Richard Jackson (RJ) is member of our advisory group. He is the Chief Executive of Voluntary Action Leeds (VA-L) and chairs the Leeds Local Stakeholder Group. Here he responds to a few questions from Eddie (EC).
EC: Richard, could you tell us a bit about your interest in the project?
RJ: Well I’m interested in the project because I’m interested in the idea of participation. I think one of the key issues today, facing both statutory and voluntary organisations, is how do we participate in a meaningful way, with the public, in order to inform and develop our services.
EC: Excellent. And how do you feel the research can help Leeds and feed into other inner city areas such as Leeds?
RJ: There’s lots of participation going on, but participation opportunities are designed by the agency to meet the agency’s needs and they’re often not structured in a way that best meets the needs of the people that you’re aiming to serve. I think that my ambition for the project, whether it’s able to achieve it with the resources or not, is to come up with some clear idea that Leeds can use about how we can engage people better in participation activities. I think the project so far has challenged that in Leeds; the local stakeholder group meetings, the mapping sessions that we’ve had, the outcomes we’ve had, people have shown a great deal of interest in them. The interim report is out, I’ve had a look at that, again, there’s a great deal of interest in it because it is challenging the norm, it’s challenging people’s perceptions of how we should or shouldn’t participate with groups. Nobody comes to a stakeholder meeting and goes away and says ‘that was a waste of time, I haven’t learnt anything’ because they always feel as though they’ve come away with something new, and that their work is going to change as a result of that engagement, and I think that’s only going to grow as the project moves forward.
EC: The next phase of the project will be the in-depth interviews. What are you hoping they will bring to the project?
RJ: It’s the bit that everybody’s interested in. It’s the bit that matters really. It’s talking to people about how they participate. It’s actually trying to find people who participate, as well as those who don’t participate very often and finding out why they don’t participate. I am deeply interested, as are all the other members of the local stakeholder group, and people outside that, to find out why people do or don’t participate and what the connections and patterns are. If we find the answers to these questions we’re on to a winner! Maybe I’m expecting too much from the project, but anything that gives us a clear indication, because we are falling back on the same methods again and again and again, using the same old techniques, and providing people with an opportunity to participate, but not necessarily an opportunity that fits their needs and their wants. What we’ve got now, on behalf of Leeds, is somebody coming in from outside, having done a significant amount of preparation, with the literature review and everything else, and asking the question that Leeds needs to ask, but in a very objective way, without any local politic or local relationship affecting that and that’s really, really important. I think there’s no loss on that – I think if it even reinforces that what we are doing now is right, it will have helped us to move forward.
EC: Great stuff. Thank you very much Richard.