Capacity building- what it means, how it works and why we do it

A Guest blog by Dave Smith

As a Network Development Worker for NACCOM, my job is about building capacity across the membership. But what does that mean, exactly, and why is it important?

Wikipedia tells us that ‘community capacity building is defined as the “process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organisations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast-changing world’.

The refugee and migrant sector is very familiar with change. Whether in response to gaps in funding, shifts in government policy or public attitudes or the direct and urgent needs of service users, if we want to do our jobs well, we have to be quick on our feet.

Below I’ve shared an overview of how we support our members to develop and share these skills to grow their capacity, and how this relates to our collective vision to end destitution.

  1. Helping members to evaluate what they are doing. That could be as simple as asking a question or making an observation about an aspect of the operation that could be done better, or as complex as helping with an annual staff or trustee awayday where the whole project is reviewed and evaluated. Organisations should re-evaluate their project at least once a year: as they grow they will need new infrastructure, just as a plant need to be re-potted, pruned and given a shot of fertiliser.
  2. Putting members in touch with each other. Finding out how other groups tackle the same issues that you have is key to improving your operation. It’s amazing how sharing information and expertise can boost a project. That’s why NACCOM is so keen on regular conferences dealing with topical issues, and regional hubs to connect local projects – and why the Annual Conference is always the highlight of the year. The ‘buzz’ engendered by passionate people in the same room with the same aim is electrifying! See here for details of upcoming events.
  3. Sharing resources. Why spend hours on a new policy if you can borrow and adapt an existing one? The NACCOM Members Area, with its extensive Library of shared and editable resources and Members Forum where you can post questions or updates, will save you time, energy and worry. Most projects don’t need to reinvent wheels in order to run smoother, they are more likely to just need a bit of adaptation to achieve that.
  4. Presenting new opportunities. When project leaders are so busy making their projects the best they can be, it’s hard to be looking further afield. NACCOM staff are constantly on the lookout for new housing models, new funding opportunities, new partnerships and ideas, which they can pass on through regular newsletters, emails and phone calls. Sign up here to get our monthly updates.
  5. Making best use of data and stories. While members often have good access to local media, it is rare for them to be able to get national coverage. NACCOM, with its 50+ full members, all accommodating destitute asylum seekers, is uniquely placed to represent its members nationally. No one else collects data on accommodation for destitute asylum seekers. By feeding in accurate information into the annual survey, members are making their contributions much more valuable and together we can raise a louder, more effective voice against destitution. Plus, as everyone knows, a story is far more impactful than a statistic. That’s why NACCOM is committed to helping members find a simple and effective way of collecting both data and stories. Take a look at last year’s report for examples of how evidence gathering can be put to use.

So, how can we help you to build your capacity, grow, be more effective and evaluate your service?  We are here to serve our members, so please ask!

Here are five tips to help you get started…

1. Define what you do, why and how you do it (in other words, this is your vision, mission statement and organisational objectives rolled into one!).

2. Once you know what you’re doing and why, focus on your core mission. You can’t meet every need, so you must prioritise from day one.

3. Keep monitoring and evaluating your work. Ask the questions, “Is there a better way of doing this?” “Who is best placed to do that?” “What, or who do we need to make it happen?”

4. Take everything you can from the good practice of other organisations– if it is useful and appropriate for your situation. Just because it works for them, it may not work for you, just as housing asylum seekers in London throws up different challenges to housing asylum seekers in Middlesborough.

5. If there is another project local to you, see if and how you might be able to partner with them. If you’re not sure, a good place to start is the Project Directory on our website.

If you’re a member and you want support with any of these areas, get in touch.

If you’re keen to respond to the needs of destitute people by becoming a member, find out more here.

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