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Stronger together: roles that help Big Local partnerships succeed

November 2015

Researchers from the Community Development Foundation have found that shared leadership is helping Big Local succeed. They report that shared leadership happens in Big Local when partnerships:

  • share information
  • share a vision
  • support and encourage each other to deliver the vision
  • create a culture where everyone feels able to express their opinions. 

The researchers also found that there are six different roles people do in shared leadership: 

  • strategic thinker
  • do-er
  • catalyst
  • connector
  • advisor
  • coach.

We asked our Big Local ambassadors to help explain what the roles look like in practice.

The roles in action

Strategic thinker

A strategic thinker keeps an eye on the bigger picture and makes sure that activities relate to the outcomes the group wants to see.

Nick Heard, Big Local ambassador and chair of Three Parishes Big Local:

‘When we plan a project, we have to compare it against our community aspirations and measure how it fits. Then look at what is best value for money in that context.’

‘We can get bogged down in immediate needs, but strategic thinking means looking at root issues and sustainable developments.’

Connector

A connector brings together different people and groups across the area.

Christina Wheatley, Big Local ambassador, South Bermondsey Big Local:

‘I think I’m a connector as well as a bit of a do-er. If there is an event going on, then I go through my list, think of who I know, and put them in touch. One of the things I am most proud of is being able to put the local Tesco community champion and our local Asda community champion together. They’re now working on things across the Big Local area. It’s the first time in the country two supermarkets have got together on something like this- being part of that is brilliant.’

Do-er

A do-er makes things happen. Many people are do-ers, from those who do micro-volunteering to those in full time employment working on Big Local. An increasing number of areas are hiring a worker from within the area to act as a do-er and increase capacity to deliver Big Local.

Suzanne Iwai, Big Local ambassador, Wormolt and White City Big Local:

‘We had an intern doing coordination for our festival- a wonderful-doer who is great at execution of logistics! She doesn’t panic.’

Catalyst

A catalyst sparks new ideas and ways of doing things.

Suzanne Iwai, Big Local ambassador, Wormolt and White City Big Local:

‘We have one couple involved who have only been here a year, but they challenge by being new: they’re catalysts who shine by example and make other people be a bit braver!’

Advisor

An advisor provides expert advice and support.

Ralph Rudden, Big Local ambassador, Sale West Big Local:

‘One person on our partnership knows a bank of legal and finance people that have signed up to do pro bono work in communities, he puts us in touch when we need it.’

Advisors may be legal or finance professionals. The role of reps, locally trusted organisations and other partners in providing expert advice is often important as areas deliver their projects. Having good advisors was really important to Westfield Big Local: view the case study.

Coach

A coach supports development and motivates others. This is often someone who is slightly removed, but residents can also act as a coach to motivate and develop each other.

Christina Wheatley, Big Local ambassador, South Bermondsey Big Local:

‘The Community Engagement Officer for South Bermondsey Big Local is a role model for me. Her encouragement, support and guidance has helped me understand and structure what I aiming for with both my community development training and with my social enterprise, Edible Avondale SE1.’

Filling in the gaps

Partnerships can become weaker when they lack people who can do each role. So how can you make sure your partnership stays strong? 

Ralph Rudden, Big Local ambassador, Sale West Big Local:

'Knowing the roles helps with actively promoting skills gaps in your board or partnership. The first stage is to look internally, ask yourself, ‘have we got all of those skills?’ If you haven’t got the skills you actively go find someone who has those skills- either to join the board, or just to come in when needed.'

One person may perform more than one role and may also change roles over the course of time. You might also need an extra skill just for a particular project and thinking flexibly about the roles can be the key to success.

Christina Wheatley, Big Local ambassador, South Bermondsey Big Local:

'I think we must find a way of saying to people, we don’t expect you to volunteer for 15-20 hours a week- we can find a way to use your skill for an hour. That’s something everyone could look at- adapting to people’s availability or skills rather than getting people to adapt to us. That one person who’s good at IT but can’t volunteer in the daytime can design a poster in the evening or write a press release.'

Staying connected

The key message from the research is that everyone on the partnership has a role to play in Big Local. Choosing the right people to work with and connecting to others in the community to support delivery can make all the difference.

To succeed, support is needed from other residents, reps, locally trusted organisations, workers, local organisations, other Big Local areas and Local Trust to help deliver Big Local.

Search our library of advice and guidance on delivering Big Local.

Attend a training event to build your skills and connect you with other Big Local areas.

Download a summary about the shared leadership roles.

Read the full research report from CDF.

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