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Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

How to deal with dominant residents or hostility between groups

This how-to looks at the lessons learned by Fair Share Trust (FST) Local Agents in delivering a devolved programme that encourages local participation, and cases in which sensitive and imaginative handling has diffused some otherwise explosive situations.


Hearing the humble voices

If one panel member is particularly vocal and risks stifling the opinions of others, how do you ensure that all views are heard?

Project: The Community Foundation for Merseyside (CFM)

Issue: One of their panel members complained about the way an award had been made. This panel member had continually fought the decision to award the grant, however his reasons and actions were not in keeping with the panel code of conduct. Being a highly vocal member, CFM was concerned that others might be deterred from speaking.

Solution: They carried out a questionnaire to establish the views of other panel members, and whether they were happy with the award being made.

Outcome: The feedback from the panel was overwhelmingly positive, and CFM was confident that everyone’s voices had been heard.

While obviously not practical to undertake a survey to gauge every decision, this is a pragmatic solution to a specific problem, enabling panel members to state their views frankly and in confidence while showing the dominant member that his opinion - while relevant - was not that of the group.


Consultation is key

One of FST’s key successes has been in the ability to test new ideas and initiatives which haven’t been tried before in local areas. However, sometimes anticipated needs don’t reflect reality. One vocal resident and local advisory group member said that there were a number of men in the area who – like him – were keen to form a fathers’ support group. As men had no means of meeting other fathers in the area for socialising and support, this was perceived as a gap in provision. However, it soon became apparent that the need was only perceived by the individual who had originally put the idea forward, as few other men attended any of the sessions. In addition, it was found that this individual may have put others off through his use of derogatory language and his view that it was his role to act as gatekeeper for the group. It is not untypical to find that negative attitudes towards others act as a deterrent to wider involvement and it is important to recognise and deal with dominant and unhelpful behaviour quickly and openly.


Wide panel representation

The FST South Lanarkshire Rural Area comprises four villages and their outlying settlements. Each area has a different character and is at a different stage of community development, and competition for funding was fierce. In setting up the FST panel, the Local Agent (Scottish Community Foundation) ensured representation from all four areas, to ensure that none of the villages were under-represented or excluded. Panel meetings were held in Lanark, the nearest town and a neutral venue. Funding – instead of being parcelled out between the four areas – was awarded in one chunk for work across the entire FST area encouraging collaborative working and building community spirit. This air of collaboration was a culture change for a number of panel members, but the Local Agent worked hard to ensure that groups in all four settlements received equal attention. The focus of the grants has been to encourage local residents that working together can be effective, and that the wide area can have an identity of its own without competing between the four smaller areas.


Transparency & Neutrality

Local Agents are well aware of the importance of transparency and openness. Dominant residents (including panel members) who work to their own agenda can undermine positive improvements through spreading rumour and misinformation – be it intentional or not. Ensuring a transparent and open process for decisions and actions at every stage enables a fast and confident response to any unfounded rumours. In Dudley for example, panel members are quickly updated on decisions made at meetings which they are unable to attend, and minutes of meetings are circulated widely and early, to reduce the risk of misinformation.

Neutrality is an important aspect of managing hostility and conflict. The final evaluation report from Northern Ireland reports that “In all of this CFNI is very much seen as an ‘honest broker’ by projects and this ‘neutrality’ has significantly influenced the effectiveness of the programme. Not every funder could play this type of role but it has significant implications in terms of social justice and the evidence is that the programme has had a positive effect in every type of community. This, in turn, will have implications in a post-conflict era”.


Encouraging collaboration

Some Local Agents have held successful events encouraging groups to work more collaboratively. The only drawback to this is that the ‘usual suspects’ tend to attend, with poor representation from groups that are openly hostile or competitive. In Caw (Northern Ireland) tensions between groups meant that the local panel at first had to consider competitive but similar bids from a number of organisations. No award was made. After several months the groups came back with a single proposal supported by all seven groups. A condition of the final award was that representatives from all seven organisations sit on the steering group and agree principles of cooperation and communication. Some of these groups had not worked together before, and by making it a condition of the grant, they were forced to come together and collaborate over an intense period.

One of the great outcomes of the FST programme has been this interagency networking and the chance for community and statutory organisations to sit around a table for the first time. The effect of individuals entering into halls or rooms that they have never entered before should not be underestimated.


Summary of Key Information

  • Engage local communities
  • Consult with wide range of local stakeholders
  • Be clear about your role in the funding relationship
  • Invite wide representation on local panels
  • Ensure that all voices are heard i.e. through questionnaires or one-to-one interviews
  • Be clear about research and local need informing priorities rather than anecdotal evidence
  • Build in transparency and openness of discussions and decisions
  • Maintain neutral territory
  • Require collaborative working through grant criteria and conditions
  • Help consortia to agree terms of reference to manage communication and cooperation


Page last edited Aug 12, 2019 History

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