Community organising

I'm thinking of taking a course in community organising as the next step in becoming a civil servant: a life/career project I began in January this year. (See blog). I'm attracted to the course because:

'Community organising is about bringing people together and empowering them to achieve change' … Much of my organisation design and development role aims for this approach, although one of the tensions inherent in the role is the fact that often I am working more as an agent of the leaders or executive team who are intent on 'getting people to buy-in' to a proposed change. In spite of statements about empowering people it's often less of an action and more of a statement. I'd like to swing the balance in my work more towards truly empowering people, more on the lines that Debra Meyerson describes in her books and articles on tempered radicals or Margaret Hagan illustrates in her work on designing open law.

Community organising has a whole 'movement' based dimension to it, Barack Obama explained it as follows:
…community organizing provides a way to merge various strategies for neighborhood empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way for communities to build long-term power is by organizing people and the money [they raise] around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based indigenous leadership-—and not one or two charismatic leaders-—can knit together the diverse interests of their local institutions [and "grassroots" people].

Adapting Obama's statement gives us a movement not mandate approach through which to conduct organisation design and development work:

organization design and development provides a way to merge various strategies for workforce empowerment. Organizing begins with the premise that (1) the problems facing workplace members and teams do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions; (2) that the only way to build long-term power to change is by organizing people around a common vision; and (3) that a viable organization can only be achieved if a broadly based local leadership-—and not one or two charismatic leaders-—can knit together the diverse interests of their local workplaces[and "grassroots" people].

Community organising's movement not mandate approach is based in a political power paradigm that I started to learn about in the politics course I did earlier this year and now would like to explore further for two reasons:

  1. In my experience (or practice) it is not the lens though which organisation design and development work is overtly played – though managing the covert political agendas and interests is part and parcel of the work. (See the IES Report The Palace: Perspective on Organisation Design for more on this). I'm now re-reading Gareth Morgan's book Images of Organization, specifically Chapter 6, Interests, Conflict, and Power: Organizations as Political Systems as a precursor to going into more depth on the topic.

  2. The context for my organisation design and development work in the civil service is one of governmental politics and power. This dynamic is front and centre of all activity. Building that context into the work is critical, challenging and fascinating.

Do you think organisation design/development has a community organising and political aspect to it? Let me know.

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