How to enable real community involvement in Year 2

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Pre-AGM Members’ Forum | Notes from 22 April, 2013

8 Cultivate members ranging from fulltime and occasional staff to regular volunteers and customers met last week for a focused session on how to start spreading ownership and leadership of Cultivate more widely within our community.

Over 200 investor members, 100 workshare and subscription members and 100 individual volunteers have participated in making Cultivate what it is over the past year. But by facilitating greater involvement from even more people, Cultivate could achieve even greater things in the next year. There is great enthusiasm, skill and potential in Oxford to work collaboratively towards improving the food system, from the grassroots up – how can we make Cultivate into a vehicle for more people to take on and develop projects, and make Cultivate’s existing projects even better?

Teams idea for empowering membership

Cultivate’s operations are currently run by the five co-founders, who have increasingly, through necessity or preference, developed specialisation in particular areas of the organisation. In the long term this specialisation is useful because it allows work to happen efficiently, but it is also risky because it tends to make particular individuals critical to getting things done. Ideally, no one should be indispensible in a community organisation.

At the meeting we discussed a proposal that would broaden involvement in each of Cultivate’s main areas of work, making Cultivate more sustainable and bringing in a new pool of ideas and energy to achieve great things! Cultivate’s ‘Teams’ would be a mixture of paid and unpaid members responsible for managing particular aspects of Cultivate, or taking forward new ideas. These Teams are a vehicle for people to get stuck in to something they’re interested in and see their work have a real tangible effect.

For example the VegVan & Markets Team might be composed of 5 or 6 individuals, including the paid VegVan & Markets Manager who is responsible for ensuring the core operations happen every week; VegVan drivers; VegVan and market volunteers; and people interested in specific aspects of the VegVan, such as marketing, vehicle maintenance, or researching new product lines. Membership of the team would be voluntary, with a commitment of a meeting every fortnight and some hours of work in between when necessary. Paid members are remunerated for roles requiring particular commitment or responsibility, for example produce and warehouse management, and getting up early in the morning to run markets, come rain or shine! Issues discussed and acted on at VegVan Team Meetings would include how to develop buying policies in collaboration with the broader membership, advertising and promotions at particular VegVan stops, considering and deciding on new stops and markets, maintenance, staffing, recruiting volunteers and so on. The Team would be run by a co-ordinator along co-operative lines.

Other Teams would include the Land Team, including crop planning, farm infrastructure and development, etc; and the Education & Outreach Team, developing new projects to get people thinking about sustainable food and broadening the reach of Cultivate’s work into diverse communities in Oxford. A Business Development Team might work up Business Plans for new enterprise projects and find ways of improving current operations. Other Teams could be brought together as needs and possibilities are identified.

By involving a larger number of people and making use of their talents, Cultivate’s Teams would allow the organisation to deliver a far greater range of social benefits that the current small core group is able to. The Teams would also be an asset for members, allowing them to take on responsibilities that they may have felt precluded from so far, and developing their personal skills and experience. For instance, someone wanting to make a transition from an office job to starting a food-growing business might get involved in the Land Team over a year to build up the necessary work experience. The Teams would provide a supportive and creative real-life environment to pursue both personal and community goals.

What does this imply for how Cultivate thinks about people?

  • Start thinking about different types of volunteers – those who just want to do a shift for a pre-defined period of time, those who work with Cultivate as a stepping stone and to build up skills, those who plan to stay and want to build up Cultivate in the long run.
  • Move from thinking about volunteers as ‘free labour’ to thinking instead about members who are engaged, responsible and indispensible parts of the organisation. Allow members to have substantive engagement, whilst acknowledging that members have their own lives and that Cultivate needs to make progress day-to-day.
  • Opening up the under-realised community potential in Cultivate to make good our values. Letting people become leaders within Cultivate so that Cultivate becomes ‘we’ not ‘you’, enabling people to represent Cultivate – being/embodying Cultivate.
22.4.13 meeting - teams image
Click to see the larger image and clearer descriptions

Next Steps

This session was a great chance to discuss Cultivate’s community potential with a range of different kinds of people, and the overall verdict at the end was very encouraging! This leads to a number of questions about next steps:
How can we refine the idea further with input from more people? (Do we need a ‘Teams Development’ Team?)
How can we structure Cultivate to enable greater participation? What opportunities can we create?
How can we use the AGM on June 11 to jump start this engagement? How do we present these ideas?

  • Good to get some information into the Annual Report, so people can digest and feed back.
  • Get teams running after AGM, with experimental feel so they can adapt over time – a mixture of flexibility and formality. This will be an evolving process, recognising this will be important.

What do you think? Would you get involved? What would encourage or discourage you from participating (skills learnt/time commitment/etc)? Let us know!