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Green Spaces Issue

Issue 10

Guidance Paper No. 10
Supporting representation within decision making structures
Black Environment Network Sep’04

A positive climate for ethnic inclusion

The Duty to Promote Race Equality is now in place. The trend within polic at the highest level continues to urge all organisations to make efforts to put into place the representation of the interests of ethnic communities in decision making processes, in particular on committees and advisory groups. In the near future, there will be an explosion of opportunities for socially excluded groups to participate in policy and decision making structures. Many green spaces aspire to respond to the needs of the local communities which they serve and will therefore wish to put into place. We need to address emergent problems now so that these groups can reap the full benefit of the opportunities.

A framework to enable the representation of socially excluded groups

The demand for representatives to come forward to take the first seats onsignificant committees and task forces have already begun. At the same time, the effect of a missing supporting framework that will enable such representatives to play a full role is obvious. Without the offer of support, only the most confident representatives will consent to attempt to blaze the trail.

The characteristics of socially excluded groups

Socially excluded groups, including ethnic groups, are as a whole by their nature not fully organised and represented by a range of constituted organisations. They are therefore often seen as “hard to reach”.
The organisations which exist aim to represent their issues and interests are in the main seen as ‘unfashionable’ causes. The result is that they are mostly chronically unstable as organisations : under-funded, overworked, under-staffed, and under-resourced.
The organisations which represent socially excluded groups are in constant touch with their clientele and are trusted. They are aware of current issues and opportunities for development.
The enduring organisations which represent socially excluded groups are however mostly outstanding. The individuals heading them and their staff are in the main highly motivated, idealistic, talented, and visionary.
The enduring organisations which represent socially excluded groups tend to be strategically small, and very focused in their aims. Their delivery usually stretches their staff to their limits.
Many socially excluded groups are minorities. The organisations which represent them are in even smaller numbers.

Issues arising out of the characteristics of organisations representing socially excluded groups

They are the key, the essential partners, to developments regarding the involvement of socially excluded groups.
They have particular developmental needs to begin to play an extensively resourced role re socially excluded groups because they are modelled in the survival mode.
They are so small and tightly staffed that to remove any member of staff consistently, say two to three days a month, has implications on the delivery of their normal programme of work.
The experience of arrival, onto committees and advisory groups, of representatives of social groups who are not used to participating in power structures, is intimidating. It involves a huge cultural learning curve.
Unsupported, the experience of being newly included remains an experience of social exclusion.
The small numbers of organisations are asked over and over again to spread themselves across an overwhelming number of demands for their input. This scenario is ultimately untenable.

The characteristics of the present unsatisfactory framework for representation of socially excluded groups

Members of excluded social groups are invited with the status of individuals onto committees and task forces. There is a denial of the fact that they have been invited because of their position within these organisations, that they are able to draw on their structures and their contacts with socially
excluded groups.
The constant requests to input views which depend on consultation with socially excluded groups impact enormously on the associated organisations which have to assist in the identification of participants for consultation exercises. These are demanded with breakneck deadlines, a scenario within which an organisation is expected to drop everything it is doing in order to deliver.
Organisations representing socially excluded groups are held to ransom. Have they not worked for long years hoping to arrive at the corridors of power and influence? Are they going to give up these invitations to play a role to change the lives of their client groups for the better? Under such circumstances, there is initially a huge effort made by the more confident representatives of socially excluded groups to accommodate the work that comes with acceptance of positions within committees and advisory groups.
But, as the longer term effects set in, many individuals and organisations will not be able cope with the consequences of overload. They are destined to drop away.

A call to action to put into place a supportive framework for the representation of socially excluded groups
There is an urgent need to address the resourcing of individuals and organisations, and to provide support so that they can play a full role in representing the interests of socially excluded groups.

The essential elements are:
Beyond bare expenses, to move towards resourcing which covers the value of the work delivered by individuals and organisations representing socially excluded groups in policy and decision-making structures. If members of such organisations are taken away from their essential work, the organisation must be resourced to backfill this work.
The development of support and mentoring frameworks to support and nurture individuals and organisations representing socially excluded groups so that they can be enabled to subsequently and consistently play a full role in policy and decision-making structures. Examples of possible developments include:

  • Buddying and mentoring systems within an organisation
  • Systematically identifying the incidental training and support needs of these representatives, with a budget and human resources allocated to attend to these as appropriate
  • Inter-organisational support group or network bringing together members of socially excluded groups newly playing a role on committees and advisory groups
  • Sector wide recognition of and response to these needs, e.g. setting up of a support network where individuals can share experience, and where there may be a fund resourcing training needs

Moving into the future
At present, most of the time individuals are offered mere expenses of travel and subsistence and nothing else. Under-resourced organisations are constantly picking up the bill for working alongside well-resourced institutions of power. Without considering supportive framework to enable and maintain participation in representation of socially excluded groups, the explosion of demand for representation of socially excluded groups, which we are already experiencing, is destined to fail.

For a relatively small investment of cash and human resources, a huge prize for social inclusion is waiting to be won.

Black Environment Network
UK Office
1st Floor, 60 High Street
Wales LL55 4EU
T/F: 01286 870715

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