Transfer Story Manresa
Edited on26 April 2021
These Transfer Stories explain in 4 chapters how the Stellwerk practice
arrived at Manresa and how it was transferred and implemented in a
new NGO platform called La Canal.
First chapter explains how we understood the practice: initial guidance,
first implementation design and big questions around some details on
how to adapt the practice locally. Second chapter explains the practice
locally, showing first year drifting, development of the ULG and political
role. Third chapter focuses on how the practice was adapted locally
combining both Stellwerk and pop-up shops models and the role of the
ULG coordinator in its implementation. Fourth chapter exposes present
conclusions and also learnings and key points to keep the NGO platform
1. Understanding the practice.
In January 2019, when I entered the projecte, the trigger to attend in my case was to coordinate the ULG in order to push forward the volunteering movement of L’Antic. The first thing in Aluksne was to understand that there was a transfer process in order to achieve a concrete goal (NGO platform). I had not been in Altena during the visit in 2018, because until later it wasn’t clear my participation as an external in the project, so the kick-off meeting was my first contact with the project. So the early stage of the transfer process is ‘I understand that we have to transfer something, I share the methodology but I don’t fully get what exactly we are transferring’.
What we initially understood about Stellwerk was its community management, Municipality support through premises and the officer and activities that were held there. Big questions were on how to grow the community, how to start initiatives and, overall, how to make it bottom-up and without a dynamization concept (meaning to program an activity and wait for people to come). We held two workshops (Manresa March 2019 and Idrija October 2019), several video meetings and we had access to reports and briefings. The meeting held in Idrija was especially important to understand the work of the platform because of two reasons. First of all because we had already worked with our ULG and we had walked part of the road, carrying questions and answers to our local situation. Secondly, the presence of Annette (officer from Altena in charge of the relationship with Stellwerk) allowed us to understand deeply all details about management but also the road Stellwerk walked to create its community. In that sense, I think it would have been essential that ULG coordinators could attend to Altena in order to visit and get deep into the practice to transfer. Project managers could attend the Altena trip in 2018 but the ones who joined the program later were not there yet.
My first drafts of a horizon (thinking about a ‘Melting pot’ as the image of converging people in the same goal) were more attached to the local reality and our ULG starting point as a community lobbying organization
rather than the point of the NGO platform as a ‘small and dynamic community action platform’.
1. Multiple actors, a common goal. One of the main points was to melt different actors that share the common goal to make the Historic Centre a better place to be.
2. A melting point to join visions. In order to put together different points of view to achieve the common goal.
3. Three concrete actions. The way to achieve the goal is through three concrete actions a year.
4. Under a common and open shelter. The premises become the reference point of the platform and its action.
5. Actions done are presented to a local forum. The progress and the results are shown and defended in a local forum with formal actors once/twice a year.
6. In order to implement practiced actions into politics. The higher goal would be to apply successful practices into politics.
2. Explaining the practice locally
2.1 Darks and lights over the process
The main point was that we felt it was imperative to develop the NGO platform, and it wasn’t a honest proposal from the ULG but a proposal we put on the table. So we were struggling in a dilemma: how can we be
saying what to develop and at the same time expecting to promote bottom-up actions?
In the first 8 months we drifted around three main ideas.
● First of all, making evidence of the lobbying and complaint culture that didn’t drive necessarily to action. It drove to more concrete and achievable actions to do and at the same time kept the ULG compact.
● Second, explaining the goal of the transfer proposal at the ULG meetings, and also through inspiration seminars combining with permanent open calls. It caught the attention of new members who truly wanted to develop something similar to Stellwerk. We achieved it around Autumn 2019.
● Thirdly, to concrete a name and a place helped a lot to understand what the practice was about. We achieved it around December 2019.
2.2. Developing the Urbact Local Group
In the early stages two criteria guided the planning for the establishment of the URBACT Local Group (ULG) in Manresa. The first was that we wanted to recruit people who would bring a fresh perspective and positive attitude towards improving the historic centre of the town. The second criterion was that people should represent themselves and not organisations, such as traders or neighbourhood associations. We also avoided to have political representatives involved so that the ULG would be as close to the ‘street feel’ of the historic town as possible. A group that had been coming together for some time appeared to reflect these principles very well. L’ANTIC was formed in 2016 as a lobbying group that aimed to activate citizens to work towards making the historic centre a better place to live. Although some members of L’ANTIC represented interest groups, it operated as a community movement with a round table were all members had a voice and equal influence. Rather than establishing a new group that would duplicate the activities of L’ANTIC we decided that L’ANTIC would be asked to become the host for the ULG that would establish the NGO platform.
This approach differed from that used by municipality led initiatives, where a new project tends to go hand in hand with the establishment of a new group. As the Re-grow City network was municipality led, the reflex was to establish a new group with the municipality in the lead. This was rejected as potential ULG members were only too aware that the municipality tends to withdraw from groups it had established as soon as
the project no longer required them. Furthermore. the intention was that the new NGO Platform should be self-sustaining, working closely with the municipality but being entirely independent from it. Hence suggestions from municipal leaders that a ‘municipal consulting group’ be established that would control the work of the ULG Co-ordinator were resisted from the beginning.
It would be naive to pretend that an undertaking such as establishing a ULG and from this a coordinating mechanism designed to engage civil society actors would be free from tensions. These tensions arise from a
confrontation between a new and an established practice. One of the characteristics of smaller towns is the existence of community members who act as informal representatives of the community they claim to
represent. I am calling these actors ‘popes’ because they have a privileged position among the community although they were not elected or have a rational justification for claiming that they represent anyone in
particular – except themselves. The municipality nurtures these ‘popes’ because popes can be relied upon to attend the many meetings called by the municipality in which the views and contributions of the community are to be sought. In the worst cases the ‘popes’ act on behalf of municipal interests without being transparent about this with the communities they claim to represent. The municipality then rewards them with small actions that benefit a particular stakeholder group. However, local people see through this. So this process of grooming ‘popes’ actually is counter productive in that local people develop a cynical attitude towards any suggestion that they as ordinary citizens could take control of anything. While I do not want to detract from the important community involvement work many such representatives are doing, it was essential in the early stages that ‘popes’ were not given a platform from which they could preach to others. It was also clear to the ULG that we ourselves would need to be careful not to claim representation of particular groups, such as traders, families, artists and such like.
2.3. Political role
The role of the Historic Centre Commissioner, before May 2019 elections, and Historic Centre Councilor afterwards emerged as a key actor giving the political credibility to the project to overcome the uncertainty of a process with a clear destiny but not a clear path. The Comissioner stood as a non-elected officer in charge of everything involving the Historic Centre. It was the first strategic attempt for Manresa’s municipality to coordinate its politics focusing on the development of the Historic Centre. In that sense, the Comissioner made a big effort in internal lobby and transversal actions, but it had no budget, nor strong political influence either. In May 2019, after local elections took place, the new government appointed an elected Historic Centre Councilor. The birth of the Council grew the potential of being sustainable, because of budget and increase of political influence. Later in this text, we will talk also about its challenges.
3. Adapting the practice
3.1. Combining both pop-up shops and Stellwerk models.
In adapting the practice, we actually combined both pop-up shops and Stellwerk models. Stellwerk acts as an independent community centre and volunteer network supported by Municipality, who provide premises. The Stellwerk is managed by the community itself without a formal organization. It counts on the support of an officer from Municipality who acts as the link between the volunteers running the Stellwerk and the administrative processes of the municipality. For example, the municipality administers all the donations and grant funding that Stellwerk receives. The Link Officer supports voluntary organisations obtaining permissions for activities or makes connections with politicians or adminstrators. In Altena actions are mainly focused on elder people and migrants, and at the same time retired people are the ones holding the weight of dynamization and common management.
In Manresa, Municipality was reluctant to make a difference with other entities and projects and give a public support to the project. That’s why a pop-up inspiration gave the solution. In order to activate different
premises around the huge Historic Centre of Manresa, it was planned to make an itinerant headquarters in private premises, given in for free by the owners. It would activate different areas and premises and at the
same time make microlocal impact in different areas, widing the potential to attract neighbours. The contract would be for 9 to 12 months, Municipality would cover the expenses and make little improvements on the premises.
La Canal focused its claim on meeting, mutual aid and exchange community point, that were the most desired functions by attending community. The community management was quite a lot similar to Stellwerk with an important difference: there wasn’t (and there isn’t) a horizon of an officer in charge of the relationship with La Canal. That’s the main weakness of the project because Manresa Municipality is big and the deep importance of the project is still known by very few. So it could happen that after the end of the program there’s not a strong care of its meaning. This concrete point, relationship between NGO platform and municipality is still to be solved properly. Despite the positive developments in creating a coherent group with a clear purpose through ULG, it seems that obtaining premises was critical for the success of the transformation of being a group of like minded people wanting to establish a ‘community centre’ and actually being galvanised to doing it. This was a catalyst for La Canal and the scale of activity unleashed by ULG members and the community network is quite astonishing. Our new premises are now acting as a meeting and exchange place, an attractor, a reference and a shelter for the community. A mutual support group is using it as a place to receive and distribute food and other goods, so it quickly has become a known place for many people. Those needs and uses are bringing new ideas of activities, such making soap, cooking together and more. At the same time, some other groups run open workshop meetings such as a Restart Party, a meeting where volunteers help to repair electric devices, or Chat Meetings. It is important to see that having premises is essential to engage people in collective action. If we look at previous actions promoted by the L’ANTIC mother group in 2019, we see that they were more strategic and aimed at making others do things that improve the old town. For example a proposal to solve parking problems with a temporary car park on the periphery of the old town; a campaign to care for public spaces or a campaign and workshop to support underage migrants. Actions now being generated under La Canal are more accessible for the wider community, engaging individuals in collective, practical activities. Having premises is key to making this happen.
3.2. Reflecting on my role as ULG coordinator
As ULG Coordinator I played a central role throughout this project.
Reflecting on the challenges that were encountered in developing the project allows me to identify four key learning points. First is the dominant role that political interests play in connecting with the URBACT project in the first place. Managing how political actors understand the nature of the project and the need for it is essential. While this is essential at the start of the transfer, it becomes an ongoing task because political representatives can change quickly. Setting out a path to become engaged for those with the power to support the project is a key task for the ULG coordinator. Transnational meetings were very important to demonstrate to political representatives that this is a professional project that has firmly committed municipal partners from across Europe who are determined to introduce new practices in their towns.
The second learning point is that the administration of the project is really demanding. This relates in part to the bureaucracy associated with connecting a municipality with a European project. The more important
aspect is about protecting the energy of activists in the early stages who are oscillating around the project without wanting to commit to it. Vague notions of what this NGO Platform might be, combined with ambiguous goals and unclear pathways towards achieving them makes for a fragile atmosphere within the group and between the group and the municipality. Administrators and politicians tend to subscribe to two
perspectives on working with civil society. One is that activists expect that they will settle their interests through the creation of a formal organisation through which the municipality can engage with citizens.
The second is that activists need to create an organisation if they want to engage with the municipality in a serious way. Neither of these is true or necessary. Community movements with informal arrangements and
one-off actions are a long way away from what bureaucracies, such as municipalities, expect. Hence it is essential for the ULG Coordinator to protect the informality and autonomy of actors joining the ULG platform
while, at the same time, building and maintaining bridges to the administration. From my experience it has become crystal clear that being independent from the municipality, but connected to a professional network of towns pursuing similar goals has helped me engage with officials and politicians on an equal basis as is possible given the inherent power imbalances. The third learning point is that every individual matters. It has helped me to provide individual support by having a personal action plan for each member who committed to work towards one specific goal that we as group had agreed on. Just one goal per person is quite a commitment and as ULG Coordinator I had to ask myself constantly how I can support an activist without taking the ‘freedom for action’ away from them. I found that sometimes it is enough just to say hello and show an interest in the bigger issues that have brought them to the NGO Platform initiative. The fourth learning point is that informality is a barrier to coordinating activity effectively. The intention to engage active people who wanted to make a change and perceiving L’ANTIC as a movement without hierarchy created a situation where the group lacked clear boundaries. Some people were only involved in one specific action group, while
others were more widely engaged with the development of global actions. Some dropped in to see what was going on without committing themselves while others used the emerging group as a communication channel to pursue their particular interests. The only commonly accepted rule was that we were committed to doing things that the group had agreed to do. The task of coordinating in such a context becomes one of signposting people to opportunities for taking part in actions, and to keep those who are more deeply involved informed of who might be joining them. The important thing here is to enable ULG members to regulate
themselves. I had to be very careful not to position myself as the official coordinator that has been appointed by the municipality to develop the project. Instead I had to behave like ‘one of them’ but with a very large
workload of coordinating their activities as far as possible. I also had to learn that some people join with high energy and expectations but then disappear as quickly as they came, while others are more modest in
their outlook but stay the course and deliver some or much of what they came to do. One skill I developed was to make informal agreements with activists on what they said they wanted to do with the project to help
them manage their energies, not to remind them of their promises and implicitly criticize them if they do not deliver.
4. Sustaining the practice locally
4.1. Learning points
Overall we can identify some learning points from the work done so far that relate to the practice sustainability. The first, and perhaps most important point, is that the municipality can learn to work with its local community in a more trusting and less directive way. We already celebrated some dissemination workshops that make evidence of a changing activist environment and the need to adapt the way to relate with it from administration.
The second point is that individuals who have struggled to join more formal, perhaps quite institutionalised, community initiatives have found their way to be connected with their community by becoming an activist. This means that the ULG platform may remain quite ‘fluid’ and informal but that more people are connecting as a result of it.
A final learning point is that community development cannot be rushed. The very nature of the Re-grow City transfer is a paradox because the limited time available and the top-down establishment of the partnership
works against a community-led bottom-up creation of an NGO platform. The danger is that if we apply pressure in this way local actors are likely to say that we should do it ourselves. During the short transfer window
we had to become absolutely clear that if we want the community to take the lead we have to be patient and let the community find its way, even if what actually happens is not exactly what we were hoping to achieve.
4.2. Key points for sustainability
As we begin to look to the time after Re-grow City we can identify three issues that need to be addressed if we want to keep La Canal NGO Platform alive. First of all, the municipality must find a way to reassure activists that they can remain activists without being drawn into the administration of an organisation. Activists are not interested in serving the needs of a bureaucracy, they need to be enabled to do what they feel strongly about and that does not tend to be about managing premises or writing reports on activities they have been involved with. This means that the municipality needs to provide a robust link between La Canal and officials. This link person is an integral part of the good practice model from Altena and until we have assurances that such a role will be instigated there are questions about the sustainability of La Canal. Put
simply, the municipality needs to accept that it needs to deal with administrative obstacles it creates itself and not to pass this on to the community.
Secondly, we have to unchain ourselves from the pressure for linear and continuous growth. The key challenge is to maximise the number of people who take action, that does not mean that the movement needs to
grow all the time. Creating structures that are needed to support a large movement is not synonymous with effective community engagement. From a community perspective it is preferable to have a dynamic but
informal movement that can sustain small but important actions through local activists than a large predictable initiative where a few people make plans and then look for municipal support to deliver initiatives for passive citizens.
The third issue is that we do not know how the Covid19 crisis will affect community development, not just in Manresa but in Europe. While at the time of writing it is too early to make any predictions, we can see that our approach in Manresa has empowered activists to divert their energies into helping others during the Colvid19 crisis. On one hand we saw members using networks and support groups to respond to Covid19 but
on the other we also saw that La Canal was too fragile to facilitate a self-governing co-ordinated response. Yet it is promising and reassuring that La Canal has progressed sufficiently far to create or engage with
new mutual support networks, letting them flourish under the supporting canopy that La Canal has managed to establish.
A detailed analysis of the transfer was produced at the end of the transfer period. In the following link you can find both the report and a video explaining of the transfer:
4.3. Present conclusions
At the end of the transfer we started to explain what we did as an ULG mother grup (L’Antic) that gave birth to the NGO platform (La Canal). I would follow on the metaphor and say that we now have a baby and
there needs to be ‘pediatric care’ for it. So the main key is to make it more necessary by involving the community around the premises and multiplying the bonds between neighbours. At the same time, we are
talking about a meeting-people project in a non-meeting-people era, due to restrictions to contain Covid-19. It’s hard to know what will happen but for sure it is a bad moment for a child like this to grow-up. Volunteers are motivated but all the uncertainty and continuous change of concrete rules about public reunions don’t incentivize an open growing of La Canal. We could feel comforted by the universal impact of pandemics as a delayer of goal achievement. But even knowing so, there is also a need to prove internally in Municipality why the practice is important in a relatively short-term way, so a pressure to deliver stands arise.
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