Linda Jack: Community Politics for the 21st century

Continuing her series of guest posts, Party President candidate Linda Jack today sets out to reinvigorate Community Politics.

Linda Jack: Restore, Renew, Respect – Community Politics for 21st century

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of being a trustee for Action to Re:generate Trust, founded by Stephen Kearney and Julia Olsen and delivering their unique community development approach ‘Listening Matters’. Their expertise has been recognised across the country, in particular through their involvement in training community organisers for the government community development scheme. They have now developed a new approach that builds on our existing base of Community Politics in a way that refreshes both us and those we seek to represent.

In the private sector, building a rapport with your service users is standard practice, to the extent that is now has its own natty acronym, CRM (client relationship management). Businesses also readily trip over themselves to publish their social responsibility credentials (CSR) and how their corporate policy delivers results in the wider community.

In the political sector, however, we have been slow to embrace these strategies, relying heavily on the “tried and tested” campaigning techniques.

In private enterprise, a quick glance at your bottom line shows whether your CRM and CSR methods are still effective or if they are no longer generating the required results. With politics the best case scenario seems to be disappointing election results shocking the strategists into action – and often even then politicians rely on comforting explanations such as external factors or mitigating circumstances, rather than to deconstruct their own credentials.

Common perceptions of politicians include “only come around at election time”; “not to be trusted”; “not in touch with real people”. If we are to alter these visceral responses, a new way of building political relationships must be brought about.

The liberal way of doing politics is community-centred. It stems from a principle that ordinary people can and should govern themselves and their communities and that community leaders should use their skills to enable this.

Listening Matters is not a management system, it is an engagement technique which liberal-minded leaders should have a natural affinity with. It reaches out to citizens through deep and reflective listening. The process integrates a series of questions into a natural conversation about the positive and negative features of each community, from the perspective of the citizen being listened to. The questions are designed to prompt fluid and passionate answers and build a sense of collective momentum between the citizen and activist or politician as the interview progresses.

The process begins by encouraging the citizen to share what they love about their community. This instigates a conversation, a feeling that the activist/politician is genuinely interested and that his or her opinion is valued. Developing further, the citizen is then invited to talk about any concerns they have, which builds the picture of how they frame their community. Next, they are asked what their vision is for the community, and if they have any ideas that could address the areas which they believe are lacking. The conversation enters a crucial stage at this point, where the citizen is placed at the centre of the solution for the community.

This approach skills politicians and activists to make the right judgement calls, based on the information shared, in order that the relationship develops at the appropriate pace.

Establishing trust and respect between citizens and politicians is the scaffolding to building community-led common aims and a liberal, positive future.

Citizens are naturally the best architects for their own community visions and Liberal Democrats are naturally disposed to facilitating community politics. Listening Matters forms a firm link between the two and restructures the power dynamic to place citizens at the helm of how their communities develop and flourish.

Wherever we stand on the outcome of the Scottish referendum, one thing is for sure – we have had a taste of what happens when the electorate is truly engaged and can see that their actions can relate in real change. For me the Listening Matters approach is one whose time has come and is an exciting initiative and vital building block in the restoration and renewal of our party, which is why I am committed to introducing it into the party if elected.


You can read Linda Jack’s previous guest posts for this site too:

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