Why listening is key to supporting community groups to thrive

Babs Lewis

Babs Lewis

Babs Lewis
Senior Manager
Inquisitive, impatient and questioning, Babs joined Nesta’s People Powered Results team after a lifetime as a journalist and film-maker. She changed direction, becoming a development-manager for an innovative charity, when...
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What does it mean to listen? The kind where you hear what’s being said, not where people are waiting for a gap to speak? Over the last two months WCVA’s practical action programme has been listening to community groups to try to learn more about community-led action, how it can build recovery post pandemic and help create a fairer, more equal, green, sustainable and healthier future. Babs Lewis, our Senior Manager in Wales, reflects on this midway through the programme.


Listening to learn with teams across Wales 

The programme has worked with three very different teams from across Wales supporting them to move to action in their communities. One is a large, carer-led group working closely with third sector colleagues. Another is a smaller rural team working with their local councillor. The third is a wide network of people and community groups, based in a busy city ward, that have come together to support local people.

Each team is testing new ways of working together with coaching support from the programme. All of them have reflected on the value of listening, and how it is often missing from relationships that community groups need to thrive.

Listening helps us learn. For the teams it’s about understanding what good looks like for their communities, and for the programme it’s about generating learning on vital questions including:

  • How can groups adapt, maintain and sustain themselves after lockdown?
  • What does it take to build collaborative relationships across sectors that put communities ‘in the driving seat’?
  • How do we engage people so everyone can contribute to and benefit from community action?
  • How can a shared understanding of the value of community action support effective action?

These questions emerged in the Summer of 2021 after a series of explorations with community and third sector leaders on what needs to come next for the voluntary sector, statutory services and policymakers to build strong relationships with communities.

Since then, the teams have carried out activities, interventions and reflections and now, as we reach the midpoint, what’s emerging strongly is the importance of listening to learn.

All the teams are developing their own techniques for listening to their community, from simple surveys to community events that create space for people to express what good means to them.

Listening is key to their overarching aim of exploring how barriers can be bridged to co-produce services that truly reflect and address the things that matter to their communities.

They all have strong relationships with colleagues in the public, voluntary and charitable sectors, where they feel heard. Beyond these trusted relationships, they’ve identified a real need for more spaces to share their knowledge and experience, where they will be heard and their voices influence policy and strategy.

WCVA and the cross-sector leaders that have come together to support the programme are eager to create some of that space so the learning of these teams can be shared more widely and have an impact.

Sharing values to support collaborative working 

Listening to learn is not the only reflection emerging from the teams, the importance of shared values as the basis for collaborative action is also emerging.

Teams often have considerable experience providing local events and have stepped up to meet greater needs during the pandemic. These teams are looking to build on that experience for the future. The programme provides a safe space where they can reflect on the often challenging, sometimes competing, demands on them. For instance, crucial funding sources often tie groups into aims and objectives that don’t reflect local priorities. As part of the programme teams are reflecting on how they can communicate shared values and visions more effectively with potential partners, as well as their community, to build the trusting relationships that they need to develop.

Some teams too are looking at how to engage more widely with members of their own communities who often feel unheard. Listening is key to this challenge too.

Where next?

What’s emerging is a real desire for a more human, person-centred approach, based on trusting relationships, where people can listen and learn together to make a real difference. The question now emerging for the programme is where next, both for teams and the wider voluntary and statutory sectors in Wales? How can listening and learning be built into the fabric of relationships to create something better for the future? Something, we’ll be reflecting on with WCVA and the national leadership group over the next few weeks.


Beth mae’n ei olygu i wrando? Y math o wrando lle rydych chi’n clywed beth sy’n cael ei ddweud, ac nid lle mae pobl yn aros am fwlch i gael siarad? Yn ystod y deufis diwethaf, mae rhaglen gweithredu ymarferol Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru wedi bod yn gwrando ar grwpiau cymunedol i geisio dysgu mwy am weithredu o dan arweiniad y gymuned, a sut gall hynny adeiladu adferiad yn dilyn y pandemig a helpu i greu dyfodol mwy teg, cyfartal, gwyrdd, cynaliadwy ac iach.


Gwrando er mwyn dysgu gyda thimau ledled Cymru 

Gweithiodd y rhaglen gyda thri thîm gwahanol iawn o bob rhan o Gymru, gan eu cefnogi nhw i symud at weithredu yn eu cymunedau. Mae un yn grŵp mawr o dan arweiniad gofalwyr sy’n gweithio’n agos gyda chydweithwyr yn y trydydd sector. Mae un arall yn dîm llai a gwledig sy’n gweithio gyda’u cynghorydd lleol. Mae’r trydydd yn rhwydwaith eang o bobl a grwpiau cymunedol mewn ward dinas brysur, ac sydd wedi dod ynghyd i gefnogi pobl leol. Mae pob tîm yn rhoi cynnig ar ffyrdd newydd o gydweithio gyda chefnogaeth hyfforddiant gan y rhaglen. Bu pob un yn ystyried gwerth gwrando, a sut mae gwrando yn aml ar goll o’r perthnasau sydd eu hangen ar grwpiau cymunedol i ffynnu. Mae gwrando yn ein helpu ni i ddysgu. Ar gyfer y timau, mae’n ymwneud â deall sut mae ‘da’ yn edrych i’w cymunedau nhw, ac ar gyfer y rhaglen, mae’n ymwneud â chynhyrchu dysg ar sail cwestiynau hanfodol, gan gynnwys:

  • Sut gall grwpiau addasu a chynnal eu hunain ar ôl y cyfnodau clo?
  • Beth sydd ei angen i feithrin perthnasau cydweithredol ar draws sectorau sy’n rhoi cymunedau ‘wrth y llyw’?
  • Sut ydyn ni’n ymgysylltu â phobl fel bod modd i bawb gyfrannu at weithredu cymunedol a chael budd ohono?
  • Sut gall cyd-ddealltwriaeth o werth gweithredu cymunedol gefnogi gweithredu effeithiol?

Cododd y cwestiynau yma yn haf 2021 ar ôl cyfres o archwiliadau gydag arweinwyr cymunedol a’r trydydd sector ar yr hyn sydd ei angen nesaf ar y sector gwirfoddol, gwasanaethau statudol, a llunwyr polisi, i feithrin perthnasau cryf gyda chymunedau.

Ers hynny, mae’r timau wedi cynnal gweithgareddau, ymyriadau, a myfyrdodau, a bellach, wrth i ni gyrraedd y pwynt canol, yr hyn sy’n dod i’r amlwg yw pwysigrwydd gwrando er mwyn dysgu.

Mae’r holl dimau’n datblygu eu technegau eu hunain ar gyfer gwrando ar eu cymunedau, o arolygon syml i ddigwyddiadau cymunedol sy’n creu gofod i bobl fynegi’r hyn mae ‘da’ yn ei olygu iddyn nhw. Mae gwrando’n allweddol i’w nod trosfwaol o archwilio sut gellir pontio rhwystrau er mwyn cyd-gynhyrchu gwasanaethau sydd wirioneddol yn adlewyrchu’r pethau
sy’n bwysig i’w cymunedau.

Mae ganddyn nhw i gyd gysylltiadau cryf gyda chydweithwyr yn y sectorau cyhoeddus, gwirfoddol ac elusennol, lle maen nhw’n teimlo wedi’u clywed. Y tu hwnt i’r perthnasau yma o ymddiriedaeth, maen nhw wedi nodi angen gwirioneddol am fwy o ofodau i rannu eu gwybodaeth a’u profiad, lle byddan nhw’n cael eu clywed a lle bydd eu lleisiau’n dylanwadu ar bolisi a strategaeth. Mae Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru a’r arweinwyr traws-sectorol sydd wedi dod ynghyd i gefnogi’r rhaglen yn awyddus i greu rhywfaint o’r gofod hwnnw, fel bod modd rhannu gwaith dysgu’r timau yma yn ehangach, a sicrhau effaith.

Rhannu gwerthoedd i gefnogi gweithio cydweithredol

Nid gwrando er mwyn dysgu yw’r unig fyfyrdod sydd wedi’i amlygu gan y timau, ond hefyd pwysigrwydd gwerthoedd a rennir fel sail ar gyfer gweithredu cydweithredol.

Yn aml mae gan dimau brofiad sylweddol yn darparu digwyddiadau lleol, ac maen nhw wedi camu i’r adwy i ddiwallu anghenion uwch yn ystod y pandemig. Mae’r timau hyn yn gobeithio adeiladu ar y profiad hwnnw ar gyfer y dyfodol. Mae’r rhaglen yn cynnig gofod diogel lle gallan nhw fyfyrio ar y gofynion sydd arnyn nhw, sy’n aml yn heriol, ac weithiau’n cystadlu. Er enghraifft, mae ffynonellau cyllid hanfodol yn aml yn clymu grwpiau i nodau ac amcanion nad ydyn nhw’n adlewyrchu blaenoriaethau lleol. Fel rhan o’r rhaglen, mae timau’n myfyrio ynghylch sut gallan nhw gyfathrebu gwerthoedd a gweledigaethau a rennir yn fwy effeithiol gyda phartneriaid posib, ynghyd â’u cymuned, i feithrin y perthnasau o ymddiriedaeth sydd eu hangen arnyn nhw i ddatblygu.

Mae rhai timau hefyd yn edrych ar sut i ymgysylltu’n ehangach gydag aelodau o’u cymunedau eu hunain, sy’n aml yn teimlo nad ydyn nhw’n cael eu clywed. Mae gwrando yn allweddol i’r her yma hefyd.

Ble nesaf?

Yr hyn sy’n dod i’r amlwg yw awydd go iawn am ymagwedd fwy dynol sy’n canolbwyntio ar unigolion, sy’n seiliedig ar berthnasau o ymddiriedaeth, lle gall pobl wrando a dysgu gyda’i gilydd i wneud gwahaniaeth go iawn. Y cwestiwn sy’n codi ar gyfer y rhaglen nawr yw ble nesaf, a hynny ar gyfer y timau a’r sectorau gwirfoddol a statudol ehangach yng Nghymru? Sut gellir adeiladu gwrando a dysgu i wead perthnasau, er mwyn creu rhywbeth gwell ar gyfer y dyfodol? Rhywbeth y byddwn ni’n ei ystyried gyda Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru a’r grŵp arweinyddiaeth cenedlaethol dros yr ychydig wythnosau nesaf.

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