“We want to feel like change can happen and to be included in making the change happen.” – Focus group participant
This principle is about people feeling able to share their views and ideas and to have those views be taken seriously in decision-making. Community food providers should consider how their decision-making structures empower those taking part to shape the design, activities and direction of the project.
The Dignity Report stated: “People who have faced food insecurity should be involved in the shaping and delivering of food security”. When trying to develop dignified responses to food insecurity, people who have lived experience are the experts and should be at the forefront of designing and delivering food initiatives.
Community food provision ranges from services for people who need additional support to access food – such as Meals on Wheels services – to projects run fully by and for local community members such as community cafés. Involving people with lived experience of food insecurity in decision-making can thus mean different things in different contexts. It can mean enabling people to speak up when they feel they have not been treated with dignity and offering non-judgmental support when a concern has been raised. It can also mean supporting people to be fully involved in shaping and running the project. The weight of the decisions can range from what goes on the weekly menu of the community meal to how the project is run and developed.
Not everyone involved in a project will want to be included in every aspect of decision-making, but, in collaboration with the community, a range of opportunities should be created to facilitate different degrees of involvement. Efforts should also be made to encourage and enable those involved to make use of these opportunities, accommodating diverse needs and abilities – for example by addressing language or other barriers that keep people from having a voice.
This principle is as much about the (tangible) structures of governance and communication within a project as it is about the (less tangible) organisational culture and quality of relationships.
“People who come need to be at the heart of the project, shaping it. Everyone has their part to play.” – Participant, Dignity Project peer support programme
There is a big difference between projects taking a charity-or service-based approach, where staff and volunteers provide a service to someone experiencing food insecurity, and those taking a community development approach, working with people to support them to access food with dignity.
Projects in which all decisions are made without people’s involvement leave people in disempowered positions. Sometimes there is a sense among staff and/or volunteers that the people coming in should be grateful for whatever support they receive or that they are in too much of a crisis situation to able to share their views or be involved. As such, a charity-based approach can reinforce an imbalance of power and status between those providing the food and those receiving it.
Community food providers can undermine people’s dignity when, for example:
staff and/or the board make all the decisions that matter;
there are no opportunities for people to raise concerns and feedback or the opportunities that exist are unused;
concerns or ideas are raised, but they are not listened to or taken seriously;
only the most eloquent or confident people are asked to join the board or steering group.
Building a culture of participation and trusting relationships between everyone involved (staff, volunteers and/or participants) is key for this principle to work in practice. Ongoing informal dialogue ensures that the threshold for raising concerns is low, feedback loops are short, and ideas can be shared and developed swiftly. For example, when a project is largely run by community members in volunteering roles, they have an immediate say in how the project is delivered – as opposed to projects run solely by paid staff.
Organisations can also create more structured platforms to talk about how the project can be improved to promote and restore dignity, such as (semiformal) steering groups and focus groups, depending on what works best for the people involved in the project.