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V is for value, A is for action: Values-based Approaches with communities

1 Oct 2023 | Cat Tabbner

Launched by the Poverty Alliance in 2013, Challenge Poverty Week (CPW) runs annually in October and this year Scotland’s CPW takes place from 2nd-8th October. During CPW, hundreds of organisations come together to “highlight the injustice of poverty in Scotland, and to show that collective action based on justice and compassion can create solutions”. Each day of Challenge Poverty Week 2023 has a different theme and today’s theme is about valuing our communities and volunteers.

Across Scotland, thousands of people every day deliver essential support to increasing numbers of people caught in the unrelenting grip of poverty and worsening inequalities. It is absolutely just that the vital work that these organisations and groups deliver is acknowledged, commended, and valued. Yet as the Poverty Alliance’s recent briefing highlights, there is an urgent and growing need for such roles and work to be valued not just in words or rhetoric but in actions too. A gap – or some might say a chasm – has opened between how we hold or value our communities in our hearts and how we demonstrate this through actions, support and fair and adequate funding.

So, what does it mean to have values? How do we actually go about demonstrating what our values are – as individuals and as organisations? This blog reflects on some of our work at the Glasgow Centre for Population Health to explain what our evidence can tell us about valuing communities and the importance of taking a values-based approach.  

For our work with GoWell Panel members, coming together round the table and discussing what values we needed for working together was critical to understanding the essential foundations we had to put in place to build an empowering knowledge exchange. Such foundations included prioritising learning as a social, collective journey that each Panel member ‘led’ on in their communities alongside GoWell’s research findings.

Our Common Health Assets project has underlined the importance of the quality of relationships and how we treat each other as being critical values to demonstrate if we are to support effective participation in research processes. A key part of embedding this values-driven approach in the Lived Experience Panel of this project was collaboratively building a shared Working Together Agreement to ensure the Panel was a safe space and a positive experience for all.

According to the peer-led evaluation of the ‘Our Rights, Our Communities’ project, participants intuitively felt if they were valued by those around them. The peer researchers reported that feeling valued had a positive impact on participant wellbeing in terms of developing their confidence, and is an indicator of an effective community-based advocacy model. In their report Knowledge is Power, the peer researchers found that even:

[t]he minimum information and support can have a massive impact on other women: allowing them to express themselves and giving them the opportunity to feel valued is extremely important when it comes to boosting their confidence.

(Source: Clayton, Mbayi, Gitamvu et al. Knowledge is Power: A peer-led evaluation of the ‘Our Rights, Our Communities’ advocacy project. Glasgow: Glasgow Centre for Population Health; 2022)  

These six peer researchers concluded that, while they reported a high effectiveness of their peer advocacy model, the main obstacle standing in the way of further roll-out is funding:

Our dream is that this work can grow and develop, and be fully funded to cover all of the costs and allow the service to expand to its full potential.

(Source: Clayton, Mbayi, Gitamvu et al. Knowledge is Power: A peer-led evaluation of the ‘Our Rights, Our Communities’ advocacy project. Glasgow: Glasgow Centre for Population Health; 2022)

Which brings us back to the theme of today, which is a call for fair and sustainable funding for community and voluntary organisations that recognises the value of the third sector. This call for fair funding has, rightly so, been a core campaign of third sector organisations and networks for several years, with organisations like the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations reporting the devastating impacts of underfunding and upheaval, including the COVID-19 pandemic and rising energy bills.

As a community engagement practitioner in public health for the past nine years, I have seen first-hand the exhausting and relentless underfunding experienced by third sector organisations. From the huge amounts of time and energy staff and volunteers put in to chase increasingly smaller funding pots, to the issuing of redundancies while delivering on projects due to a lack of core funding and a vicious cycle of short-term funding.

Given the crucial role the third sector play in creating, supporting and improving population health, this funding situation is an increasingly urgent concern. As stated by the Faculty of Public Health in 2019, ‘public and voluntary sectors have a critical role in the protection and improvement of public health’. Likewise, Voluntary Health Scotland reported that ‘voluntary health organisations increasingly are seen as part of the wider public health workforce’ with public health being a core activity of VHS members. Their public health delivery is reflected in the role VHS provides to the advisory board of the Scottish Public Health Network.

So, while the examples in this blog from our work show how building values-based approaches to research with communities can generate positive outcomes, these outcomes must include meaningful results for communities. In other words, we must ‘walk our talk’. As the Poverty Alliance briefing makes clear, community and voluntary organisations need fair and longer-term funding to continue to deliver the crucial work they undertake. Right now, money talks because sustainable funding is a necessity and it is the primary barrier faced by third sector colleagues, irrespective of how they are ‘valued’. 

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