Participation, relationships and place
Over the last three years, we have come together as a diverse group of people who have a stake in making Oxford better for everyone. Our relationships deepened during the pandemic, and the support of Lankelly Chase has enabled us to work collaboratively to shape a more inclusive and equal city.
We have focused our efforts on three different inquiries that we believe can advance social change in our city. What is an action inquiry? In plain English – a group of people setting out to do something that disrupts the system, leads to learning and helps us influence change.
The three inquiries, set out below, bring together different organisations to draw insight and share the learning with others interested in this work:
How can we design services for humans?
We engage with services – like health, education and social support – every day, and they can be especially important during difficult periods in our lives. But sometimes it feels like those services aren’t designed for real people – they’re set up for organisations, for tick boxes or for a stereotypical ‘service user’ who doesn’t exist. We want to change that, by creating and developing services that are responsive and effective – that really work for people.
How can we shift power and decision-making to people whose lives are directly affected by those decisions?
We’ve been exploring ways of doing this, and of supporting people to meaningfully take the lead in areas that are important to them. Those with power are often not diverse or representative of the people they are trying to serve. Who needs more power in communities and what are the different ways in which we can share power?
How can we implement approaches to measurement and evaluation that help us be more creative, more honest, more human and more effective in our work?
The way we evaluate has a fundamental impact on what we prioritise in our work, who holds power and how we listen. We want to move away from evaluation feeling like a distraction, driven by chasing targets, to something that enables us to learn about complex problems and the people experiencing them, so we can adapt and improve our approach.
All this work is currently managed by a network of people who want to have an impact across the system and beyond their own organisations. Part of our plans for the future are to explore how we can embed this approach in long-term structures that sustain collaborative and systemic approaches for Oxford.
You can find out more about our work across these online resources, and follow our journey as we try to explore and learn how to bring about a more just and inclusive future.
Sara Fernandez, Oxford Hub
Parent Power works directly with families who are keen to lead changes in their own lives – helping themselves, their children and their communities to thrive.
Emma Anderson, Oxford Hub
Why Parent Power?
Intergenerational disadvantage means that a child’s future social and economic outcomes are closely linked to, and determined by, their parents’ outcomes. However, as a society, it can often seem more urgent — as well as more straightforward — to focus on children. They are seen as innocent and blameless; the state must keep them from harm. The combination of high profile child deaths and serious case reviews, along with austerity and cuts to statutory children’s services have left a children’s services system that is focused on child protection, assessments of risk and exercising of statutory powers over families rather than an appreciation of individual parent selfhood and the complexity of families’ lives. Statutory services, as a result, have a heavy focus on protecting children from harm but all too often, we fail to nurture, listen to and give agency and power to the people who actually have the most power and skin in the game when it comes to breaking this cycle and improving outcomes for children. This is of course their parents!
Parent Power, a collaboration between Oxford Hub and African Families in the UK, with support from Lankelly Chase, has been working to change this. Focusing on the Blackbird Leys area of Oxford, Parent Power aims to give more power to parents at an individual and community level to empower them to make change for themselves, their children and other parents. Parents support other parents to lead change in their own lives and participate in their community.
There’s a reason that the name draws attention to power. The relationships between families and the systems in place to protect children (schools, charities and social services) are infused with unequal power dynamics. The conventional approach of statutory services involves having power over parents, managing risk by ensuring that parents are complying with an agency-led process — one that is often poorly explained to families. This is evident in interactions between individuals too, with power dynamics between individual professionals and parents often leaving parents feeling marginalised and disempowered, rather than more confident, better resourced and more able to keep their children safe.
Individual and Community Power
Parent Power is working to shift these power dynamics at an individual and community level:
It is really important to think about power in these two different ways — solely focusing on individual power misses the opportunity to build more collective approaches in communities. Parents acting together can change mindsets and perspectives for agencies and the ways in which they interact with families.
One of the ways in which Parent Power is shifting power to parents is through its own design and implementation. Parents, with Lived Experience of using support services, are fully involved in the design and implementation of Parent Power in Oxford. They have the opportunity and support to design how Parent Power works, what it focuses on, how we speak about it and who we collaborate with. Parents are employed and trained to support other parents, in Parent Peer Supporter roles.
This approach is essential to role model some of the changes that we want to see in the system, for everyone to see parents as resourceful and able to drive change for their families and in their communities. In practice, this may involve connecting a family to an early years group, helping a group of mums study to pass their driving theory test, being there for a mum who has social services involved in her life or working together to make the leisure centre more accessible to local families. At the heart of this work is not what the parents are doing, but how they are doing it: in a way that builds power for themselves and their communities. This is transformational for their children’s future outcomes and wellbeing.
Advice and tips
We have tested this approach in a specific geographical area with a specific demographic so not all of our learning will be relevant. However, some things we have learnt are:
Join our mailing list to receive updates about Lankelly Chase Foundation and our partners work, including the regular newsletter and information on funding opportunities, programme updates, new research and publications, event invites and the occasional requests to take part in research or surveys – based on your interests.