Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Ensuring your core group and volunteers have enough information about their role and are properly trained is key to ensure they perform effectively and get the most out of the experience. This can enable more effective engagement by helping to build a common message, sense of purpose and shared understanding of what the group is trying to achieve and what the priorities are.

Internal vs external training providers

Training provided by group members. Training sessions run by your group, for your group make good use of the knowledge and skills already present and available. To help identify possible opportunities, it is worth keeping a record of your core group and volunteers’ skills and areas of expertise – this could be a question on a form that is filled out when someone initially joins the group, for instance.

Training provided by the community. Members of the wider community may also have relevant skills or expertise and be willing to run a training session or workshop for your group. The benefits of this approach are two-way: increasing the group’s community connections, and providing the trainer with the opportunity to develop their training skills while supporting a local project.

Training provided externally. Training sessions run by external training providers can be useful to offer outside perspective and expertise in areas that are not within your group or community’s skillset. While external training is likely to involve additional costs, it may be possible to negotiate a free or discounted session if you arrange it through a community connection or with an organisation that is sympathetic to your project’s aims. Some possible sources of resources and support relating to community action include Seeds for Change and The Change Agency.

Types of training to consider

Before deciding on training topics to offer, it is worth appealing to the group to find out what is needed, where gaps exist and the skills people are most interested in developing. Ask the group what they want and encourage them to contribute suggestions and to look out for opportunities.

Ideas for types of training include:

Inductions. Inductions give new people the opportunity to ask questions and helps to ensure they are able to carry out their role effectively and have an idea of what to expect. Inductions can simply involve introductions to other team members, an explanation of their role and how the group works, and bringing them up to speed with where the project is at. There may be other special considerations that need to be communicated about particular projects, such as relating to health and safety. Inductions are also a good opportunity to record information when people join the team – consider developing a standard form to be filled out to record contact details and relevant skills and interests.

Hard skills training. Hard skills training is likely to be most relevant when there are specific technical tasks, operational actions or systems and procedures to follow in order to carry out a particular role. This could relate to provision of technical advice, customer service, accounting procedures, volunteer management, project management, use of equipment or marketing tools.

Soft skills training. Soft skills that are specifically relevant for community engagement include verbal and non-verbal communication styles, building relationships, awareness and empathy. Soft skills are also central for developing behaviours that support effective project delivery – skills such as leadership, teamwork, problem solving and inspiring and motivating others will all help to improve the working of your group and to achieve the aims of your project.

Case Studies
Country: UK

The Big Lemon recognise that in order to provide the best possible service, the drivers of their community bus service need to receive appropriate training. Training is used as an opportunity to develop customer service skills and to instil the values of the business into the team. When providing training on customer service, they emphasise the importance of making eye contact with customers, greeting everyone when they get on the bus and acknowledging them when they leave. They also seek to motivate the team by reminding drivers about the bigger picture that their work is contributing to – the drivers may think they are simply driving up and down the same road all day, but what they are actually doing is providing a vital public service, contributing to the local economy, reducing congestion and pollution, giving hundreds of people a pleasurable experience, and developing the company’s expertise. Training is offered on a regular basis in order to keep people up to date on new procedures and to provide feedback on work, and efforts are made to tailor support to meet the varying needs of the team.

Source: Community-Led Transport Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Transition Town Totnes recognised early on that while people were coming forward to form and manage different sub-groups, they didn’t always have the relevant skills to do so. They therefore decided to offer training sessions on facilitation and designing successful meetings. They organised a day with Andy Langford and Liora Adler from Gaia University on the subject of Designing Productive Meetings. This introduced them to tools such as ‘Go-rounds’ and ‘Think and Listens’. ‘Go-rounds’ involve giving each person the opportunity at the start of the meeting to feedback on what has been happening since the last meeting, how they are currently feeling and to put forward agenda items. ‘Think and Listens’ involve spending five minutes talking and five minutes listening with a partner on a particular topic.

Country: UK

Southend in Transition regularly use informal skill shares for their core group members to learn different skills from each other. They have found this to be particularly useful when new members join the group in order to introduce them to their projects and the tools they use to manage them. Skills shared have included writing WordPress blogs and using Google Docs, and usually take the form of casual meetings over coffee at a café or in the comfort of a group member's home.

Country: UK

Buckinghamshire Community Energy Champions received training from the National Energy Foundation, an independent charity working to improve the use of energy in buildings, to help them deliver thermal imaging initiatives in their local community. The group wanted to use thermal imaging as a tool to engage more people in energy issues – by converting infrared radiation (heat loss from a property) into a visible colour palette, they could show householders where heat, and therefore their money is leaking away from their home.

The training sessions involved three key aspects:

1. Options for running the project: pros and cons of undertaking pre-booked surveys and engaging the householder there and then, vs. undertaking surveys and inviting householders to a public feedback session at the end of the project.

2. How to use the camera: important parameters to consider and atmospheric conditions required to take the perfect image.

3. Interpretation of resulting images and running public feedback events: this was a key section, as many Champions and community groups didn’t feel confident in advising the public. With input from Champions and the National Energy Foundation, a briefing sheet was produced to help guide people through the available help, including available financial assistance for energy-efficiency improvements.

The public feedback sessions proved highly effective for a number of reasons:

• A ‘buzz’ was created in the room, with residents talking to each other about their results.

• Running a feedback event created the opportunity for local installers, councils and advice organisations to have information stands around the room.

• Advertisement of the event resulted in additional requests for surveys, and some households signed up for a future survey so that they could see if planned improvements from their recommendations did result in improvements.