How to Start a Local Action Group?

Text by Raluca Petrescu

It happens to all of us. We are walking the streets of the city and suddenly notice something is wrong or can be improved: not enough trash cans in the park, an abandoned bicycle taking up pedestrian space, an institutional building that lacks wheelchair-friendly routes, the absence of an educational center for children, or paper forms at the City Council that could easily be replaced by digital ones.   

You would like to take action and do something about it, but most of the time you end up telling yourself it’s too complicated or impossible to get things done by yourself. And you’re probably right. But it doesn’t have to be like that. You are probably not the only person who wants to live in a more functional, vibrant, and inclusive city or local community. So why not ask around and get others to support your initiatives? You might be surprised how many people would get involved and work by your side. The solution is to start a local action group.

What is a local action group?

Local action groups are volunteer working groups made up of representatives from the community. They can be residents of your building, your street, or your district, sharing common interests, ideas, or desires. But they can also include police, local authority, local organizations, or local businesses representatives.

Usually, they start as a citizen initiative to tackle a specific problem and end up organizing themselves as NGOs to further local development. They can implement small-scale projects, like Flamura Initiative in Bucharest, Romania, aiming to turn an abandoned movie theatre into an educational hub. Or like Abbots in Transition, a group of residents in Abbots Langley, UK, who organize a community market that gives locals an opportunity to sell their home grown produce and goods.

They can also be a branch of an international movement or part of a national network, like the Community Action Group (CAG), with over 65 groups across Oxfordshire, UK, taking action on waste, energy, food, transport, biodiversity, and social inequality. Started in 2001, the network is the largest of its kind in the UK, running over 2,000 events per year, attended by around 80,000 local residents.

Getting started

Let people know what you’re up to and invite them to be part of it. You can start by approaching them, sharing your ideas, and see what actions they would support. You can also print flyers and give them to your neighbors or people at the local market, church or school. If you don’t feel comfortable interacting with strangers, you can set up a blog or a Facebook page explaining what you aim to do and encouraging people to support your cause. Don’t forget to include a contact form or an email list they can subscribe to.

Call a meeting with everyone interested. After raising awareness and identifying possible partners, set up a meeting to get to know each other better. It can be in a park, a coffee place, a local library, or a community center.

Set up the next steps

Consider the following steps as you get started:

  • Decide the first project or initiative you want to work on. You will probably realize there are many things that can be done by a group of enthusiast and good-hearted individuals. And you might be tempted to include many of them on the group’s agenda. But try to stick to just one, preferably a small one, or a chunk of a bigger initiative. Think of it as a pilot project. Working with new people and volunteering can be quite challenging in the beginning, so taking small steps is important to keep members motivated.    
  • Find a group name. Think of a simple, easy-to-remember name that can help you differentiate from other groups while making an emotional connection with your cause.
  • Decide who will be in the core team. Form a small core group of people who are willing to take over specific roles and responsibilities. Those who would love to be involved in the project but cannot commit can always be in the supporters’ team.
  • Decide what you need in terms of human, intellectual, and financial resources. Don’t hesitate to contact NGOs or experts to ask for expertise. Think of institutions or other organizations that would be interested in supporting your project. Small businesses located in the community’s neighborhood may have an interest in your work and may sponsor events or contribute with products or services.
  • Put together an action plan. Decide what the next steps of the group should be, and who will carry out the planned activities. Also, decide how often you should meet, and how to communicate. You could set up WhatsApp groups, email lists, and collaborative tools like Slack or Trello.
  • Think of ways to transform social relations, attitudes, and behavior in the community. Having a specific goal and seeing the results of your work is extremely rewarding. It will give the group members a sense of belonging to an extended family, a meaningful side project, and also a sense of power while enabling people to communicate, learn, cooperate, and inspire others to take action as well.

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