[Written on Thursday 29 Sept, this is the second of three posts whilst on community organising training]
Today has been the second day of training for the first batch of Locality community organisers. It has provided the main day of content for the programme and answered the questions that many participants have been harbouring since the beginning.
The Origins of RSLM
The day opened with a reflection and a short silence which struck me as semi-religious. Whilst the content was not faith-based, it was a surprise to be asked to think about snowflakes, birds and tipping points! However the majority of the morning was taken up by a detailed explanation of the Root Solutions – Listening Matters(RSLM) approach to organising (For more detail see the Resources below). The lecture was given by Stephen Kearney. He started by pointing out that RSLM is a long-term process that shows tangible results after about two years and comes to maturity by about four. The single training year for which we are preparing is only the start of a significant journey.
Stephen outlined the origins of RSLM in the work of RE:generate Trust since 1985. In trying to build communities across the UK, Stephen and Julia Olsen – who together founded the Trust – repeatedly came up against barriers. Their analysis took them to both financial and political power as the source of those blocks. They also saw that communities were stuck in a culture of blame and did not seem able to take responsibility for their own future. As a result in 1996, they gained the confidence of Eric Adams, then Secretary of the independent Barrow Cadbury Trustand began the journey that led to RSLM.
When Ed Chambers, then IAF Executive Director and Ernesto Cortés, Jr from the Industrial Areas Foundation visited the UK, Stephen, Julia and Eric noticed the different culture around political entrepreneurialism in the UK. The Citizen Organising Foundation (which much later became Citizens UK), who had invited the IAF leaders across from America argued that 100,000 people needed to be recruited to create change. For Stephen and Julia, this excluded too many places that just did not have that sort of population, such as rural areas, market towns and seaside resorts. They argued for an approach that could work at a smaller scale. As a result, they trained in Training for Transformation, an adaptation of the work of Brazilian Paulo Friere (pictured) for an African context. It was from this rich amalgam of radical thought that Julia and Stephen conceived RSLM as an indigenous approach to UK community animation.
The Process of RSLM
Stephen went on to explain RSLM in detail. He emphasised that it addresses the three realms: the need for personal growth, local action and engaging wider society. RSLM is designed to enable the organiser over time to create trust, respect and relationships with hundreds of people in the community.
The listening process is designed around a structured dialogue between the organiser and the citizen. It starts from those things in the community that the individual values – community assets, social networks, distinctive heritage. It moves on the explore their concerns about the area, what they are worried, angry or sad about. The dialogue moves then to ask about vision or dreams for the community’s future. Having uncovered the person’s motivation and direction, the conversation moves to looking at possible activities or projects that might meet those goals and at what actions might take them forward. A menu of possible actions allows the person the choose the level of involvement they are comfortable with and for the organiser, helps to pick out those who are potential community leaders.
We moved into groups to think about how RSLM can be used to achieve “an intelligent shift in power”. Before lunch, we heard from each of the nine small groups and Julia closed the session with another reflection on the purpose of each element of RSLM.
Power and Conflict
When we returned from lunch, we were asked to choose one newspaper headline or article about power from a selection of today’s papers. We were split into new groups and asked to share our articles and create a collage of them using the three domains of personal growth, local action and wider society. When these had all been completed – in the open air on a brilliantly warm day – we were introduced to each collage and we discussed our ideas about power and how it impacts on residents and citizens.
After a break, we worked together to explore our reaction to conflict. In silence, a single anonymous figure joined the group and was named as Conflict. When it had stopped being challenging to participants, we were asked to take up a considered position in relation to Conflict. Once everyone was satisfied with their location, posture and expression, we were invited in groups to reflect on our experience of the process and to think about how we might handle conflict in our new roles.
The last formal session of a long day was focused on giving us a chance to practice the RSLM process with another participant. In pairs, we were asked to use pre-printed RSLM forms to record the dialogue as the listener and on the other hand, to use the experience to assess the skills of the listening organiser. This will be part of our Open College Network assessment for the Practice of Community Organisingaccreditation at Level 2 or Level 3. At the end of a long and busy day, many people were tired and found it hard to concentrate.
Root Solution Listening Mattersis outlined in this extensive guide from the RE:generate Trust site.
Anne Hope and Sally Timmel (1999) Training for Transformation comes in two parts – an original pack of three books (Book 1-3 – originally 1984) and a single update(Book 4 – 1999) – which have to be purchased separately
Mark Smith (1997, 2002) ‘Paulo Freire and informal education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/thinkers/et-freir.htm] – an excellent article about Friere’s contribution