An open letter to students about the postal survey on same-sex marriage

Here is a copy of an open letter I sent to my students studying a course on community engagement. Even though I have concerns about the postal vote, as we are having it, I hope there is a very high participation rate, and want to do what I can to make it as respectful and non-judgemental as possible.

Hi everyone,

As I am sure you know, the Australian Government recently announced a postal survey about the attitude of Australians towards same-sex marriage (commonly known as a postal vote).

As this is a course on community engagement, I strongly encourage you to participate in the postal survey (if you are eligible to do so) even though participation is voluntary. More importantly I encourage you to engage in thoughtful, constructive reflection and discussion in relations to the issues involved.

One of my fears with the postal survey is that it will polarise communities and create division. People on both sides of the debate feel very strongly about the issue and the debate is going to be ugly at times.

I urge you to use the coming weeks and months to practice some skills that are vital to community engagement practitioners: listening, being non-judgemental and accepting differing views, while at the same time thinking carefully about what you are hearing. Continue reading

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3 reasons I do not support a postal vote on same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage postal voteLike most other Western countries there is increasing support for legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. We are about to have a national postal vote, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), to discover whether or not Australians support legalising same-sex marriage. Officially the ABS has been asked to collect “statistical information about the proportion of participating electors who are in favour of the law being changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” because the Government wasn’t able to get a national plebiscite through parliament and so it doesn’t have the authority to run an official vote. It argues that it can request the ABS to collect “statistical information”.

As a strong advocate for community engagement, you might imagine I believe that involving the public in this way is a good thing. That is not the case. Even though I am a strong supporter of marriage equality (notice the blog background is rainbow coloured), I do not think the idea of a national postal vote (or survey) is a good idea.

There are three main reasons I am opposed to the postal vote (but will still vote in favour of marriage equality and strongly urge others to do so). Continue reading

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An example of asset-based community development

Asset-based community-driven development (ABCD) is built on four foundations (Kretzmann, 2010; Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993; Mathie & Cunningham, 2003):

  1. It focuses on community assets and strengths rather than problems and needs
  2. It identifies and mobilises individual and community assets, skills and passions
  3. It is community driven – ‘building communities from the inside out’
  4. It is relationship driven.

As can be seen, ABCD is much more than creating an asset map. In my teaching and work, I am moving away from asset mapping to other ways of identifying and mobilising community strengths and assets.

The above video, featuring Wendy McCaig, is a great example of putting the foundations into practice without relying on an asset map.

Some of the things that stood out for me include: Continue reading

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Updated post on vertical and horizontal community engagement

Vertical and horizontal community engagementI just updated a post on vertical and horizontal community engagement. The more I think about it the more I like it but have changed from seeing them as different approaches to community engagement to different dimensions of community engagement.

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Updated information for new lecturers.

This morning I spoke to some new lecturers at the University of Newcastle about how I try to maintain a balance between supporting students and not letting teaching take up all my time as an academic.

In preparation, I updated a post on Some hints re course coordination for new lecturers. It includes various resources and tips that help make my life a bit easier and have helped me become a better lecturer. While it is specifically about the University of Newcastle most of it is relevant to other universities as well.

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Smoking and community engagement

All campuses of the University of Newcastle (UoN), Australia, are now smoke free.

I love working in a smoke free environment and don’t miss the days when smoking was much more common. When I was much younger, I had to put up with smoking at meetings, at concerts, on public transport, in restaurants and even in my guitar lessons. Dire warnings of the consequences of banning smoking in restaurants, public places and so on have proven to be unfounded.

At the same time I wonder about the implications for community engagement of the Uni becoming a smoke free campus.

I’m proud of the commitment my University has made to equity of access to higher education. The commitment is backed up by action and UoN has a history of supporting students from a range of backgrounds to succeed at university. We are the largest provider of enabling programs in Australia [which provide alternative pathways to university entry] and 27% of our students come from low socio-economic backgrounds (compared to a sector average of 16%). Continue reading

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The relationship between community engagement and community development

The relationship between community engagement and community development

Community engagement is at the heart of community development.

In her useful discussion of community development, Jessica Smart (2017) discusses the difference between community-based work “which involves the community”, and community development, “which is led by the community” (para. 5, emphasis added).  She suggests that community-based work is characterised by:

  • Decision-making power rests with the agency
  • The problem or issue is defined by the agency
  • There are defined timelines
  • Outcomes are pre-specified, often changes in specific behaviours or knowledge levels (Jessica Smart, 2017).

Community development in characterised:

  • Power relations between agency and community members are constantly negotiated
  • The problem or issue is first named by the community, then defined in a way that advances the shared interests of the community and the agency
  • Work is longer term in duration
  • The desired outcome is an increase in the community members’ capacities
  • The desired long-term outcomes usually include change at the neighbourhood or community level (Jessica Smart, 2017).

Continue reading

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Password protected post

You may have noticed that I just published a password protected post. I had hoped that subscribers would not be notified, but you were!

It includes a couple of resources for Alternative to Violence Project facilitators that will not be of wide interest and I’m not quite ready to make the post public. As a subscriber, if you really want to see it you are quite welcome to by using the password Transforming.


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Creating an online course on engaging families and communities

(Photo: geralt)

From 2018, an undergraduate online elective I teach on community engagement at the University of Newcastle will be one of a growing number of courses (or subjects) the Family Action Centre is offering in family studies at both an undergraduate and a postgraduate level. This means that the course will have a greater emphasis on engaging families as well as communities.

Twelve months ago I restructured the course (HLSC2241 Engaging communities), which I’ve been teaching since 2008, so that it had a greater focus on how community engagement is used in practice.

Prior to last year’s restructure, it had five modules:

  1. Introduction to community engagement
  2. Building on community strengths
  3. Strategies for community engagement
  4. Case studies of community engagement
  5. Summing up

The new structure was largely built on three broad areas where community engagement is used:

  1. Introduction to community engagement
  2. Community engagement in community development
  3. Community engagement in service delivery
  4. Community engagement in planning and decision-making
  5. Summing up

At first I thought it wouldn’t be too big a change to incorporate engaging families, but the more I think about it, the bigger it seems.

When the focus was mainly on community engagement, the emphasis was largely on how to involve people in community development, service delivery or planning and decision making after the initial engagement. With the increased focus on engaging families, particularly marginalised families, I think we need to explore the initial engagement of families (getting them through the door, or letting service through their door) much more. Continue reading

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