Section 1 - Assessing

Section 1

This stage involves taking stock of the progress the community group has made, and taking time to reflect on what they have achieved and what still needs to be accomplished. It means checking whether lessons from experience have been learnt, and setting out the things that should be looked at in more depth. This leads naturally into the assessment process, which looks at the community group’s strengths, assets and areas for development, and specifically examines:

  • the effectiveness of the community group’s structure and operation;
  • the skills, understanding and confidence of community group members and opportunities for training and development;
  • how effective the community group is in reaching out to and involving their community; and
  • how influential and connected the community group is in order to achieve their purposes.

This stage also explores the community group’s links and connections to other existing and potential partners in order to achieve their goals.

The time taken for good-quality assessment is an excellent investment – it means there will be a clear understanding of what needs to be done, why it should be done, and what the benefits will be.

Part 1: Taking stock

The ACE process starts by taking an honest look at what the community group is about, what they have achieved so far, their strengths and weaknesses, and why they now want to think and plan ahead.

To get started, you can encourage the community group members to draw a picture or a map of their community on a flipchart. Display, review and discuss what you can all see in the pictures, asking some of the following prompt questions. These questions will help everybody understand and agree what the community group is for, and begin to map out what needs to be done. In this way the community group can understand, agree and record where they are now, and decide which aspects need more thought and planning.

Prompt questions: The ACE Guide provides a series of prompt questions which can be used to trigger useful discussions with groups. You can find the 'Taking stock' prompt questions here.

Worked example: This diagram provides an example for how a community organisations may take stock. You can find a blank version of this diagram here.

Part 2: Assessing the community group

Successful community groups – like any other organisation – succeed because they have an excellent understanding of the environment they work in, and of their strengths and weaknesses as an organisation. They make sure that they have a thorough and honest awareness of these things, and they base their plans and actions on the aspects that are most important. In this section of the guide we encourage community groups to examine what we think are the four most important factors for successful organisations.

Those factors include:

  1. how effective the organisation is in terms of its structure, leadership and operation;
  2. what skills the organisation has, and what it needs, in order to achieve its purpose;
  3. how effective the organisation is at involving people in what it does and how it reaches out to its wider community; and
  4. how effective the organisation is in influencing policies, strategies and services.

Prompt questions: The ACE Guide provides a series of prompt questions which can be used to trigger useful discussions with groups. You can find the 'Assessing' prompt question here.

Worked example: This diagram provides an example for how community groups can assess how effective they feel. You can download a blank version of this diagram here.

Hints and tips: We recommend you work through each part of this section separately and then bring together the responses at the end. When you are working through each part, ask participants to give their community group a score and their reasons for that score. The scoring framework used throughout ACE is as follows.

6 = excellent
5 = very good
4 = good
3 = satisfactory
2 = weak
1 = unsatisfactory

Participants can do this as a whole group or you can split them into pairs or small groups and then work out average scores - this can lead to useful discussion, particularly if there is a difference between the scores from different participants. What is most important though is the discussion that takes place, and what the community group identify as areas for improvement.

The overall scores can then be summarised to give a quick visual of the main strengths and the areas which need further development.

Part 3: Resources and stakeholders

Who can help us achieve our purpose? Once a community group is clear about their overall purpose and priorities they need to look at resources and sources of support. No organisation will be able to achieve all of their purposes on their own, and most of their work will be influenced by the quality of the relationships they have developed with other people and organisations. A useful way of mapping this out is through a stakeholder table (see the sample layout below) which looks at the motivation, capacity and opportunity of various stakeholders to help the group achieve its vision and purpose.

It is often best to run this section in two stages - an initial session with the community group to look at their own, and their community's, motivation, capacity and opportunity, and to identify stakeholders or possible supporters. Once this session has been completed and recorded on the stakeholder table, a second session should be organised. As many of the identified stakeholders as possible should be invited to take part in this session, to hear about the group's plans and identify their own motivation, capacity and opportunity to help the group achieve their goals. This should then be recorded on the stakeholder table. 

Worked example: This sample stakeholder table will give groups a way to map out the relationships which have developed with other people and organisations. You can download a blank version of this diagram here.

Next: Section 2 - Planning