Community Planning Theory and Practice

With the Review of Public Administration and the transformation of local government in Northern Ireland came a new power, that of Community Planning. The term taking power, rather than framing the process as taking responsibility, could allow some to argue that they are there to hold others to account. Such a view would limit a council's direct involvement in addressing issues at the same time as being flexible enough to both place blame where failures occur and take credit where positive actions happen.

Community planning is intended to be transforming, not just in getting agencies and communities around the table but clearly identifying where resources can be applied to greater effect. A reduction in duplication, an increase in early detection of problems and strategic intervention to deliver a better outcome for all. Each agency has its own agenda, its own budget and targets, a thread which runs through peoples lives. If each thread runs parallel to every other thread without touching then people fall through the gaps. Community planning is about weaving threads together, some run up and down others need to run left to right, over and under, eventually they form a net. This is the safety net which supports the weak in society. Over time these threads should become stronger and closer together delivering more effective and efficient services.

So what is the role of councils, is it just to point to agencies and allocate issues or is it to proactively scope the environment and the opportunities to do things differently. I strongly believe it is the latter and as community plans are being prepared I want to see the change they will bring. I want to see councils picking up on opportunities to interact and invest in and with communities. They need to be proactive, being prepared to put their resources on the table first, community centres, sports facilities, arts centres, development staff, even cash where necessary. Their role is not to "hold the ring" or "make space available", where problems arise they should be prepared to be first in and last out.

When a community plan is published will the council producing it have provided a mass produced loom on which others are supposed to work or will they have woven the fabric of the plan, painstakingly understanding where each thread crosses another and the pattern they produce. Councils need to be part of the fabric of society not semi-interested bystanders.


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