Case study: Amplify NI

A Relationship-Centred, Community-Led Innovation Process for Change

Introducing Amplify NI

Amplify NI is an initiative designed and developed by The Young Foundation, in partnership with local communities, aimed at bringing local people and organisations together to understand and design solutions to community problems across Northern Ireland. In its own words, “Amplify provides the tools and skills to engage with communities differently and more effectively, as genuine partners in change, to amplify the inspiring work and action that communities are already doing.” This “community-led innovation” process requires a relationship-centred approach. Amplify NI is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, and has served as a blueprint for further Amplify projects across the UK.

How does Amplify NI work?

In a nutshell, Amplify NI aims to help local people collaboratively improve their own communities. To this end it has four core aims:

1. Understand people’s lived experiences of inequality and how it can be overcome

2. Amplify new narratives of the better future people want for their communities

3. Create and grow the innovative projects, collaborations, organisations and campaigns needed to make change happen

4. Support connected groups of committed people working and learning together

Amplify’s approach to meeting these aims heeds four key values, all of which relate to the importance of listening deeply, meeting people and building relationships:

1. Change should be led by those who have lived experience of the issue and are rooted in the community.

2. Everyone has a role to play. The tools Amplify uses are designed to encourage people to participate and to make sure that movements for change are inclusive.

3. We should not be afraid to challenge the power dynamics that uphold social inequalities.

4. For positive change to happen, more just and inclusive stories must be grounded in the positive values and collective strengths that exist in communities.

Practically speaking, Amplify NI’s work fits into a six-stage community-led innovation process. Although Amplify facilitates this process, it makes sure local people are leading at each stage in terms of generating ideas, forming teams and developing solutions. The process is as follows:

1. Dialogue and partnerships with a range of actors and stakeholders

Through deep-listening exercises, participatory research methods and conversation groups, Amplify connects people and organisations to identify local issues and inequalities and their hopes, goals and plans to address them. The emphasis is on lived experience.

2. Participatory research

Participatory research blurs the line between the researcher and the research ‘subject’, giving the subject an active role in shaping research. It draws on co-creation and ‘appreciative inquiry’ methods such as peer video production, deep listening and day-in-the-life exercises, all of which prioritise holistic questions about how people really feel about their communities as a way to access insights. Participatory research ensures insights are based on lived experiences of inequality, and fosters mutual relationships. This helps develop a deep knowledge about local context, which makes it possible to offer support tailored to local contexts. Amplify NI both facilitates participatory-research sessions and teaches local people how to facilitate them, through Community Powered Change Sessions.

3. Storytelling to create and share new collective narratives

Based on insights from participatory-research sessions, Amplify supports people to improve and create positive, future-oriented, shared narratives about their communities.

4. Workshops with local people to co-create solutions

Using research insights and new narratives, Amplify works with local people and partner organisations to start thinking of ideas to improve their communities. Informal workshops often prove more effective than more formal programmes in attracting people. Although partners are invaluable, Amplify NI resists the idea that only established organisations, not local people, can assume innovation leadership.

5. Acceleration

As ideas take shape, Amplify helps people accelerate their ideas through its People’s Accelerator. This free six-month programme includes skills workshops, Young Foundation mentoring, engagement with local partners, community and networking events and a final pitch night in front of community organisations and funders. A cohort typically includes 15-20 projects.

6. Sustainability

To ensure community-led innovation is sustainable, The People’s Accelerator emphasises impact measurement. Amplify also works to grow and sustain the developing community-innovation movement, including through The Exchange: a network of people Amplify has come into contact with that provides ongoing mentoring, funding advice and networking opportunities to community projects.

What impact is Amplify NI having?

co-creation workshop attendees

people involved in volunteer activities

people trained to research inequality and community values

people accessed research findings and toolkits

local research participants learning about inequality

innovations supported through workshops and the People's Accelerator

organisations using Amplify research

new connections facilitated through Amplify events

funding and investment raised by workshops and People's Accelerator participants

What can we learn from Amplify NI?

A few things that stand out to us about the way that Amplify NI operates:

In ‘real’ relationships, all parties are genuinely and mutually valued

Integral to Amplify’s approach is the idea that “communities are the experts on their own lives, they are already working to improve their lives and the lives of others, and, with the resources and permission to act, they are a crucial component in efforts to tackle societal challenges.” This anti-paternalism both requires and helps foster trusting, mutual relationships as a vehicle for community change – something prioritised at every stage of Amplify’s participatory, co-creative community-led innovation process, including in the priority placed on developing new narratives to give people and communities a newfound sense of identity and empowerment.

Commonalities, such as shared experiences, can form the basis of powerful relationships

We’ve written a lot about the importance of accessible public spaces for people to meet in. But Amplify NI shows how place is crucial to meaningful relationships on a deeper level: as a source of social, psychological and political connection. More generally, Amplify NI has found that identifying genuine shared interests – not simply superficial ones – has been essential in building powerful relationships.

People often need ‘permission’ to connect

Sharing skills and working together towards a common goal can be a good way of giving this permission. Especially when those skills are aimed at improve the local community, collective learning not only literally brings people together, but serves as a powerful tool for helping people to realise their deep commonalities and common goals.

Want to know more?

What’s next for Amplify NI?

Amplify has since been extended to other UK cities, including Leeds, Sheffield, Wales. Amplify is also currently conducting research in Essex, Corby and London.

Further reading

  • Amplify NI’s website includes more information on its approach, values and forms of support.
  • The Young Foundation’s Amplify NI brochure outlines the programme in more detail, including through case studies of community projects to emerge through the programme.
  • The Young Foundation has also produced a ‘synthesis’ report of the Amplify initiative as a whole.
  • One driver of Amplify NI was research detailing the fertile ground there for a community-led innovation approach