. We have chosen to produce a wide-ranging text to introduce theory across a broad scope and field of practice. Our purpose is to stimulate interest across the profession in using theory and linking it to practice. This attention to a field of practice has resulted in a choice of theorists to include in this book, which is somewhat idiosyncratic. We have selected largely ideas to discuss rather than theorists to present and have tried to choose authors who we consider to be or who are becoming significant to the field.

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How to Gather Evidence

This book provides essential guidance for professionals and pre-qualifying students on how to gather and generate evidence of the impact of projects in the community.

Including case studies from diverse community settings, it provides easy to implement, practical ideas and examples of methods to demonstrate the impact of community work.

Considering not only evaluation, but also the complex processes of evidence gathering, it will help all those involved with work in the community to demonstrate the impact and value of their work. The book provides:

  • guidance for how to present different findings to different audiences;

  • methods for effectively demonstrating the value of your work;

  • how to demonstrate the scale, quality and significance of impact.

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We have sought in this book to introduce approaches and methods practitioners can use to show the impact of what they do. The book has focused on community workers, but the greatest challenge we face as practitioners lies in recognition of the profession in which we work, which concerns us collectively, not individually. Increasingly in times of austerity, it is the developmental work embracing community work that is easy to cut in the short term, as it often has a longitudinal impact rather than meeting goals in political timescales of a short number of years. Working to show the effectiveness of individual projects does contribute to the overall esteem in which the profession is held, but we should also consider how we can foster esteem in other ways. A starting point is to consider the change we wish to make in the way which the profession is valued. We consider that this change lies in convincing people of the values that underpin what we do and the value of the principles that govern the ways that we work. Working towards the wellbeing of the individual and community are at the core of our work and this brings together community workers from all disciplines. This provides a basis for cross-sectoral strength. The principles that underpin our work are also shared and provide a platform for cooperation across professions. The problem, if we accept that there is a problem, is that the approach is not well understood and we ourselves seem to find it difficult to communicate exactly what we do.

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