Challenge Consultancy

Transcribed by Maria Brenton


Reminder of first training session on diversity given by Femi. This covered legal responsibilities re equal opportunities and looked at allocations procedures – personal qualities and behaviour indicators


Focus on diversity and issues of selection of members. Need for clear policies – for example, on transsexuals. The group agreed that they had developed a policy in this area and it is: ‘To accept any self-defined woman as long as she adheres to the values of the group’

  • Need for statement of equal opportunities
  • Measures for de-selection in the group

Ice-breaker exercise

Four groups of four, named England, Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland.  Each tasked to define ‘welcoming diversity’ in 20 words without using the first letter of the name of the team.  Then judged by group.

‘Inviting the contributions of each person from their diverse and unique backgrounds and skills that make a rich group mosaic’.

Lessons from this:

  • What seems clear and plain to you won’t seem that to others – your criteria may need to be written in several different ways or give really clear examples.
  • Communicate aims clearly and allow sufficient time for clarification. People who are beset by anxiety (eg. needing somewhere to live) may not understand things right first time.
  • People make assumptions and make different assumptions.
  • All have different interpretations.
  • Can’t make choices without enough information and you need the information ahead of time – the challenge is how to get the information out to enough women so that they can make choices.
  • There will often be creativity in applying rules. One possible response is to focus on the outcome not the behaviour - it can have a positive or destructive effect.  How do you deal with /interpret breaches of your rules – what is ‘a breach’?
  • People can early on acquire a reputation or label that will stick. Need to be careful of this.
  • Some of the things that are normal and right for us aren’t the same for others and we must be prepared to be open – need to recognise that people who feel disadvantaged and feel that the rules don’t treat them equally will very often rebel. First question needs to be ‘why are you not co-operating?  What has gone wrong?’  Starting point – ‘what has gone wrong and what can we do to make it right?’  Not – ‘you have not co-operated, therefore you should leave the group’. 

Stage 2

Selection of members

Consider what will funders and governing bodies expect of youre. Equal Opportunities. They will probably want evidence of access, to know that different types of people have had equal access to housing and that there are clear and transparent selection procedures and appropriate policies for de-selection. How you deal with breaches of policy and procedure?  What would your definition of a ‘breach’ be?

  1. Evidencing of fair access. This means monitoring who has been attracted to apply, who has been accepted and who rejected. RSLs are required to give this information to the Housing Corporation as part of regulation and inspection – they may ask this of you. Where did you advertise and what organisations did you tell that you were open to referral and did you do any outreach in order to reach a large number of people?

You need to take account of race, sex, disability; not at the moment sexuality and religion (but law changing in Dec 2003).  You will not then be allowed to reject a woman because of her sexual preferences or her religion.

Need for an Equal Opportunities form for new members or/and an application form.  You should have a record of people who ring up and make enquiries – monitor this. Thus you can show you are reaching a wide section of community even if they come no further.

Need for either a form or telephone questions. If numbers too large, do it for three months a year.  You will get the best results from this if you are very positive and matter of fact about it.  The biggest obstacle to monitoring is how we feel about it, because this comes over to the enquirer. If lots of people are contacting OWCH and few getting through, that should alert us to something going on in the process – that we are treating them inappropriately or that the type of housing we are offering is not right for them – which in itself might be a development opportunity for the organisation to diversify.

It is a good idea to have with you by the phone a short script with categories and also a logsheet.  A useful preamble is -  ‘We are very concerned that we should reach all sections of the community so we try and check regularly whom we are reaching. Would you mind telling us some details about…’

    • Race
    • Sex (marital status/no of dependants/ transexuality)
    • Disability
    • Sexuality
    • Religion
    • Other

Don’t assume your caller has read your literature accurately.  Monitoring is onerous for one person on the phone, perhaps.  There are some benefits and disadvantages of telephone or postal method

Some people never send forms back but others might prefer a form. You could ask ‘how do you define yourself in relation to the following categories?’ 

General consensus in the workshop that OWCH has not taken this sufficiently seriously and needs to start monitoring now to be able to show we are reaching diverse groups. Most enquiries these days are by letter or e-mail and followed up by telephone conversation. If some callers are shy then maybe we should say to them we are going to try at some stage and monitor everybody.  Ask for the information soon and often and when it feels appropriate.

What about confidentiality? 

People have moved away from anonymity to confidentiality – the latter is better because it means you only have to ask once, because you can identify who it was who was asked – at each stage of your organisation. Anonymity means you have to ask continually.  You need to reassure caller either that information goes to the group (and stays in the group) or is between you and her – you need to choose which.  OR you could have anonymity at first and then later, when a member has joined the group, confidentiality. You may need to think about practical aspects such as lockable cabinets, files and an office on account of the need for confidentiality.

OWCH may have tended to see itself as an informal group up till now. No need to overdo formality but if you want public funds, there are a few practical things you have to address.

OWCH must be able to say ‘these are the steps we have taken’

  • Try and portray yourselves as you would like to be – different images, different abilities; For example, use pictures of different types of people
  • This is our statement
  • #2– example given from the Strutton Board
  • It is backed up by policy
  • #3 (Strutton’s is 8 pages) – with an explanation of the need for a policy and its aim; specific areas of the business of the org – if you envisage employing people; ethos; behavioural guidelines – links with other procedures such as those required of a co-operative like grievances and harassment. ‘We recognise that in today’s society people face different challenges and are discriminated against – we are hoping that by having this policy we can let everyone know what it is we are trying to achieve and what the outcomes are likely to be.’
  • Disabilities and age – need for balance in the group because OWCH members intend to help each other. In 2006, there is discrimination on the basis of age coming in. It is legal to provide services for people who are disadvantaged – ie. women who are 50+  but it is not allowed to discriminate against someone of 85+, for example. It is not allowed to have quotas or age-bands. (Note from MB – this is incorrect. Age legislation 2006 covers only employment and education re. age).   You are not allowed to discriminate against someone who is disabled.  OWCH policy is ‘we are open to all women who are capable of independent living’. 
  • Criteria such as ‘Expectations of dependency on the group in relation to the level of support (emotional or physical) the group can offer at the present’ are different from those concerned with disability.

Anyone of you may represent the group anywhere and you need to be clear about this.

Define entry criteria in terms of need and the capacity of the group at any given time not age or disability.

You need a very clear policy on how much support people may expect from the group

You will almost definitely need to have an exit policy for women – grounds on which you may be required to leave the group – such as anti-social behaviour or behaviour that prevents other women from having the quiet enjoyment of their home. If individual needs are such that you cannot live with them then you can say they are breaching that aspect of their membership and can exclude them from the group. This focuses on behaviour not on whatever illness or condition. You also need a complaints structure, which leads to the next section.

ACTION:  Need to discuss and adopt a policy for initial monitoring and logging information about enquirers. Need to agree a script for the contact person.

ACTION: Need to develop an Equal Opportunities Statement

ACTION:  Need to develop a written Equal Opportunities Policy supporting this Statement.

ACTION:  Need to develop a written policy on levels of support for individuals by the group and what individuals might expect

2. De-selection procedures

Need for clear procedures – you need a flow chart or something with clear stages that are identifiable. Need to be clear about where responsibility lies for the selection process and what criteria people need to fulfil at what stages.  You have got age, specific conditions etc. but need to fill out these criteria – how they will be used and by whom.

Clear and regular stages at which all women are assessed.
If you don’t do it clearly and regularly than what happens is that you wait till someone is at the end of her tether and then complain. Then it feels for the person complained against like ‘I personally have been got at because no-one else is monitored in this way’. Eg.  ‘She woke me up seven times last night’.  ‘No-one counts how many times anyone else has woken people up for whatever reason and I feel got at’. It is difficult to consider living in a place where this process is adopted but it is a bit like a shared household where there either is a rota for the washing up or someone ends up doing it all the time and then begins to nag and then we hate them and they hate everyone else.

You need a structure for gathering the opinions of the general membership – the others who live in the unit with you. Each unit needs to be self-monitoring and regulating.

You need agreed criteria for assessment by a pre-elected panel.

Femi’s experience of Gay Switchboard – Initial interview then people free to come to meetings until around 4 monthswhen second interview happened. Asked what they felt about the organisation; others who had been working with them were asked for their views on how they had functioned on telephone; asked few questions re attitudes. Results of 2nd interview taken to full meeting where vote to grant full membership or not.

Could assign a buddy when first attending; buddy could be responsible for reporting back on how new person functions. You clearly all feel uncomfortable with assessment but unless you have a mechanism, you are dependent on women who are brave and these women become unpopular and will be scapegoated and this is unfair. Everyone should take responsibility. You need a structure. Where would you begin?

Assess by:

  • Clear criteria
  • Indicators by which you measure conformity to criteria (behaviour and outcomes)


Self assessment the starting point as well as assessment by others.  
Regular appraisal is a part of many jobs; you are set targets to meet and measured against them – a gradual process therefore where, for example, a woman would have time to, say, amend her behaviour and meet the criteria, not suddenly be required to leave.

Most important that you should no longer rest on letting women come along and if they feel ok then you feel ok. This is fine while everything stays fine but are you happy for a person to stay no matter how disruptive she is? Waiting till things get to such a pitch and then asking someone to go without having warned her is a problem. It’s fairer to let people know as they go along. We need trust in the group.

You need to choose a method of appraisal.

Need for time spans of assessment – named points at which it must happen.  Maybe open it up as a whole group at some time in the year – how do we all feel about being a member of the group? Are we having doubts about it? Then at another stage we might need a different kind of assessment.

Femi – so we are talking about stages and methods of feedback. The point at which it is agreed that it is pivotal that women agree this person changes her status.

Are you happy for anyone to come in and do their three meetings? Yes.

Then what – does paying the subscription buy them permanent membership of the group? No.

If I keep on paying, I can continue being a member as long as I come to meetings, correct?  Yes, but there are values that the group would expect someone to conform to. If they demonstrated that they didn’t agree with the group’s values, then they wouldn’t be safely here.

Three meetings

First stage : Information exchange / feedback
There is during this period, after the first three meetings and six months after membership, room for mutual assessment and use of the buddy system. Before you choose to become a full member would you like to meet up informally with some of the group to ensure that you understand what you need to do to be part of the group, to clarify how you see the group and know what you are taking on. Or maybe do it with two or three new members together.

Second stage: assessment

  • Perhaps when we renew our membership each year a self-assessment form should be completed – or some kind of process. Should be part of an open discussion.
  • Pre-requisite for anything like this is love, respect, a feeling of security and assurance from the group that it will do everything it can to give support.
  • Our focus is overmuch on what we do with people getting frail or developing dementia rather than with people taking active responsibility for helping to run this group -  what are the indicators for that and what assessment process can we have for that?  When we are all in, if people then back out, stop coming to meetings etc. or become disruptive -  that’s what we need to talk about. 
  • Most open (non-confidential) assessments are not honest because people feel threatened or awkward. Sense of personal empowerment needed. Will group members be honest enough to maintain a robust assessment system?  Is there enough trust in the group? 
  • You need to see it working. Belief that you are safe engenders trust.  If you put in some really practical policy commitment of the organisation that it will take care of women, then they will trust you. If you say and have it written in to your policies that OWCH will never say a woman must leave until the organisation has helped her to secure a suitable and appropriate place for her to go – then you will be trusted. Even if you don’t want me in this house, I know that you will help me and that you have written into your policies that you can’t throw me out until I have somewhere to go – then I’ll trust you.
  • When a person leaves the group, OWCH could continue (if appropriate) to support her in some way or find her an advocate. This would help build trust and help people feel safe.
  • Need for a separate policy for the event of someone dying.
  • Femi – I feel you’ve made a huge move. You’ve accepted slowly and reluctantly that you are going to have to do some kind of assessment. You must have a ‘grievance’ (bad behaviour) or ‘’capability’ (inability to comply with the requirements) procedure.  ‘The parties must meet with X…’ You also need an appeals procedure which must include someone who was not part of the initial procedure – which means you must keep some members in reserve, company officers etc.


  • Information:  After three meetings, before or as part of the application for full membership there will be a two-way feedback meeting with the new applicants so that they can get clear what is required for full membership and even for some comments on performance or behaviours which they might need to shift or make sure they cover. No assessment then apart from telling them what to look out for.
  • Annual review. After a year, all women will be assessed. All at the same time is logistically very demanding – maybe the anniversary of your joining. Two-way feedback at which you ratify or not this person’s continued membership of the group.  Takes place at pre-meeting and ratified at next general meeting.

ACTION:   Revisit the conditions of membership and performance indicators against which to appraise satisfactory membership of the group.

ACTION: Develop a written policy for the first stage feedback meeting.

ACTION: Develop a written membership assessment procedure for all.

ACTION: Develop written grievance and capability procedures

ACTION: Develop a written appeals procedure