A message from our team
‘Reflecting forwards’ is a common thread running through a lot of the work we’ve done this year, with people in communities and with organisations. It describes a process of giving people space to consider what they’ve achieved, what their priorities are, how they want to move on, and what kind of support they need to do that.
The importance of reflecting and sharing learning to support future action reminds us of Sankofa, the Akan concept, often symbolised by the Adinkra image of a bird looking backwards. We’ve made this central to our review artwork this year. The bird is looking back to take what is precious from its past (an egg) into the future, to move forwards with strength. The words that make up Sankofa come from Twi, one of Ghana’s many languages.
The concept was first introduced to us when Helen was working for One World Week. A personal highlight of her work there was the ‘Voices from the South’ programme, enabling the skills, experiences and voices of people from the global South to shape global education in the UK. Ghanaian and other colleagues on the project enriched our lives and work in many ways, but the concept of Sankofa is a particularly precious piece of history that we reach back and take with us to inform our practice at Just Ideas.
Just Ideas’ approach to facilitation and organisational development often starts with people drawing on their own knowledge and experiences, and using that to shape what happens in the future. People have told us that, in challenging times like these, it’s been really encouraging to celebrate how far they’ve travelled. To look at what’s worked well, and why. To combine learning and wisdom, and to extract principles that help them plan into the future. At Just Ideas, we build this reflective practice into our own company practice as well, because we believe it’s important to our growth.
We’d like to share with you our reflections on working together in 2023, to celebrate the progress we’re making, and to highlight what’s working really well in the midst of the difficulties so many people are facing. We hope it’s inspiring and encouraging, and we look forward to keeping up the good work in 2024.
How we work
The work we do, together with our trusted Just Ideas Collaborative, is more complex and intricate than it might appear. If we’re doing a good job, our hard work won’t be immediately obvious. It involves careful preparation, discussion, consideration and planning. We bring a spectrum of knowledge, skills and specialisms to every project we work on, including research, teamwork, facilitating, training, nurturing, empathy, inclusion and conflict resolution. We place emphasis on purpose, structure, process and clarity, and we strive to conduct our relationships with care and respect.
Our preparation for working with people in communities and organisations involves a lot of thinking about what will make people feel welcome and heard. How are we going to plan the different group dynamics so that everybody will feel able to speak at some point? What variety of activities can we bring to a session, to appeal to different types of learners? What can we include for people who like a bit of quiet time? A lot of our planning is based on putting people first and really thinking through inclusion. How are people going to access this training, this course, this facilitation, or this report?
It’s also about understanding the context that we’re working in, and that’s very variable. It’s on us to work to understand the situations people and organisations are facing and the conditions they’re dealing with.
We think carefully about our purpose, getting clear about what we’re trying to achieve from the start. We establish a structure and a plan that enables us to move seamlessly through each session or project that we run, being flexible and responsive to changing needs and context.
A lot of training in facilitation has gone into the work we do. Just Ideas is a nurturing group of people who are specialists in different things. Our brilliant Just Ideas Collaborative includes a lot of expert facilitators. We come together on a regular basis to share learning, share ideas, solve problems and build our practice.
COVID Inquiry Listening Exercise
This year, Ipsos asked us to bring our experience and skills in community engagement to the targeted research element of the UK Covid-19 listening exercise. In partnership with WSA Community, and independent of the legal element of the Covid Inquiry, we’re reaching out to people across the four nations who might be interested in sharing their story. All the research and interviews we do, and all the stories we collect, will be analysed and shared anonymously in reports that will inform the Covid Inquiry.
We’re tasked with finding people who may be less likely to share their feedback in a mainstream way. Particularly people in areas suffering multiple deprivation, people from different ethnic minority communities and people with learning disabilities. We’re recruiting people through community organisations and places where people gather. Through our involvement in the current module of the inquiry, we’ve been able to encourage a focus on health inequalities and to apply our specialist experience in that area.
Through the Just Ideas Collaborative and working with Community we’ve been able to put together a diverse and experienced team, to do the work of reaching and interviewing people. The connections that our team members bring, and the connections they build, have resulted in a significant increase in the project’s reach.
We’re proud of working with real integrity, of supporting and valuing the participants and their stories. Mindful that some of these interviews could be quite traumatic for people, we’ve advocated for enough lead-in time to prepare carefully, and for going through community organisations and connectors to build relationships. All interviewers and participants have had trauma-informed training, and there has been emotional support in place for everyone involved.
Across all our work, what we’re most proud of is bringing our expertise to talking with people whose voices aren’t usually heard. For the listening exercise, in a relatively short space of time, we’ve managed to reach communities who have been appreciative of the opportunity to talk, some of them feeling they have never had the chance to be heard like this before. Participants have fed back their appreciation for being able to do something positive with such a difficult experience.
“Working with the WSA Community and Just Ideas partnership on Every Story Matters allows us to broaden the reach of the important research we are conducting together for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. The Inquiry wants to understand the impact of the pandemic across UK society, and the partnership adds value by helping ensure we include lived experience through a community engagement and outreach approach.”
Daniel Cameron, Research Director, Ipsos
While the NHS continues to go through changes, we’re glad to continue to work with them on co-designing and delivering training. Together with our partner WSA Community, we’ve delivered excellent courses on ‘Patient Public Voice (PPV) Partners Impact and Influence’, and on ‘10 Steps to Working with People and Communities’.
We did some really successful facilitation skills training for NHS England’s Learning Disability and Autism Engagement Team. Some of our team members who specialise in working with people with learning disabilities and autism travelled to Leeds and delivered a great training session.
We’ve also focused on building capacity by developing and delivering a local trainers’ programme for the 10 Steps course, with a view to enabling NHS staff to take on more of this training themselves. Our courses have been very well received and we look forward to developing our relationship with NHS England in the future.
Local Trust and Big Local
This year, Richard took the lead on facilitating a support offer called Reflect | Recharge for Local Trust’s Big Local programme. Working as a team, we’ve provided space for thirteen Big Local resident partnerships to consider their priorities, achievements, goals and needs. There has been a real element of celebration, as well as encouragement that even if things are difficult at the moment, people can recognise how far they’ve come over the last decade. We’ve explored what worked well, looked at what it was about the approach that made it work well, and addressed the challenges that people face. The result of Reflect Recharge is a plan that helps partnerships access the support they need to deliver their Big Local plans, look to the future and communicate their successes.
For the past three years, we’ve worked in partnership with the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) on Local Trust’s Community Leadership Academy. As learning partners, we’ve helped the academy to learn about the difference they’re making, how it’s working, and what’s particularly effective. In August, the final report of this work, ‘Building Community Leadership’ was published.
We’re also working with Local Trust to research and write profiles of five Big Local areas. These area profiles will be part of the Learning from Big Local website. They summarise what the Big Local groups achieved, how they worked together, and what they learned from being part of the programme.
Just Ideas continues to work with St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity, a UK-wide homelessness charity, in a bespoke and flexible way. We provide a combination of one-to-one mentoring/coaching, and facilitated sessions for the senior leadership team and managers, to support them in leading the organisation through a period of significant growth and change, and to develop their leadership skills and behaviours.
Having worked with the charity over the past five years, we’ve built an in-depth understanding and a relationship that benefits our work, where we can come in and hit the ground running, responding as the organisation evolves.
Leadership through change is becoming one of Just Ideas’ specialist areas. We have expert associates specialising in leadership in our Just Ideas Collaborative, enabling us to offer this valuable support to charitable organisations going through periods of change, or those wanting some support to explore how they lead in a very challenging social context. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can support your organisation, get in touch with email@example.com
Hammersmith United Charities
We’ve been working alongside Hammersmith United Charities; an organisation that runs alms houses in Hammersmith, supports community action and runs a grants programme for local causes. Working as a learning partner with their trustees, staff and residents, we’ve facilitated sessions to develop a theory of change for the organisation. This work supports their future planning by articulating the difference they make and how their services build towards that.
Being a learning partner means supporting an organisation to learn, working alongside them and feeding back in real time things that are important for them to learn about their organisation, in order to plan for the future. It’s a service that we really enjoy being able to offer, combining our skills in facilitation, evaluation and leadership through change.
New Local and Local Authorities
Our community engagement work with New Local this year has focused on supporting local authorities to engage with and consult their residents and voluntary sector organisations in different ways. With Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils (BMSDC), we developed an engagement strategy, then held conversations and workshops with people in the communities that BMSDC felt they heard from the least. We built relationships with voluntary and community organisations working with vulnerable people across the districts and, through those contacts, we arranged and hosted about 30 conversations and workshops in community spaces and online.
We gathered the perspectives of vulnerable families, refugees, homeless people, disabled people, those accessing mental health support, older people, digitally excluded people and young people, among others. What made this work successful was meeting people where they meet, whether at a family group drop-in or a local library, and talking to people in a subtly structured way, adapting questions and materials to suit their context. Those conversations formed the community consultation that will feed into the refreshed corporate plan and built the district councils’ capacity to engage with their communities in future.
“Helen has a great way of connecting with people, making engagement events relaxed and inclusive to all. Through our Corporate Plan engagement project this autumn, Just Ideas has helped BMSDC to gain a fuller understanding of our residents’ and partners’ needs, while supporting our staff to develop the right skills to continue working in this way going forwards. Thanks again for all your hard work, it’s been a pleasure working with you.”
Clare Read, Continuous Improvement Lead – Strategic Policy, Babergh District Council and Mid Suffolk District Council – Working Together
We’ve continued our work as associates with IVAR (Institute of Voluntary Action Research). Helen contributes her long experience of and specialism in cross-sector health partnerships, and Richard has been involved in a funding programme supporting monitoring, evaluation and learning with organisations on the Propel programme. It’s been stimulating delivering sessions that combine sharing our expertise with sharing knowledge between organisations.
Just Ideas is really proud to develop our work with InterClimate Network, delivering UN-style model climate conferences. A small team of associates from Just Ideas, who observed these conferences last year, is now working as a delivery partner with InterClimate Network on six model climate conferences this year. The successful delivery of the tenth Reading Schools Climate Conference was a particular milestone to celebrate in 2023!
Just Ideas Collaborative
Relationships form a central part of the work we do, whether it’s through our Just Ideas Collaborative, our networks, our listening or our facilitating. We’re seeing more and more of our clients recognising the importance of taking a relational approach and prioritising the building of relationships at every level, whether we’re working with small community groups, local authorities or larger organisations.
Our Just Ideas Collaborative has grown this year, gaining five new associates, each of whom brings new skills, specialisms and perspectives, and increases our geographical spread. We continue to add to the diversity of our Collaborative in terms of ethnicity, gender identity, neurodiversity and age range. All our associates bring with them valuable networks and a wealth of experience.
We’d like to welcome our new members, who are already doing good things with Just Ideas and beyond. We look forward to continuing to meet up as a Collaborative, both online and in person, in 2024.
Insights and inspiration
During a recent project, one of our younger associates who does a lot of work with AI pointed out that AI couldn’t do the kind of work we do, meeting and talking to local residents, person to person, having conversations about their experiences. While we use ever-evolving technology to support a lot of our work at Just Ideas, we really pride ourselves on recognising the importance of human interaction, connection, communication and experience.
Another associate recently remarked on what a privilege it is to have such broad knowledge of different communities around the country. Because of the work we do, we’ve been able to gain insight into, and understanding of, the issues that people face in communities, whether it’s struggling to get money together for food, or the real stress of being in pain, or the difficulty of meeting ever-rising accommodation costs.
At the same time, we’re seeing people’s resourcefulness, resilience and willingness to take action in their communities, which often involves sticking their neck out and having the courage to do things.
A big thank you
As ever, we couldn’t do what we do alone, and we’d like to thank everyone we’ve been lucky enough to work with this year.
Thanks go to Sophie for crafting our reflections in words, to Natalie for inspirational artwork and to Maria for bringing it to life with music and film. Click here to see the making of the artwork time lapse film.
We look forward to keeping in touch and working with you again. We hope the work we’ve done together will have good results that last for years to come.
Richard, Helen, Mary and the Just Ideas Collaborative.