Out of adversity and challenge, innovation. At the recent LGPro conference in Melbourne I had the pleasure of speaking with the graduates of the Brimbank Community Leadership Program.
Here was a Council that had failed its residents to the extent that the Council was placed into administration and the relationship with residents and ratepayers had to be rebuilt. There were no elected Councillors. The challenge was how could Council earn the trust of its people, identify community leaders, and facilitate their input into Council's activities at all levels. What they did was quite interesting, and I believe quite successful...
Admitting the problem was clearly a start. Council decided to put together a training program to impart leadership skills to potential community leaders and provide in-depth knowledge of Council systems and people. The program has been through a few years now. The first graduates were more drawn from recognised organisations, but the current crop of graduates speaking at the session were interested individuals. People who saw the ad, and wanted to make a difference. They were from a variety of cultural backgrounds and ages.
But how does an individual become a leader? Answers to this varied.
- Some wore badges so that people could start a conversation out in the community about things that worried them;
- Some started a small group using rooms provided by Council and leveraging off events Council might be holding that had some traction for them;
- Some were contacted directly by people needing help (perhaps because there were no Councillors);
- Some became involved with other groups over time even though they put their hand up to serve as an individual in the first case; and
- Some weighed in on issues that came up that interested them simply because they knew how things worked, who to contact, what might be done to help.
While the role of these community leaders was a bit like that of a Councillor, there was an important shift. Here Council was trying to help the community solve its own problems. It was not just inviting complaint, it was inviting engagement. This is actually a much better use of scarce public resources, if you think about it. There was even one case where Council staff took an idea developed with the community and fashioned it into a submission for State Government for funding, something that the community alone probably could not have done.
Now Brimbank is an outer metro Council. I live in a regional area myself (City of Shoalhaven) where people have a real sense of community and communities. I had to ask - would this model translate to urban high rise communities? The panel had no hesitation in answering YES. Community gardens, community focus - here's an idea that travels. How's that for DIY innovation? I was utterly impressed.