Communities in Control is the biggest annual gathering of community sector workers, volunteers and supporters - each year bringing together a stellar list of speakers and around 1300 delegates to listen, debate, network, exchange tips and strategies, and - perhaps most importantly - recharge.
Since its inception in 2003 the conference has provided a platform for the premise that for communities to survive and thrive, they must be in charge of their own destinies; that they must be given practical support to set their own priorities, design their own approaches, and create their own solutions; and that to do this will ultimately create safer, healthier communities.
What does it mean to give control back to communities?
The answer to this question is at the root of the Communities in Control conference concept - and indeed the creation of Our Community, which works to help community groups to become sufficiently viable, effective and sustainable.
The first Communities in Control conference was announced in 2003 with two world leaders in social epidemiology - Len Syme and Lisa Berkman - announced as keynote speakers and the very first Pratt Fellows.
Organisers hoped for about 300 participants but as word spread, the groundswell of interest grew and the venue was changed three times to cater for what eventually turned out be a crowd of more than 1300 (a level that has been sustained most years since).
Such immense support provided very tangible evidence of the clear need within Australia for a new appreciation that communities (via community groups) must be in charge of their own destinies.
As Professor Syme, an world renowned academic from the University of California Berkeley, told the 2003 conference, putting communities in control - empowering people and communities to set their own strategic agenda and priorities and run their own programs - is better for health and wellbeing than giving up smoking and fatty foods (although both are advised).
During the 2003 conference, Professor Syme lamented the billions of US dollars spent on beautifully designed, impeccably implemented behavioural or information-based interventions to improve health that just didn't work - because the communities were being worked "on", rather than finding solutions to their own problems.
And he challenged Australian community representatives present at that first conference to heed the research and to re-evaluate all of our approaches - to see what we can do, in practical terms, to improve the capacity of communities to take control.
Professor Lisa Berkman, another world-leading academic, from Harvard University's Faculty of Medicine, built on Professor Syme's message, explaining how her new research shows that joining up with community groups provides a tangible route to gaining the social support that prevents strokes, heart disease, dementia - helping people to recover at double the rate, and even improving people's life expectancy.
Delegates at the conference were painted a picture of the future - of individuals and support agencies and governments supporting community groups to be strong, vital and participative so that they can in turn allow individuals to achieve wide-ranging, long-lasting health and wellbeing.
Highly successful two-day Communities in Control conferences have followed each year since 2003.
Best of all though is the opportunity that Communities in Control provides for delegates to lift their gaze from the daily grind, to hear the latest community sector research and developments, to be challenged, to reconnect with others in or supportive of the community sector, and to reaffirm their commitment to and enthusiasm for the work they do.
An exciting program is always assured thanks to the many months of work by the organisers and the continuing commitment of sponsors, whose support allows organisers to bring to the conference an incredible array of international experts and deep-thinking local speakers and keep the conference fee at a very low cost.
As delegates know, allowing communities to take control can be a hard pill to swallow - because it is hard, because the results can be slow to emerge, and because it raises all manner of practical questions:
Working together, Communities in Control supporters are marching towards the answers.
Indeed, Communities in Control is no longer just a conference, but a movement towards stronger, healthier, more effective communities and community groups.
The Communities in Control conference is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Group Managing Director of Our Community, Denis Moriarty, and the CEO of Catholic Care, Fr Joe Caddy, and their respective organisations.
Through their work and life experiences, Denis Moriarty and Fr Caddy had long had a belief in the concept of Communities in Control, but they had also come to realise that there were real problems with the delivery of the concept into action - that on the day-to-day level, grassroots community groups (the ones most likely to be in control) were weak and vulnerable in the key areas of funding, governance and management.
What followed was a decision to sidestep some of the more abstract notions floating around about capacity building and the like and kickstart this new practical agenda surrounding communities in control.
On the Our Community website under the banner "Communities in Control" you can read summaries, transcripts and PowerPoint presentations from all past conferences, as well as information about upcoming conferences.
You can also find out how to order a video or DVD of past conferences.
In addition, the Communities in Control website provides a link to the Communities in Control manifesto, which was produced as a call to action following the 2003 conference. The Manifesto maintains its relevance as a link to the practical steps that can be taken to value and support community organisations to develop the social capital needed to create a better Australian society.