Mobilising the Community

Community moblilisation is the process whereby members of a community identify a need, rally support and work towards an outcome for the benefit or development of the greater community. It is one of the greatest and most powerful tools of a community organisation or movement to be able to bring people together to lobby, to advocate, to protest on behalf of a community or cause.

It is all about rallying support within a community and getting concerned individuals, institutions, non-government organisations, government bodies, and media outlets behind the cause. Or if not behind it, to at least get them to take up the discussion and start the debate.

When community mobilisation works it is a very empowering exercise. You only have to look at the massive changes that have occurred over the past 50 years in terms of the womens movement, disability movement, indigenous rights movement to mention just a couple of examples to see how perceptions have changed, attitudes have changed, votes have changed, priorites have changed and - eventually - legislation or practice has changed.

All of that was because enough members of the community were mobilised to support change.

Some people say that by assisting a community to organise an advocacy group or organisation that fights for the rights of its constitutents that you actually achieve two goals. You help that community to do something about a wrong or issue that it wishes to right and cope with or deal with some wrong that it wishes to right, and also  contribute to the strengthening of the community by assisting more people to become more engaged.

Continuing research (see papers to Communities in Control conference here) suggests that when problems are solved by those empowered people in the community who are actually affected then those solutions will have a greater chance of achieving a successful outcome. It is not just about solving problems or changing legislation. It can be drawing the community around a new, positive intiative that will benefit the greater community.

Steps involved

Some campaigns grow like topsy. In fact most campaigns start off as a small seed and grow and grow. For many community organisations it is difficult to do anything than work like mad to keep pace with what has been started and try and steer the movement in the right direction and ensure it doesn't get diverted. However, where possible, it is worth trying to keep a detailed account of your actions. Both progress and setbacks should be recorded so that next time you actually have some structure to your campaign.

That way you can actually work out the initiatives that garnered support, those that lost you support and the key relationships and partnerships that were integral in taking your case to a greater audience. It is a way of taking the learning and using it the next time you need to bring the community together behind a common cause.

There are many things that you need to consider in mobilising support.  Once you have identified a need, the process you need to go through to achieve your goals may become obvious; however, here is a rough guide to help add some structure to the process of mobilising a community.

Step one:

An individual or a group identifies a need within the community (crime prevention, health issues, human rights issues, a road closure, heritage issues, issues of discrimination or access, the need for a new community centre etc).

Step two:

The individual or individuals who have identified the need or problem then contact key community people and supporters who are prepared to join the campaign to see that community need is met. It's important to form a group that is representative of your community (not necessarily the geographic community but it can be a community of like-minded people or people joined by a common interest). Be clear about what you are aiming to do and your goals and the main messages that you will be using to sell your position.

Also before you go too far, establish an action plan as to how you intend to achieve your goals. What is it you need to do. The campaign may not flow strictly according to the plan but at least you have some structure setting out what needs to be done.

Step three:

Spread the message and reach as many members of the community as possible to advocate your position. This step can take in seeking support from government, business, non-government organisations or funding bodies and media outlets. It can take in staging a public event, function, photo opportunity, protest or demonstration. It could be establishing a website, it could be setting up an email campaign, passing around a petition, letterdropping the local community, lobbying governments (Federal, state and local) and approaching other similarly-minded community organisations.

Step four:

By this stage a coalition (either from within your direct community or extending into other communities or interest areas) will have formed and stronger partnerships struck between different groups and influential supporters within the community. As each new person comes on board, they should be briefed about what the group (or coalition) is hoping to achieve and how, why, and where this is to be done.

Engaging the wider community is usually paramount in achieving any lasting success. This can be done by:
  • holding public meetings
  • advertising in local papers
  • utilising free community announcements through media outlets
  • a strong media campaign aimed at getting ongoing coverage about your issue/group
  • targeting radio programs, offering a spokesperson to be a guest.
  • promotional lunches, special events
  • letterbox drops, telephone calls
  • Internet discussion groups
  • addressing other groups

Step five:

The resources available to the community to achieve these goals should be identified and assessed. Goals should be modified and clarified as the group progresses and gains more information about the cause. To sustain momentum, keep the public informed and continue to gather information to ensure community members are involved in the problem-solving process. This can be done through:
  • Regular public meetings
  • Polls and surveys
  • Interviews
  • Observation
  • Internet feedback
Identify previous research and data on the issue and use this in conjunction with your own findings from the community consultation process.

Step six:

Refine your action plan to achieve your goal. Continue to expand your group/coalition/partnerships. Ensure that your support continues to grow and that there is a wide consensus among your own community for what you are doing, for the actions you choose to take to achieve your goals.

Not everyone is going to agree with you - and the debate may well become heated - but try to treat with respect dissenting views even if you don't agree with them. Don't necessarily dismiss all of them out of hand. See if there is some ground you can give that would increase the level of support you can call on or bring into the fold those holding a dissenting view.

The specifics of your action plan will obviously be different in every case, and will be shaped by your principles, the community need, and the input from your partners. Such a plan might involve reaching your goals through, for example,
  • Lobbying government for legislative change
  • Raising funds to build a community facility
  • Holding a specific day to achieve a result, e.g. Clean Up Australia Day
  • Taking your cause to court, etc.

Step seven:

Implement the plan, assess the outcomes, report your findings, and then (with your partners and with the feedback from the community)  tease out what further action needs to take place. Community support for any further action needs to be confirmed now that the community has had a chance to see how the proposal worked out in practice.  The whole point of community mobilisation, after all, is to enlist the whole community in working to achieve the desired outcome: when development occurs with the support of the whole community, the outcomes are more sustainable and the community's sense of cohesion and identity is enhanced.