Recently the Leapfrog team hosted two hands on workshops at the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Strengthening Communities Conference, with the aim of disseminating the Make it Happen toolbox and gathering some more great feedback from potential users. The attendees came for a wide variety of organisations but were united by their interest in community engagement tools. At both workshops the Leapfrog team told the story of the project, the development of the tools and how they work in practice to the assembled community development practitioners and community members. After handing out some physical versions of our tool box, we then gave the rest of the workshop over to the participants to try out our tools and think about how they might work in their own context. Splitting into small groups, the workshop attendees picked and played there way through the tool boxes noting down the strengths, weaknesses, values and adaptations of each tool. At the end we collected the feedback in an open discussion before thanking everyone for their participation and inviting them to collect a tool box for themselves as they left the auditorium.
A key piece of feedback, which was common across both workshops, was the flexible nature of the tools. Many of the participants discussed how they envisioned adapting the tools in their practice to fit their organisation’s needs — where they could pick and choose at what stage of planning to use what tool and that the tools could be used in any order. It was suggested that this flexibility stemmed from the simple and informal, yet ‘not patronising’, tone of the tools and instructions, which participants said were easy to follow and fun. The toolbox was described by one group as ‘engaging tools that would appeal to community members perhaps struggling with the bigger picture’. In particular, Role Bingo and Event Jigsaw were highlighted by participants as good for establishing the ‘whys’ and the ‘what’s’ in planning. An event checklist was suggested as an addition to the tools, as well as incentivizing Role Bingo with a prize which could help motivate people to participate. One participant stated that the potential remit of planning an event can be off-putting, that ‘an idea seems too big’, but that the toolbox could help make the planning process ‘seem less daunting’ and help to manage expectations and risks.
Furthermore, the participants discussed how the tools could ‘give a structure to event planning’, where agreed upon actions were visualised as opposed to being documented as text-based minutes. One participant did suggest, however, that the tools may still exclude people who cannot read or write or if English is not their first language. A suggestion made to improve the toolbox was to offer it in other languages (such as a Gaelic version) and to look into ways of have audio recordings of the instructions. Another practical suggested was to offer laminated tools so they could be used outside and be more durable.
Another key theme was how the tools supported accountability through involving the broader community and not just ‘the usual suspects’; helping to make the process of planning community events more inclusive through evenly sharing out the responsibilities. It was also suggested that the inviting aesthetic of the toolbox may act as a creative ice-breaker when bringing new groups of people together, particularly in the case of encouraging people who may be shy to volunteer for roles, engaging people who are hard to reach, or working with groups new to event planning. However, a participant cautioned that the approaches to planning in the toolbox might not be welcomed by all groups.
During both workshops, the participants were asked to consider how might they adapt the tools for their own community contexts. A range of events and groups were identified which the participants felt the toolbox would be best placed to use. Using the toolbox when planning events with young people and children was championed on several occasions, as well as when planning fundraising activities, working with committee groups, and when trying to attract new volunteers. Incorporating other forms of communication, such as social media, email and phoning, into the dissemination and use of the toolbox was suggested, particularly when using it with geographically disperse groups in rural areas. However, considering this in areas and organisations with limited access to resources, it was suggested that this could be a potential barrier.