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Three strategies for engaging local authorities and housing associations

Helen Nicol, founder and CEO of consultancy Blue Chula, shares top tips on gaining support for your organisation or project.

Getting support from local authorities, housing associations or other statutory bodies can be challenging.

Knowing your audience and making your project appealing to them is a key step – so we’re sharing these three strategies, which have all been valuable to communities in getting traction with a public sector body:

  1. Align your aims 

    It’s important to describe a project in terms of shared aims, by telling the project story in terms of the current aims of the local authority or housing association. This clearly links it to the outcomes of the local authority or housing association, showing the benefit of working together.

    Top tip: Elected members might have different aims to council officers. Stakeholder mapping helps identify what communities need to talk about with who, to get them on board and supportive of the project.

  2. Demonstrate value

    Completing a cost/benefit analysis of the project is a great way to show that the benefits are equal to or greater than the costs of the proposal. Don’t just think about financial benefits but social value as well. There are some great resources to help you identify and describe social value from HACT (housing-focused), Local Government Association (advice for councils) and from Social Value UK (general advice).

    Top tip: Look differently at project value if local authorities or housing associations aren’t engaging. Thinking about the impact of not doing anything can provide you with a very persuasive story. Where there is multiple deprivation there is generally public expenditure in the millions. Project costs can soon look small in relation to the cost of doing nothing.

  3. Showcase your credibility

    In broad terms, communities can influence politicians and leaders by demonstrating legitimacy and credibility. Because elected leaders need to represent the majority, they will be less likely to collaborate if they don’t think community groups have broad community support. It’s likely you’ll be challenged on this, particularly if project costs are high or have a large impact on an area, so aim to demonstrate that 60% of people in your area support your project.

    Top tip: Council leaders need to seem credible, so achievable plans are more likely to get support. Make sure you demonstrate your prior successes, so you’re seen as less of a risk and more attractive as a partner.

How to overcome common challenges of working with local authorities

With all this in mind, there are still barriers to engaging specifically with local authorities:

  • Silo-working: sometimes different parts of the council can give you different messages, which can be a challenge when you’re working with people from different departments. Getting all parties in a room or together on an online call is a good way to get everyone on the same page and move things forward.
  • Reallocated funds: projects often take a considerable amount of time and funds allocated and agreed can sometimes disappear over the months and years. This can happen with political change but also by accident if it’s not clear funds have been aligned to a particular project. Get any and all agreements about funding in writing and ask when it needs to be spent by (often funds can’t be carried over to the next financial year).
  • A key contact leaves: often people move to different roles and those great discussions that were so promising can come to a sudden end. Get agreements in writing to show that the local authority has committed to something, even if the person making the commitment leaves. It doesn’t always work, as political change can override some decisions, but it’s a useful tool for leverage.

In summary

Make sure your ideas are appealing to the people you would like to support you. Do this by:

  • Aligning your aims with those of the person or organisation you want to work with.
  • Demonstrating the value of your project in a way that will interest that organisation or individual.
  • Showing your credibility with clear, well described plans and showing your legitimacy with signatures or declarations of support.

And remember that getting people interested in what you want to do is half the battle. Good luck!

About the author
Helen Nicol

Helen Nicol created Blue Chula to make best use of the skills she gained in the private, public and voluntary sectors, for the benefit of anyone wishing to improve their community, change or collaboration activities.  Her aim is to help increase independence, capability and resilience, whether in communities or in organisations.