Dangers of Dichotomising
Remember George Bush? That guy really had some great quotes didn’t he? One of my favourite is “you’re either with us, or your with the terrorists”. As we have come to understand since 2001 (although some of us saw it immediately after he said it), the danger with dichotomizing complex issues is – presenting people with only two options for viewing the world doesn’t accurately reflect reality. The world is much more complex than x or y..
So what does this have to do with community-led service planning…???
Take it or leave it? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
When thinking about the community-led service model (paired down version below / full version on pp 30-31 of the Working Together Toolkit) it is not an all or none approach to service planning. If the community-led approach is viewed as a standalone approach it can be both overwhelming and scary for library staff, since in order to implement library service planning solely from this perspective, new skills need to be developed by staff.
Instead of viewing community led planning as the only way in which to work with community, IT COULD BE VIEWED as a set of additional skills which library staff can develop, and build on top of traditional approaches, in order to improve library services! In addition, library staff can draw upon these new skills, as they or the community see fit.
Step I. So, for instance, when determining which community(s) to work with (doing the community assessment) library staff will still want to approach community assessment from a traditional perspective. It will be important to know demographic characteristics of community, who is using your library (internally generated statistics), what current library users think of library services (comment cards, survey results etc.). During this initial phase of community led service planning, it will be imperative to create relationships with the community you want to target (so you will need to, as mentioned in the toolkit, spend time in community (or in branch) developing relationships and discovering what is important to community). If relationships aren’t developed – community led service planning will not occur.
Step II. During the next phase of service planning – needs identification – staff can still speculate what community needs are, but after developing relationships, you have the opportunity to verify if library staff perceptions actually match communities perceptions of need. This is a very important step to be aware of.. and can really inform us of the impact of working with communities (especially since we will rarely if ever be able to predict what others needs are without actually consulting or collaborating with them).
Step III. and IV. Service planning and delivery are the next two steps. While I always advocate for using community led approaches, if you are just beginning to use this approach, and you have discovered need from community, maybe the service is only planned by staff… or maybe you try to work with community ‘a little bit’. Same with delivery…
Now evaluation is a different cup of tea… see a previous blog posting on community led evaluation vs. traditional..
By approaching community led work as a way to both develop new skills to work with community, on top of what we are already doing in libraries, and to discover and develop services based on community needs, it is much more likely to be integrated into a system and receive buy in from staff. In addition, it will also ensure that library staff do not feel like their current approach to work is devalued.. and they will also be much more likely to try innovative new approaches to working with communities.