As social workers involved in community development, we all know and understand that funding bodies, sponsors and management committees wish to see “objectives and outcomes”, but how much valuable information gets lost when these are the only areas of focus for reporting? And how much do we restrict ourselves when planning programs purely based on stated initial objectives and outcomes?
A recent experience highlights the need to be flexible in the planning and implementation of projects as well as in the final evaluation phase. Had the focus for this particular project remained inflexibly on the initial “objectives and planned outcomes”, we may well have missed valuable opportunities and failed to report valid information in the outcomes section of any final evaluation.
The key is to spend a little bit of time thinking about the impact of “processes”. You may be pleasantly surprised that processes can actually add to the outcomes.
The Canopy Family Community Exhibition
The Canopy at Cameron Park Community Centre is a community organisation (in NSW Australia) that provides services to families, children and communities. To celebrate 25 years of supporting families it was decided to hold an event that involved other organisations who provide family services.
The objectives of the Canopy Family Community Exhibition were to:
- Give local groups and/or agencies the opportunity to promote what they are doing in the community to support families
- Spread awareness of services to the local community
- Provide an opportunity for networking
- Provide a forum to positively model relationships and family
With objectives such as this, it would be all too easy to simply send out an invitation to participate, and wait for the bookings to roll in. The end result would be similar to a kind of “expo” where organisations have a stall with various pamphlets and information.
The trouble with that concept is that it’s been done before. Not too much thought or preparation needs to go into the event. In other words, the process for staff and/or volunteers from each agency would simply be to nominate one person to gather promotional items from the agency’s cupboards and set up a standard table of information.
How do we expand on this concept?
- What processes could we set in motion to encourage communication around the meaning of “family”?
- How could we engage clients of some of these services into a process that ultimately portrays and promotes the function of the service?
- How can we take some of the projected outcomes beyond just the planned “one day” of exhibits?
- How do we foster collaborative efforts?
- How do we encourage agencies to do something innovative so that others are inspired by their presentations? (yes this means encouraging people to move out of their comfort zone)
What we came up with was to ask agencies to submit a creative representation of “family” as it related to their group. Creative representations allow participation from all ages, backgrounds and skills levels. Each agency was asked to enter a collaborative effort involving staff, volunteers and if possible, clients of the service. They were asked to explain their “creation” and also provide information about their service. For those who felt stuck for ideas and/or time, we offered consultation and assistance with brainstorming and/or assistance with the creation.
The results were 17 entries, all depicting “family” from their agency/group perspective, with an explanation of the services that their agency provides to the community. The making of each entry had become a “mini” project with outcomes of its own. Subsequent conversations between agencies revolved around the process of making their creation. Who took part, how they made decisions, sharing stories about what “family” meant to them, which contributions were made by staff, volunteers and clients of the service, and the feeling of teamwork the process inspired.
The following statements from agencies involved explain this:
Our communities are from various cultural backgrounds coming together to develop new relationships that redefine family in Australia, after their loss through migration of close loved ones. This project has been very important as a way for parents, children, siblings and community coming together as family. We have had over 20 participants inclusive of children involved + 5 staff and 4 volunteers. ~Northern Settlement Services
We started out with the idea of having a hat stand…to represent where the family members ‘hang their hat’….So…one of the ladies from the craft group who meet here on Tuesdays said she had an old plant hanger which may suffice as a hat stand. When I picked it up and brought it into my office the staff, volunteers and visitors all started contributing ideas and somehow it turned into a family tree instead of a hat stand. It ‘grew’ from there…at one stage it was going to have photos of our various ‘family members’ hanging from it but then the leaves seemed to work better. ~ Woodrising Neighbourhood Rising
A lot of our tiles came from donations of staff and families old tiles which also added a special element of family and togetherness. Many wonderful conversations and reminiscing came with our “labour of love”, family and friends and times gone by. ~Domain Macquarie Place
Would these results have eventuated if we only implement a cookie cutter approach? Next time, you’re involved in planning a community project, don’t lock in the goals. Don’t restrict yourself to preconceived outcomes. Remain flexible, get out of your comfort zone, and try a little innovation! Check out some of the photos on https://www.facebook.com/cameronparkcommunitycentre