Unlocking the power of your neighbourhood – a Jim Diers workshop


By Michelle Kiernan – Welcome Dinner Project Victoria South East Hub Member

One of the best things about volunteering with the Welcome Dinner Project is the opportunities for professional development. I was fortunate enough to avail of one of these opportunities recently and my head is still buzzing with ideas that came out this session. The Scanlon Foundation made it possible for us to see Jim Diers deliver his Neighbour Power workshop in Melbourne.

Michelle, James, Fina, and I were immersed in positivity from the very start of the day. Jim is high energy and very intentional about this. He is a lifelong community activist working in both government and community organisations and knows how to engage a crowd. At similar events I’ve been to the participants were engaged as professionals who would learn something to bring back and ‘do to’ others in their organisations. This was a very different experience. Instead we were asked to focus on ourselves as community members and citizens. We started by identifying all the overlapping and interconnected groups we are part of as individuals before focusing on our experiences of community at its best and worst.

Jim gave example after example of amazing things being achieved by communities who have previously been seen as disadvantaged, disengaged, even disinterested. The key messages were: Keep it local, this fits well with our move to hubs; meet people at their bumping places, the places they naturally congregate, instead of making them come to you; use appreciative enquiry to figure out what people want and what they can bring to the process. One of the most successful ways his work has been applied is in community skills banks. This is where people trade their skills with each other. The same value is placed on each skill. Every skill is therefore used to benefit the rest of the community. Cooking, cleaning, hairdressing, sewing, gardening, carpentry to name a few all carry the same value. What Jim didn’t cover but what springs to mind for me is that this also contributes to gender equality in a very tangible way.

Jim’s work is governed by 5 Keys:

  1.  Have fun. This is summed up by his quote “Why have a meeting when you can have a party?” Social gatherings, especially involving food, are welcoming and less intimidating for people who would not otherwise come to us. This gets people involved, and then you can move to more formal meetings but don’t forget to keep it fun. Welcome Dinner has already nailed this one for dinner guests but maybe we could use some of this learning for engaging volunteers.
  2. Start where people are. Instead of organisations coming to people with what they see as the issue as and with predetermined ideas of what is needed, this starts with listening to what the affected group see as the issue and the solution. Communities often know exactly what they want and need but lack of resources and an authorising environment can mean they don’t know how to get started. This unlocks those ideas and starts to break down some of the barriers to achieving things.
  3. 3. Strive for results. Jim makes a practice of making sure there is at least one concrete outcome as soon as possible after a gathering. At his workshops, the community votes for their favourite project. The idea creator takes ownership of the project and forms a workgroup and the project is started as soon as possible. He gave examples of quick projects that could be done while longer term ones were in the works.
  4. Lead by stepping back- never do for people what they can do for themselves. Working in community means that the people who are most affected by the work should be driving it as much as possible. The community organiser’s role is to facilitate this but not to “do for”.
  5. Don’t sit on your assets. Every community has a pool of resources which are underutilised. This applies as much to people as to physical assets. What are the “Hidden Treasures” in your community? What resources could WDPO used in each of our Hub areas that we don’t currently think of?

All in all this was a great experience made even better by the connections formed on the day with like minded organisations.


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