The word Community always catches my eye then my consciousness. In its most current appearing the word Community is connected with the Robertson, Community Technical Centre. My own connections with the Centre are not extensive, but in the light of current events there I post my observations, observations like those of a blind man touching an elephant with a stick. Though my vision of the CTC is limited, I still write because I am a Robertson person a Robertson Commoner, and secondly because I have been a consultant to groups similar to the CTC over several years as an organizational psychologist.
In the one week the manager, resigned and there was a celebration commemorating ten years in existence. These are vital signs, the CTC is alive.
Earlier this year I offered to edit the Robertson Newsletter which was to come under the management of the CTC. My offer was accepted and I thought and talked more about the job. As I did so I concluded it was, in consultant speak, not a doable job. This was not so much because of time, skill and intelligence deficiencies on my part. What I gleaned of the structure, history and policies of the CTC convinced me to retreat, to maintain an interest but from a distance. What I did notice follows.
Looking at the organizational structure there are Directors, but I am not sure of who they are, where their names are posted or on what criteria they are elected. I am not sure what marketable skills they bring to the specific tasks of directing. I am not sure whether they are a board of management (an organizational impossibility) or a board of directors. This is not to say that they are not good people trying to do a good job.
Community organizations in theory are common, in other words they belong to and service the common people, the community. Sometimes they receive grants or commercial breaks to assist them serve the local people. However they can also morph into a cosy enclave for a group who consider themselves special or have found ways to institutionalise their hobbies. The latter state is just one of those pitfalls where volunteering can lapse. Volunteering is hard work often unrewarding invisible work. So seeking personal sustenance for volunteers themselves is unsurprising and arguably necessary for service continuance. For these and other reasons volunteers are harder to manage than fixed contract providers or waged employees.
A community organization needs to consider the usual key questions of any organization, namely: What business are we in? Why do we exist? Who can tell whom to do what? What will it be like to work here? What goods and services do we offer? How do we chose what to offer, price costs etc? How do we select staff? How do we review staff and managerial performances? How do we review the organization's performance? On what criteria? To whom does the organization report? Where do they go when they have nothing more to contribute? Who sets the goals? Are the goals achievable? Are the goals linked to our customers' needs and budget? How will conflict be resolved, not if but when it arises? Who manages boundaries? Who writes policy and how is it monitored? Who decides and manages finance and resource matters? Having a constitution may be a statutary requirement but it will not supply for solid attention to the above questions. Indeed much of the rangling about constitutions that I have seen is a blinding avoidance of facing the above questions.
By definition a community organization has a special relationship with the community. That is where it sits, that is why it is treated differently by funding and regulatory bodies and that is why it carries the banner Community. A community organization exists to be of benefit to the community in which it sits and to which it has a special mutual responsibility.
Franchised organizations such as fast food outlets like McDonalds are not community organizations though they would like to pretend that they are to avoid looking like profiteers. But as in Tacoma in Victoria where the community has fought to prevent McDonalds setting up a store they demonstrate they have no regard for the community as such but just its money. A community organization does its market research in dialogue with local people about what they want. The organization's efectiveness is the alignment between what it produces and what the local people want. However there are some groups which are like the person who went around, "doing good to others" were you could tell the others by their hunted looks. Community organizations do not have a right to be evangelical.
Amusingly, the Robertson Bowling Club is currently exploring a change of name to attract more people. When "Robertson Bowling and Community Club" was suggested the committee responsible rejected the title because they said people might confuse the Bolo with the Community T.C.
Two final observations and then the conclusion. The history of the CTC, as with any organization, is significant. From what I have discovered the original raision d'etre for the CTC was to attract grant money for a building and plant to teach about IT to local rural people. One informant expressed it slightly differently as, "A crowd of hippies set it up to get money for themselves to play with computers and to smoke dope". Irrespective of the innuendo and imputations one has to ask has the original charter changed. Are there rural people who are IT illiterate needing services similar to those imagined by the founders? If not, if the world has moved on in ten years, what is the new reason for continuing and if it is a community organization how does the community register the needs they want met? Has IT, which was once more mystical and magical, now become like everyday tools with smartphones and tablets and user friendly computers? Do community needs need to be canvassed anew? I would say the evidence suggests yes. If the CTC is a community organization how reciprocal is the word community? Is it grass roots based, a select club or top down distributor of "what we like to do and think is good for the villagers"?
A success story. The Adult Learning Centre in rural Young NSW some years ago had a manager who knew about participative community planning. He set up a week end workshop with stakeholders, those affected by and those responsible for changes, to come and learn together to build a plan for the future of adult learning in Young. The result was a blueprint for five years, a set of values to operate by, a statement of purpose, and a clear set of directions detailing management powers, learning resources to meet the needs for the people of the Young Community. The manager knew he needed facilitators who were neutral and he wanted to be a participant so he hired facilitators for the future planning job. There was no need to sell the plan to the Centre because those who developed it owned it. The Centre had a stronger support base. While building the plan they also built the Young community. The proof of success was the large increase in course variety and in increased numbers doing courses and evaluating them highly. Management and volunteers had a clearer job.
Current matters occurring in the management of the CTC would suggest changes are indicated. To maintain the status quo would require more effort and resources than to move forward creatively. The changes could be band aids or cosmetic or solid long term firm future focused foundations. The challenge is to make the right changes in an organization which has the capacity to be like the village common. It could be a place where the community is enriched, where local people meet and are and link with the world around them.
Michael D. Breen
May 8th 2014.