Chapter 4:  Communities as Learning Organizations – The Neighborhood Academy

 

 

I)        Introduction

 

 

In this chapter we introduce the Neighborhood Academy as a community development and mobilization instrument. It serves to identify and mobilize the skills and knowledge resources of the pioneers and helps the settlement grow together by organizing reflective space and collective learning processes. Communities need places to exchange knowledge and information, to consolidate ideas and visions, goals and plans. The Academy is such a place. The Academy plays an important role in creating resident participation and ownership of the development process.

 

The Neighborhood Academy is designed along the lines of a community development approach called Asset Based Community Development or the “ABCD approach” that develops communities “from the inside out”. It also draws on the experiences of the Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA)[49] a bottom up approach to knowledge generation. In this chapter we describe the empowering potential of a community education approach. Participants become more informed, more skilled, more confident in valuing their own experiences and applying their knowledge and talents to the benefit of the community. We outline the basic curricular elements of a Neighborhood Academy and describe how it serves to anchor the process of engaging the local community in the development of the neighborhood.

 

 

 

II)      The ABCD Approach

 

 

Approaching communities from the viewpoint of resourcefulness rather than from a problem or needs perspective stems from the community organizing traditions in the USA. The Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach was developed by Kretzmann and McKnight in the early nineties as an alternative to state welfare dependency, also in light of the continued budget cut backs and restraints in federal policy.

 

“A strong community is a place that recognizes the capacity of every living person as a gift and ensures that these gifts are given. A weak community is a place where lots of people cannot give their gifts and express their capacities.”[50]

 

Conventional social work and welfare programs tend to focus on a community’s needs, deficiencies and problems. They set up programs and services as an answer to these needs and problems. Communities thus benefit from problems; the more lamentable their situation, the more chance they have to access resources.

This is still by far the most traveled path and commands the vast majority of the financial and human resources in the social sector:

 

“Viewing a community as a nearly endless list of problems and needs leads directly to the much lamented fragmentation of efforts to provide solutions. It also denies the basic community wisdom which regards problems as tightly intertwined, as symptoms in fact of the breakdown of a community’s own problem-solving capacities. Targeting resources based on the needs map directs funding not to residents but to service providers, a consequence not always either planned for or effective... Providing resources on a needs-based analysis underlines the perception that only outside experts can provide real help. Therefore, the relationships that count most for local residents are no longer inside the community, those neighbor-to-neighbor links of mutual support and problem solving. Rather, the most important relationships are those that involve the expert, the social worker, the health provider, the founder. The glue that binds communities together is weakened.. a maintenance and survival strategy is ensured targeted at isolated individual clients, not at a development plan that can involve the energies of an entire community.“

 

 

Concentrating on Resources rather than on Problems

 

The alternative path aims at the development of policies based on the capacities, skills and assets of the people living in a community. People are engaged as citizens (rather than as clients) to take interest and responsibility in the development of their communities. This path aims at developing strategies to involve the local community to invest their resources and efforts in shaping their environment. Communities then are not served top down or from the outside in, but built from the inside out. Hereby valuable outside support can and usually also needs to be provided. Outside resources, however, can be much more effectively used if the local community is fully mobilized and invested in the process and can clearly define for themselves what can be solved locally, and for what areas resources must be attained from outside.

 

“The key to neighborhood regeneration then, is to locate all of the available local assets, to begin connecting them with one another in ways that multiply their power and effectiveness, and to begin harnessing those local institutions that are not yet available for local development purposes.”

 

Assets are defined as the skills and talents of the individuals, households and families living in the community. Very often there are many local resources that are not made use of for community-building purposes. The ABCD approach especially focuses on groups that are usually counted out, because they are considered too young, too old, too poor, culturally not integrated or physically or mentally handicapped.

 

Assets are also seen in the associational life of communities, in common interest groups, associations and local institutions with cultural, religious, athletic, recreational and other purposes. They can often be enlisted beyond their original intentions, to become major contributors to a community development process. Just as individual talents and skills often stay hidden and unrealized, the social capital embedded in relationships among people through social, kinship or association networks often is not recognized as a valuable asset.

 

 

Weaving the Social Tissues

 

An important part of the ABCD approach is focused on relationship building, on the processes that fuel local associations and informal networks and the development of a sense of interdependence and social cohesion. The approach stresses the importance of relationship building for individuals and groups in the community, and of counteracting the forces that drive people apart.

 

These include increased mobility, the separation of work and residence, mass media, segregating by race, class and age, increased dependence upon outside professionalized helpers.

 

Different groups and players in the community, often stay disparate and unconnected. Stimulating creative synergy effects, by fostering contacts between them, are an important part of community relationship building. The process of connecting groups and linking community assets to one another, can greatly enhance their power and effectiveness.

 “Ancient villages often centered their lives around the village well. The well was much more than a place which offered water. It was a nerve center for the entire community, a place where gossip, stories, and information of all kinds was exchanged. Obviously, the capacity to exchange information is central to the success of community building.. As an integral part of the community building agenda, plans for increasing the capacity of the community to exchange its own definitions, plans and vital stories must be set in motion.“

 

The ABCD approach constructs a new lens, through which communities can begin to assemble their strengths and knowledge into new combinations, new structures of opportunity, new sources of income, influence and control, and new possibilities for the future.

 

 

Using ABCD in the Nest!

 

The success of the temporary settlement will largely depend on the capacity to recognize and identify the skills and talents of the residents of both the settlement and the community at large, and mobilizing them for the development of the community. This involves strengthening people’s awareness and confidence in their own capacities and inspiring them to contribute these capacities. Collaborative efforts for social and economic development need to be developed, that focus on and make use of the local resources. The Neighborhood Academy is designed as a major tool in this process. Creating collective learning processes is a valid way to bring out tacit social, cultural and educational capital in communities as well as to enhance community relationship building. This same process also supports the people in the community in growing together and gaining control over the circumstances of their lives and their immediate environment.

 

 

The five ABCD Steps towards Community Mobilization

 

1.                     Mapping all the capacities and assets of individuals, associations and local institutions.

2.                     Building relationships among local assets, for mutually beneficial problem-solving within the community.

3.                     Mobilizing the community’s assets fully, for economic development and information sharing purposes.

4.                     Convening as broadly representative a group as possible, for the purposes of building a community vision and plan.

5.                    Leveraging activities, investments and resources from outside the community to support asset-based, locally defined development.

 

 

 

III)     Community Education with the Neighborhood Academy

 

 

The Neighborhood Academy supports the temporary settlement by providing and organizing educational processes targeted both at the individual inhabitants as well as at the community as a whole. Community education in the Academy is part of an educational approach, where education is seen as a life-long learning as well as a community empowerment process.

 

 

Community Education as an Empowerment Tool

 

Community education has been highlighted as one of the nine principles of a lifelong learning strategy, as adopted by the European Council of Education Ministers. It is seen as a tool to enable individuals and local communities to cope more effectively with a rapidly changing society. It creates an enabling environment for an active participation of all citizens in democratic processes. Community education is promoted as a way to empower residents and local communities. It encourages them to take a more active part and assume more responsibility for their own (life-long) education and learning process. Finally it is seen as a way to promote a continuing social, cultural, political and economic development of the individual and the local community.

 

Community education is a learning system, outside of institutions and outside of prescribed educational curricula. It is an educational process aiming at a greater awareness of the internal and external factors shaping the community. It enables communities to understand the realities of their own lives and to gain the skills, information and attitudes needed to realize their own goals and intentions. Community education helps participants to develop solutions to any issues of the communities they live in.

 

One of the elements of approaching education as an empowerment tool is to use it to challenge and counteracts social, economic, psychological and mental structures that impede the development of full individual and collective potential. Such limitations may vary for the various groups in the community. They can grow out of language barriers, or the loss of self confidence through the experience of discrimination, prejudice or lack of encouragement. They can be caused by the lack of acknowledgement of multiple forms of intelligence or they can stem out of economic limitations and a lack of privileges and opportunities, as well as a lack of personal attention and validation for special talents. Community education bridges private and public issues by linking the roots of individually experienced learning barriers to structural issues as well as by opening up space for blocked creativity to unfold.

 

In Community Education methods and approaches are geared towards counteracting negative prior learning experiences or failures in the mainstream education system as well as infrastructural barriers and limitations. Programs are located in the neighborhood and are easily accessible. Care goes into designing an non-intimidating and emotionally safe learning environment. Courses are adapted to the family and life situation of participants. Timing is adapted to real life schedules, childcare needs are taken into account. Age limits or any other eligibility criteria are dropped. Methods are used that enhance creativity and confidence in personal learning styles.

 

 

The Nest! as an “Educational Campus”

 

The Neighborhood Academy aims at organizing a process, that supports inhabitants to identify and recognize the challenges they as individuals and as a community face. Such an approach does not start from scratch.

It draws from knowledge and skills people have acquired in and outside of classrooms. Prior experience is a vital part of the process. Experience is seen as expertise and importance is given to sharing and learning from experience. Education is delivered by becoming involved, by taking action and reflecting on the outcome.

 

Community education challenges the monopoly of professionals in knowledge building and knowledge delivering. Knowledge building is seen instead as an extension of expertise based on the school of life and everyday experience. Learning is not imposed by outside frameworks or agendas, but defined and driven by the interests and needs of the community. The curriculum grows out of peoples interests and life plans as well as from their concerns about their families and the neighborhood.

 

Inhabitants are supported in mobilizing their own skills, resources and cultural traditions to develop solutions for the challenges they face and to improve their personal and community life. An important part of mobilizing local knowledge resources involves organizing time and space for individual and collective reflection. This can take the shape of assessments of the skills and talents available in the settlement, as well as of collective reflection sessions of current experiences and situations in the settlement. The Neighborhood Academy turns the temporary settlement into an “educational campus“.

 

The Neighborhood Academy is a space of interaction and learning across cultures and generations. It is a place to collectively envision the future, a place to link personal experience to structural knowledge and information. In the Neighborhood Academy knowledge and expertise is assessed from all areas of life. Experience and know-how from informal settings is transformed into self and collectively owned knowledge and competence. This involves a process of conscious awareness raising, analysis, and documentation of skills gathered from the full range of biographical life experience as well as stimulating new skills and learning through a process of opening up motivations and new mental and experimental horizons. The discovery that possibilities exist beyond the range of previous knowledge, beliefs and expectations, opens up new learning possibilities and supports innovative initiatives and creative endeavors.

 

 

Functions and Tasks of the Nest! Academy

 

Assessment of the knowledge resources present in thecommunity

Development of skills audits and assessment techniques for local knowledge

Stimulation of creativity and pioneer energy

Inclusion and integration of marginalized groups

Empowerment of women

Development of local leadership

Monitoring of a collective community vision building process

Stimulation of reflection about the neighborhood

Guiding a process of prioritization and decision making

Identifying the knowledge required to further develop the community

Supporting the community in developing their own image and identity

Supporting the community in developing economic initiatives

Strengthening the community’s capacity to exchange information and knowledge

Strengthening and encouraging people to actively participate in civil society

Developing the capacities of residents for active participation in local decision making

▪ Developing the resilience of communities to cope with changes in the community

▪ Supporting the community in planning the future

▪ Organizing residents to take the lead in further development-plans

 

 

Learning as a Process of Community Building

 

In the Community Academy all experiences become opportunities for learning and knowledge building. Anything that anyone in the community has ever experienced and anything that happens in the community, can become a lesson. Individuals as well as the community can learn from these experiences. Through a structured process of analysis and reflection, the community becomes a “learning organization“. Community learning includes constructive criticism, and the continuous analysis of what is to be learned from what went wrong, and from what went well, and what could be done differently. By collectively harvesting the learnings generated through the activities and experiences in the settlement, the whole community process becomes constructive and educational. Education and learning become a process of enriching and replenishing community resources and competencies.

 

In contrast to mainstream educational systems that target the individual, the Neighborhood Academy aims at capacity building for the whole community. Education and development efforts go beyond individual and personal development. They are geared towards enhancing a sense of interdependency and mutual support, of cooperative achievement and community development. Community education develops relational processes that result in a body of knowledge that is larger than the sum of individual capacities. This includes bridging and “culturally translating” between knowledge held in disperse and unconnected sectors of society as well as between theory and practice.

 

 

Transformational Learning

 

Community education is geared towards facilitating people’s understanding of the forces which shape their lives and the lives of other groups in the community. The community is used as a resource for learning, as is learning used as a resource for the community. Learning comes in holistic packages. It is linked to real life motivations and applied to real life situations.

 

Participants learn how to reclaim and access their own personal and collective knowledge and power. They discover how to actively seek and welcome new learning and new knowledge. They expand their minds and their scope of action. Knowledge becomes a living element with the potential to touch people’s lives. Learning is not a process of creating a stock of commodities to file away or add to ones credentials. Learning has the power to stimulate and educate action, to inspire and make a difference.

 

 

Methods and Approaches of Community Education

 

Peer learning

Experiential learning

Story telling and oral history

Portfolio approach

Collaborative versus competitive learning

Unleashing the power of asking questions

Appreciative inquiry

Creativity workshops

Acknowledging multiple types of intelligence and learning styles

Linking to skills and strengths as well as addressing boundaries

Taking active responsibility for one’s own learning

Opening up minds and attitudes

Taking time to step back and analyze experiences

Quality control through peer feedback

Role Model learning

Ongoing learning spiral: reflect, act, evaluate, act on higher level

Linking personal experience to analysis of overall structures and conditions

Linking individual coping techniques to collective problem solving

Looking for resources in the community first, then from outside sources

 

 

 

IV)      Basic Curricular Elements of a Neighborhood Academy

 

 

The Nest! Academy acts as a repository of community knowledge as well as an agent to transfer required outside knowledge to the community level. The curriculum is shaped by two processes. The Academy helps to generate and extract the knowledge resources available in the community. And it helps to identify and define information gaps and outside knowledge requirements for the development of the community. Trainings are conducted by people from within the community as well as by people from outside. A special focus of the Nest! Academy will be to link the knowledge and expertise of international grassroots groups to the community building process in the temporary settlement by conducting Grassroots Women’s International Academies (GWIA)

 

A core curriculum as sketched out below is central to supporting the process of organizing the temporary settlement as a learning community. Many further activities and programs of the Nest! Academy will be shaped in the process of the temporary settlement

 

 

Mobilizing the Community

 

What often happens with public programs is that projects are implemented, but they are not sustainable, because no investment has been made in empowering the community as such. When there are cut backs in funding and jobs, the project collapses. What is needed is investment in the knowledge and skills of the community and in setting up a sustainable infrastructure for community building. That way community cohesion and the capacity to design and implement solutions of their own, can grow.” (Ford Foundation, USA)

 

 

The Neighborhood Academy can be instrumental in mobilizing the community in many ways:

 

A central part of community development from the inside out, is to gather local information. It is important to have clear information on the situation in the community, on what interests and assets exist and what is going on. Because it is a starting up community, this is a dynamic process.

The Academy has an important role in monitoring local information generation.

Developing a shared community vision is crucial for a community to develop initiative and consensus. Organizing a vision building process is one of the first tasks of the Nest! Academy.

This will be especially important in view of integrating visions and values of people from different backgrounds and different cultures.

Organizing the inhabitants around issues of further developing the settlement and the community is a further step in mobilizing the community. The Academy has an important function in assembling the expertise around the private commissioning of houses (Chapter 8), the start up of businesses and economic endeavors as well as the development plan of the community as a whole (Chapter 5).

Leadership support trainings for local leadership is an important step in community mobilizing the community and a further task of the Academy. Hereby the focus is not only on the recognized and visible leaders, but also on hidden talents.

Economic development is a central part of community development and facilitating the economic process will therefore also be a part of the curriculum of the Neighborhood Academy. This includes monitoring surveys of the needs and opportunities of the local market as well as teaching business skills, functioning as a business incubator and matching existing skills with local demands.

 

 

Assessment Center and Skills Audits

 

Informal knowledge and skills become qualifications, when they are defined, documented and made explicit. Often people are not aware that the skills and qualities they have indeed have the potential to become qualifications and competencies.

 

There is a growing awareness in the European Community of the dimension of informal learning. The necessity to develop ways to access the skills developed in informal settings is increasingly being acknowledged. Many approaches to identify, validate, and access prior learning and tacit knowledge are currently being developed.[51]

 

One example is the skills audit for migrants developed by the German Youth Institute in Munich.[52] In this approach an assessment is made via self reflective interviews of what skills, talents and knowledge migrants bring with them to the host countries. The audit includes skills generated from formal as well as informal settings. Skills can originate from involvement in the formal and informal market, as well as from other activity areas like family, neighborhood, farming, gardening, neighborhood associations, free-time and recreational activities. First these activities are reported in narrative interviews and documented. Next, an inventory is made of the skills and competencies developed through these activities, resulting in a personal skills profile (portfolio).

 

On this basis strategies are developed to anchor integration, further education, economic activities and social involvement in the host country on these biographical skills and interests.

 

The Nest! Academy will offer a skills audit, based on this instrument to all groups in the temporary settlement. This will allow to make an inventory of the knowledge, creativity and talent available in the community. The Nest! skills audit will pay special attention to auditing skills and competencies that lend themselves to the development of individual and collective income generating activities as well as community building purposes. A further focus will be on arts and crafts and creative skills. Every community has people who are creative, who paint, write, sing, tell stories, make jewelry, pottery or quilts. These creative energies represent a central part of the added value of the temporary settlement to the urban development process. The Neighborhood Academy will have a central role in developing projects like handicraft fairs, story telling cafés or art exhibits to stimulate and harvest the creative talents in the settlement.

 

As part of the process the Academy will give inhabitants the opportunity to teach their skills and knowledge to others, thereby spreading skills and know-how in the community. Youth often have special talents and resources. These include time, enthusiasm, connectedness to current cultural trends or good teaching skills. Artists can stimulate creativity by organizing open ateliers, music or theater workshops. Senior residents can pass on knowledge and experience. And migrants often have skills generating from the traditions and cultures of their countries of origin. One of the structural barriers migrants and refugees face, is the fact that their qualifications and skills are not recognized and made use of in the host society. Opening up new channels for these skills and qualifications to enter mainstream society, is an important function of the Assessment Center in the Nest! Academy.

 

 

Language Courses and intercultural Learning

 

Despite the Dutch language courses offered to migrants and refugees on a mandatory basis, many immigrants do not attain a sufficient level of language skills to partake in qualification and training programs and to get into qualified work. Dutch language courses will therefore be a regular part of the Nest! Academy curriculum. These courses will be linked and related to areas of application in the temporary settlement in order to create motivation by offering opportunities of applying the host language.

 

Dialogues and events where the community can learn about the culture, traditions, values, skills and background of the different groups in the settlement will be an integral part of intercultural learning sponsored by the Nest! Academy.

 

 

Conflict Resolution

 

A vital function of the Nest! Academy is to offer conflict mediation and trainings in communication techniques. Conflicts are part of life and do not need to cause damage, if they are dealt with in a transparent and constructive way. Conflicts can increase social bonding, if they are resolved successfully. Conflict mediation and teaching respectful and non-violent communication methods can become a central part of community building in the settlement. By learning from difficulties, people grow together and learn how to build support networks. Many cultures have traditions of conflict mediation and conflict resolution, and customs that emphasize hospitality rather than exclusion. The Community Academy can draw on these traditions as well as introducing contemporary conflict resolution methods.

 

 

An important task of the Neighborhood Academy will be to create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere of constructive dialogue and trust. In a space designed and reserved for reflection and communication, issues of everyday community life can be expressed and dealt with in a solution oriented way.

 

“In our work we place value on speaking directly to the person involved, if there is a problem. Or to bring it to the team in a calm and civilized way. This is very important. Many groups fall apart because they don’t speak up front, because there is a lot of destructive gossip. It is important to come to an agreement as a group how you want to handle and deal with problems and conflicts, to have agreed on rules around this.” (EKIZ Mother Center, Stuttgart, Germany) [53]

 

 

The Alchemy of Communities

 

The Nest! Community Academy will be the focal point where “community chemistry” will be monitored. This “alchemy” takes place by inquiring into every experience and spinning gold out of both difficulties and failures, as well as the successes. Regular community reflections and dialogues will be conducted, in which the community collectively evaluates and learns from the experiences and goings-on in the settlement and discusses community responses and next steps. The use of effective communication and dialogue methods as well as outside facilitation of the community dialogues will support broad involvement and a participatory process. This way, the full range of local problem-solving potential will be included.

 

The ABCD Approach to developing a Vision and a Plan

Who are we in this community? What do we value most? Where would we like our community to go in the next five, ten, twenty years? These simple but compelling questions lie at the heart of the community building challenge. Without a commonly held identity and a broadly shared vision the hard work of community building is very difficult to sustain.

 

In many communities, a process of community based planning provides the vehicle for defining and developing a local vision, and for attaching that vision to strategies which begin to move toward making the vision a reality. Community planning models and approaches abound and even more are being developed as localities recognize the usefulness and power of a consensus building process which leads to a plan.

 

 

Project and Skill Trainings

 

The Nest! Academy will support the various projects being developed in the temporary settlement. These include the Mother Center, the International Garden, the Saving and Credit Groups, the Community Businesses, the Local Building Organization as well as the cultural events. Each of these initiatives will be accompanied with supportive courses and trainings. Experience and expertise will be brought in from international projects working with similar approaches.

 

Skill trainings in the Neighborhood Academy will be developed according to areas of interest and prior experience of the temporary settlers. Generic skill trainings like computer skills, marketing skills, communication skills, organizational development, fund-raising, book-keeping or business management will be offered in close cooperation with the Job Agency of the Local Economic Organization (See chapter 7) Skill trainings will also be offered in areas like health care, child raising, ecology, or team-work.

Special focus will be put on skills relevant to the setting up and maintenance of the temporary settlement and its development. This includes first of all trainings for building and construction that will allow pioneers to find jobs on the building sites of the development location as well as in the settlement itself.

 

There will also be trainings in design and project management for the privately commissioned housing projects in the Vinex settlement (Chapter 8).

 

Training for developing the skills for the community as a whole to get involved in the development process of the settlement will take a central part of the training program of the Academy. In an interactive process with authorities capacities will be developed to plan and monitor an urban development program.

 

 

Engaging in a Neighborhood Development Plan

 

The Nest! Academy will support the process of consolidating the temporary settlement. and form the base for the development of the neighborhood to grow out of the temporary settlement. It will play an important role in monitoring the creation of the Neighborhood Development Plans described in the next chapter. It serves as an incubator for the community process, that leads in the end to a development plan for the permanent neighborhood development.

 

In order for the local community to become a partner and player in local urban planning it needs to organize itself as a community and assemble its assets towards this goal. The Academy will host this process.

 

 

Gender specific Courses

 

“Women develop expertise not based on professionalism, but on their practical involvement in taking care of their families and communities. They learn a lot about what an environment must look like not to destroy the vitality, creativity and confidence of children and not to marginalize dependents that are in need of care. The invisibility of this expertise leads to a negligence of the leadership potential of women in community development. Making these skills and competencies visible, reclaiming and re-owning them collectively, brings an important voice and perspective back into public life.” (WomanSpirit, St. Louis, USA)[54]

 

Gender specific learning styles and learning needs will be reflected in the courses and trainings offered by the Academy. Knowledge and expertise generated from the care giving and community leadership roles of women will be highlighted and validated. This is an important basis for developing a confident female voice and women’s involvement and participation in the settlement as well as in the development of the new neighborhood. Developing income generating projects related to women’s skills and priorities, as well as trainings related to women’s ways of learning are important contributions to tapping into the full potential of the community. The Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA) described next will play a central role in this respect.

 

Developing trainings directed at male interests and learning styles as well as addressing men in their role as fathers constitute an equally important part of the gender specific programs of the Nest! Academy. General trainings and debates in gender sensitivity and gender mainstreaming will be offered to the whole community as well as to municipal decision makers.

 

 

The Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA)

 

There is a lot to be learned from international experiences, there is a lot to be learned from women. The Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA) brings both together.[55]

Several of the projects incorporated in the temporary settlement, like the International Garden, the Mother Center, the Savings and Credit Groups, the concept of Community Education and the setting up of a Local Economy build on experiences and practices of grassroots groups in other parts of the world shared at the Grassroots Women’s International Academy. These groups have pioneered the process of entering the knowledge generated outside of formal knowledge systems, into urban planning, community development and mainstream decision making.

 

GWIA is about redefining governance and development roles and reframing the use of knowledge and resources from the perspective of what works on the ground.

GWIA is a methodology to secure the rich knowledge of grassroots women’s groups and to make it visible to mainstream partners.

 

The fact that our world experiences persistent problems despite abundant natural and informational resources, points to the fact that there is something wrong with our mainstream knowledge systems. Many academic, institutional and political arrangements manage to overlook and abstract from what is really happening on the ground. This is quite amazing, considering the fact that it is there, that all knowledge needs to be implemented. It is where the ultimate answer and test to ideas and theories, validation if they apply or not, is to be found.

 

Traditional supply-led approaches to education and capacity building tend to impose an outside framework on the “receivers” of information and educational programs. The GWIA format was developed in a way that participants shape their own educational agenda and contribute their own knowledge. Knowledge building is rooted in analyzing and understanding own experience and applying it to enhance own priorities.

 

“Women need reflective space to experience themselves and mirror each other as experts on family and community life. They need to support each other, to define their issues and create problem solving strategies for themselves, their families and their environment. Such learning spaces need to include the whole universe of a woman’s life. That is when you tap into women’s power. When you cut women off from their every day life concerns, you cut off their life line, their power. When learning is connected to what happens in everyday life, when you do not need to tuck away your everyday concerns to learn, then learning becomes a basis for empowerment and for participation. Knowledge becomes the analysis of what is working and not working in your life, in your community, in society, based on your daily experience.” (Mother Center Redo, Sarajevo, Bosnia)[56]

 

GWIA is also designed in a way that it relates to women’s perspectives and ways of operating. The participation of women is becoming one of the key developmental issues. Women’s leadership often results in the benefit of the whole community as it is most often based on solid knowledge of the community.

Women deal first hand with the everyday issues of life. They often develop a concern for the living environment and the conditions for future generations, leading to long term considerations and to an emphasis on conflict resolution and alliance building across divisive social categories and traditions. In the temporary settlement it will be important to differentiate and develop awareness of gender specific differences in the effects of development plans as well as in the needs, interests, contributions and priorities. The Grassroots Women’s International Academy can provide a good format to this end.

 

GWIA at the Nest Academy will consist of a series of thematic workshops  each contributing international experiences to an aspect of the total neighborhood development plan. Grassroots groups from around the world will be invited to share their experiences and teach their processes.

This process will pilot how experiences and lessons learned in the South can be applied to the North In between the international workshops the process continues locally.

 

 

Partnership Building

 

“The reason why partnerships with community groups is important to us, is that it helps linking back to the essential goals. We as a big organization, are at risk of becoming a self serving institution. Relating to community partners is a constant call to evaluate the efficiency of the work of public services and civil servants.” (Social Ministry of Hessen, Germany[54]

 

Building partnerships between different groups inside the community as well as with outside forces is crucial. The success of the temporary settlement is dependent on it. Building effective and functioning partnerships, however, is an art to be learned. Partnerships with different sectors of society have different requirements that need to be balanced.

 

The Nest! Academy will conduct skill trainings in partnership building and host regular partner dialogues, between the various stakeholders in the municipality. The Academy plays an important role in connecting and matching capacities and assets across the different sectors of society.

 

Communities that develop their own resources and problem solving capacities, develop another approach to governance and municipal services. This implies a rethinking and reshuffling of the role of public authorities. Support for community initiatives and investment in community led innovations replace a client orientation. A co-producer relationship between community initiatives and local government is the goal. Learning to become a resource for community empowerment becomes an important component of professionalism and focus of local government. (See the following chapter)

 

Such a shift in orientation requires facilitation. The Neighborhood Academy can be instrumental in monitoring a process of redefining professional roles and qualities. It has a major role to play in teaching these skills to institutions as well as to community groups. Trainings in partnership building will be targeted at different sectors of society. The process is especially interesting because it concerns a community “under construction”. The start-up of a new neighborhood and a new temporary settlement allows the process of partnership building to start from scratch.

 

One of the barriers for cross-sectoral partnerships in local governance and participative planning, is the lack of existing structures of dialogue. Conventionally, there is almost no communication between the local population and municipal administration. There are no established systems and mechanisms for the state or municipal government to engage directly with communities. The Nest! Academy could play an important role in piloting new venues and channels for direct dialogue and partnership building by providing a monitored process of including the local community in the planning process of the permanent neighborhood and developing supportive methodologies for the development of respectful partnerships between new and old players in the field.

 

This learning will constitute a product that remains after the temporary settlement has finished its existence and constitutes a learning experience that is relevant for the planning practice in general.

 

 

Lessons on Partnership Building from the Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA) at Expo 2000

 

Partnerships are sustainable when they involve a win - win situation for all partners. This needs to be spelled out and made transparent among all involved.

A partnership does not require that everyone is in it for the same reason, but it requires that there is an interface in which the goals are compatible or mutually beneficial.

 

Community initiatives should be encouraged to link with as many actors and partners as possible, at local, district and national level. Theses linkages are important to get information on what kind of resources are available and to create discourse on common goals and strategies.

 

It is important for community groups to understand and make explicit what they are contributing, that they are bringing assets to the table. Self organizing is a resource. Community groups know how funds can be spent to create benefits for local communities in a sustainable way. They have information that mainstream partners do not have access to. The state cannot do it all, it needs partnerships with civil society and community groups.

 

It is important for community groups to make a conscious effort to reach out to skeptical or opposing groups and players. They are invariably in the position of either helping or hindering the process.

 

Social welfare has become a business in which NGOs and large institutions compete for funds to sustain their own organizations. The real issues at stake can get lost in the process. Direct re-sourcing to the community level and keeping the priorities clear is an important element of effective partnerships with community initiatives.

 

Partnerships work better the more each partner knows and understands the circumstances under which the other one is working, the aims, the scope of action, the limits. This contributes to realistic expectations and ultimately to reliability and trust.

 

Partners need to have enough in common to understand each other. They also need to be different enough to bring unique contributions to the table. Differences should be respected and celebrated in partnerships. They can be consciously made use of, for instance by a strategic division of roles.

 

It is important to communicate and get acquainted with each other and not to work in an anonymous way. In order to make each group feel at ease with each other, it is important to give a face to community groups as well as to bureaucrats.

 

 

Public Debates

 

The Nest! Academy will organize public debates on issues and innovative perspectives, as they emerge from the learning and knowledge building process in the temporary settlement. These events will contribute to public debate on issues like civic involvement and participatory local governance, integration policies, gender mainstreaming, self organization and self management, the workings of a local economy, new welfare state policies, and last not least urban planning and development from a grassroots perspective.

 

When inhabitants design their own houses, communities and settlements, a lot of valuable hands on expertise is generated. This will feed into public policy on designing urban environments, as well as into the work of local authorities, social workers, economists, architects and other professionals. These public debates will be disseminated as much as possible via the media and via the internet. Thus they will also contribute to gaining visibility and support for the concept of temporary settlements and the innovative aspects involved in this experiment.

 

 

Target Groups

 

The courses and groups of the Nest! Community Academy will be open to the temporary settlement, the settlers of the new neighborhood, as well as to the inhabitants of the neighboring communities. This will enhance the range of programs and activities available in the neighborhood for all groups.

 

The Nest! Academy will include all generations. Particular attention will be given to include the youth, as the neighborhood study specifically identified a lack of opportunities for young people in the adjacent neighborhoods (Chapter11). Seniors have important knowledge and know-how to hand down to following generations. And involving children in the planning and designing of neighborhoods also can enrich the process immensely, as they often have a fresh and unique perspective.

 

The courses of general interest and especially the debates on urban planning and public policy will be open to the general public in Arnhem and beyond.

 

 

 

V)       Setting up the Process

 

 

The Nest! Academy will set up a participative process of creating a Neighborhood Development plan with the following methods and initiatives derived from the ABCD approach.

 

 

Collecting Stories

 

The Nest! Academy will collect stories in informal discussions and interviews. These will draw out people’s interests and experiences and help uncover the gifts, skills, talents and assets people have. Strengthening people’s confidence and pride in their achievements will be part of the process. The appreciation of skills, talents and achievements will support people’s awareness of what they have to contribute and build confidence in their abilities to become active in the settlement and development process.

 

 

Forming the Core Group

 

In this process a core group of activists and initiators will emerge. These are people who have shown initiative and taken leadership roles in the past and who respond with interest and enthusiasm to the project. This will represent the core group of initiators. As the project develops and people join or leave the settlement, this group may change in composition. The core group consists of people interested in further exploring the community’s assets and acting on the opportunities identified. The core group will involve their social networks and thereby widen the process.

 

 

Establishing the Planning Group

 

The core group will form the begin of the planning group that meets regularly in the Nest! Academy. These meetings will be announced in the temporary settlement and on the website. All sessions will be open to participation of inhabitants of the temporary settlement, the emerging new neighborhood as well as neighboring communities at any time.

The planning group has a formal status and their work will be remunerated (in local currency, see chapter 7). They ensure contact and communication with the city officials, the developers and other involved professionals. They take an intermediary role in facilitating the planning process that will lead to a development plan for the permanent development.

The planning group will monitor the process of developing a Neighborhood Development plan throughout the whole period of the project.

 

 

Continuous Gathering of Information

 

Members of the core group can be enlisted in forming an information gathering group. This group continues to systematically gather information about the community as it grows, and to map its assets. This includes a door to door interview process, as well as initiating further story telling events. In this way, an authentic picture of the situation in the temporary settlement, as well as of the larger neighborhood, can arise.

The interviews can also be instrumental in evoking interest in the Neighborhood Academy and the Nest! projects. The activities will support members of the community to get to know each other and to start building community relationships. Residents of the neighboring communities (especially young people) can also be involved in the information gathering exercise.

 

 

Mapping the Resources

 

The initial story telling and information gathering activities, will lead to a more formalized process of skills evaluation and documentation. This will be organized as an on-going four week intensive (2 sessions per week) program at the Academy. Special focus in these courses will be given to emerging skills and assets that can be used to generate knowledge for planning the sustenance of the settlement. The important thing in this process is to ensure that people feel that their abilities are appreciated and their contributions are welcomed. Eventually a community capacity inventory is developed. This inventory will list capacities and assets in categories such as community building skills, entrepreneurial skills, teaching skills, creative skills, care skills, building skills and organizing skills.

 

 

Vision Building

 

It is important to start with vision building at the beginning of the process. The core group will take the lead in initiating a community vision dialogue, as starting point of the planning group. They will ensure regular “vision updates” as an important element throughout the planning process. Vision building involves reflection and consensus building on the values that are to feed the neighborhood development planning process. It also includes coming to a set of specific community agreements, on how communication, interaction and decision making needs to be regulated. With such a set of agreements, all participants can feel safe, respected and appreciated in the process.

 

Defining the common goals, success indicators, future scenarios, and the profile and identity of the settlement is an important aspect of the initial vision building as well as of the on-going planning process. Key to this process is to focus first on goals and opportunities that are achievable using the community resources. This brings people together and strengthens a community identity.

Parallel to the internal vision building process, a link to the city vision ‘Arnhem 2015’ is made by engaging in partner dialogues. In collaboration with city officials and council members, the community vision is compared to the vision of the city at large.

 

 

Interest and Support Groups

 

Peer exchange and support can make a big change in people’s lives. The Neighborhood Academy will create space for interest and support groups related to specific life phases and life situations. These are formed by the participants themselves according to their needs and priorities. Interest and support groups can be formed for instance around issues like, health, child-rearing, the natural environment, environment friendly architecture, information and communication technology, fashion, local history, or alternative learning styles. Though mainly based on self help and the exchange of peer experience and peer expertise, the Academy will be instrumental in organizing knowledge input to these programs from inside and outside the settlement and relating the learning developed in the interest and support groups to the overall community and neighborhood development process.

 

 

Community Task Forces

 

The Academy will also host task forces for various aspects of the development of the settlement. Examples of such task oriented groups could include the following:

 

§         Setting up a library and information center for the settlement as well as the neighboring communities.

§         Hosting a web-based dialogue with ‘virtual’ and/or part-time pioneers, on developments in the settlement.

§         Developing intergenerational and inter-ethnic solutions for security and safety in the community.

§         Working on housing designs in a planning group for privately commissioned housing.

§         Conducting a survey on gaps in goods and services in the local market.

§         Building mediation teams to help with conflict resolution in the community.

§         Designing media and public relation strategies and campaigns.

§         Organizing events like fashion shows, concerts, fairs, exhibitions, scout camps.

 

 

Partnering with Mainstream Stakeholders in the Municipality

 

In the process of developing the full potential of the temporary settlement building partnerships is crucial. This involves working out interrelationships with non-governmental as well as governmental agencies, private sector businesses, developers in the housing market, institutions, donors and local initiatives.

 

Mapping the assets of local institutions and agencies is a process that needs to accompany the mapping of the internal assets and resources of the inhabitants. This mapping process looks at how the Nest! can be beneficial to the local institutions and how they can be beneficial to the temporary settlement. Special focus will be on investigating for which stakeholders it could be interesting to invest in the Nest!.

 

 

The Nest! Academy as a whole will play an important role in hosting debates, round tables and partner dialogues with external partners and stakeholders. Such events can contribute to creating channels for direct engagement and negotiation between community groups and local authorities and institutions. This brings governance down to community turf and requires a communication and learning process from all sides. Such a process cannot happen when public officials and institutional actors stay inside the parameters of their own corporate culture.

 

The mapping of the skills and assets that are contributed locally puts the community in a position of strength in partnerships with institutions, since it can be spelled out, what the community is bringing to the table.

 

 

Accreditation and Transfer

 

An important area concerns the issue of accreditation of expertise and learning developed in the whole process. The Neighborhood Academy organizes the community building and neighborhood development process inside a learning and knowledge building framework. The results of this learning need to find recognition and validation as expertise and qualification, though acquired outside of formal qualification procedures. This will require innovative work and productive partnerships with actors inside formal educational settings such as universities, professional training institutions and employment agencies.

 

Developing accreditation and transfer procedures for the knowledge assembled and gained in the Nest! Academy will need to include addressing a set of challenges including the question how to measure experiential learning and how to certify and give credit to life skills and informal qualifications. The issue of how to transfer informal learning into mainstream education and employment channels will play a central role in this aspect of the Academy.

 

 

Documentation

 

Organizing the documentation of the experiences, projects and learning processes of the temporary settlement, will be an integral task of the Neighborhood Academy. Documentation will be assembled through different approaches and programs:

In the ‘story book’ program, facilitation will be given for participants to develop their writing skills by “telling their stories” in writing. The story of the settlement will be compiled as a book containing the individual accounts of the participants. This will create an authentic view of the process and an attractive, reader friendly product. This book can spread and disseminate the experiences and learning on a broad level and to a wide public.

Documentation will also be used as a tool of self reflection and self evaluation. In the Nest! Academy ‘journaling’ program, participants will be encouraged to regularly record their process and their learning in a journal. They will be asked to take notes on what happens in their life, in their family situation, and in the settlement. They will be asked to notice and record changes in their own thinking, in their level of confidence, in their goals, scope of action and in the way they relate to their environment. They will be encouraged to observe changes in mentality, vision, know-how and interaction in the community as well.

A third level of documentation will be organized that involves external perspectives on the experiences in the settlement. This documentation process will be conducted in cooperation with universities and external agencies, in order to include outside viewpoints and to answer to external debates, questions and frameworks. An important part of the external documentation of the project will include the development of a set of indicators. These indicators can facilitate the monitoring and measuring of the success of the Nest! in terms of community empowerment, community learning, and community influence.

 

The documentation programs of the Nest! Academy will constitute a core element of the “learning community”. They will feed into the collective evaluation debates, organized as part of the community development and neighborhood planning process .They will also feed into the certification and accreditation process organized in cooperation with outside agencies, as part of the transfer of hidden potentials and unused resources into mainstream society. Special focus will lie on describing the elements of effective participatory governance and the role civil society can play in mediating between government and the private sector.

 

Click here for the next chapter (full text)

Next chapter summery