When people have more control over decisions and actions that affect their lives, they have a better chance of improving and maintaining their health. Having influence in local decisions is often the first step to achieving collective control.
In this blog, Peter Williams, the Trust’s Network and Communications Officer, examines the concept of influence, and its importance in achieving collective control in local communities.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself. It is a skill which often involves changing someone’s mind, or getting them to prioritise an issue over which they have some influence There are also varying degrees of influence depending on who you’re trying to influence.
Influence can vary from providing an alternative perspective to a friend who is thinking of purchasing a car or lobbying policy makers to reform education systems and advocating for more teachers from diverse backgrounds. Whether it’s using influence on a personal (individual) level, or at a group (or organisational) level, influencing is a powerful communication tool which can have a positive impact when used correctly.
In many of the Trust’s funding programmes, we advocate for local people to become influencers in their communities. In the context of community organising, changing the way things are done locally can mean anything from the kind of neighbourhood services which are delivered, to changing the opening times of the local community centre. It can mean affecting the way a major housing regeneration programme works, to helping groups of people who are opposed to each other to get along better for the sake of the neighbourhood. There are two ways to create an impact at a local level when influencing:
Directly – Lobbying or making changes directly with people who have the ability to make even bigger changes. An example might be making sure the voices of people who are not often listened to, are heard and their needs considered.
Indirectly – Taking action or sharing examples of good work, which inspires others to take action.
In order to use influencing effectively, here are some approaches and practices:
- Understanding the sphere of influence within your control- These are things that you can make decisions about and make happen on your own.
- Understanding the sphere of influence outside your immediate control, but which you can influence- Here, you might need to be able to get other people or organizations to physically do something or to agree to something being done in order to achieve the outcome of result that you want.
- Creating a sphere of influence map- Mapping out who is important to influence and for what reason. Who are the key decision makers/stakeholders in your community and how to reach them?
- Developing communications strategy in order to influence- Think about the best method of influencing, meetings, emails, letters, peaceful demonstrations, petitions, storytelling, social media are just some of the ways in which you can influence.
Local people having influence in their communities is hugely important as it leads to collective control. Giving local communities greater control over what happens in their area brings about better outcomes locally, greater social connectedness, a greater sense of purpose and self-respect, and a greater sense of belonging, all of which are strongly linked with wellbeing.
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