I can’t hide my nervousness: broadcast for the first time tonight is a radio programme I have been trying to develop for several years (indeed I posted about it nearly four years ago!). Of course, I hope it sounds good and is reasonably entertaining but just as important that it helps to get across the idea that originally inspired me.
The programme is called Agree to Differ and the first edition – on Radio 4 at 8.00 pm – is on the topic of fracking. The format involves me chairing a discussion between two people who hold strongly opposing views. Our job, working together as much as the protagonists are willing, is to try to agree what their disagreement is about. We divide the issue into three segments and see whether at the end of each we can find a form of words that the guests will accept adequately summarises the basis of their differences.
Recording the programmes it has been fascinating to see how the debate has unfolded. Tonight, as I had envisaged, the two rivals - George Monbiot against fracking and James Woudhuysen in favour – do indeed get under the surface of the issue, relegating some of the controversies that have received the most publicity and focussing on others which they both view as more significant.
Other programmes, however, have gone in a different direction. In one, the format led two high profile people who have been on opposite sides of a highly charged, sometimes even violently contested, issue ending up agreeing on almost everything. While in a third, despite me feeling there was quite a bit on which the protagonists might agree to differ, they found it very hard to get past their accumulated and mutual suspicion.
The inspiration for the programme was my frustration at the tendentious nature of most political and policy debates as they are reported or take place in the broadcast media. Put simply these are versions of ‘I believe in good sense and the public interest while my opponent is blinkered and self interested’ to which comes the reply ‘no, I believe in good sense and the public interest while it is my opponent who is blinkered and self interested’. The consequence is that very often the issue in question becomes more, not less, opaque to the average viewer or listener. ‘Imagine’ I thought ‘if we applied the kind of techniques used in mediation to shed much less heat and much more light?’ Vital to that method is requiring that the protagonists resist caricaturing each other’s position – something which immediately inflames debate – and focus instead on clarifying their own stance.
It’s a pretty simple idea but, as I hoped, it does cast new light on well-rehearsed arguments. From recording just three programmes I formed two conclusions.
The first is that we often fail to pay enough attention to the underlying structure of a debate; is it, for example, one in which matters of detail stand for much more fundamental differences of values, or one in which relatively small differences in starting points have somehow ballooned into what feels like a much more polarised debate than it needs to be?
Second, my original hunch has been confirmed: there is whole industry out there comprising most of party politics, large swathes of the media, lobbying and campaigning which is basically a disorganised, self serving conspiracy to convince the public that just about every issue is the site of deep and profound differences of opinion. About three quarters of the ground of every debate comprises the arid territory of one side’s distorted portrayal of the other side’s views.
Imagine a world where the organised effort of politics and communication was to make things clearer and, where possible, more consensual. Not only would we waste a lot less time and probably make wiser decisions, but we could focus our arguments on stuff that is genuinely important and on which we really do profoundly disagree.
I am incredibly grateful to the folks at Radio 4 for commissioning the first short run (and to its brilliant producer Phil Pegum). The BBC won’t look kindly on me hustling for a second series but if you do feel like listening and tweeting your approval I would be very grateful. And if you don’t like it, well maybe we can agree why not.
Volunteering is a vital resource for society and an important source of satisfaction and meaning in many people’s lives. Perhaps it is a reflection of the nature of volunteering but the way we think about it as a system tends to be rather ad hoc and under-conceptualised. Yet the modes, norms and values of volunteering also make up a system which can both challenge and enhance the working of the market and the state providing a more pluralistic and humanistic way of thinking about the good life and the good society.
A few weeks ago the Local Government Association made the suggestion that people who volunteer to help run and provide community services like libraries and leisure centres should get a £100 rebate from their council tax. The proposal can be criticised from opposite points of view – either that rewards go against the very idea of volunteering or that the incentive is far too small to make a difference to motivation and volunteer recruitment.
A United Nations paper published in 2001, largely based on work by Justin Davies Smith, then Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research, explored different criteria used to define a volunteer. The first is indeed reward with views ranging from the purist that there must be no material incentive to the view that any reward is OK as long as it is below the market rate.
Next is the issue of free will. Some examples of volunteering have a compulsory feel, for example, school based systems in the US where pupils have to clock up a certain number of hours. We don’t count mandatory unpaid work activity undertaken by benefit claimants as volunteering even though much of it is classic volunteer activity such as serving in charity shops. This is also one of the reasons for controversy about the growth of unpaid internships where the rewards – such as they are – look like volunteer rations but the discipline expected of interns is more or less the same as paid employees.
A third criterion concerns the beneficiary. We don’t generally consider an activity as volunteering if the main beneficiary is family or close friends. This is a key issue in relation to caring. Despite the huge aggregate savings to the public purse which result from it, unpaid familial caring is seen as a loving burden, not a civic act of volunteering. But wouldn’t it be good for the status of carers if we saw them as volunteers for the general good as well as loving relatives? And is the boundary clear or rational: does it make sense that a lifelong neighbour who cares is a volunteer but a nephew or niece who chooses to take on a caring responsibility for a previously remote aunt or uncle is just doing their duty?
A fourth criterion concerns organisational setting. We have long since passed the point at which volunteering was not considered appropriate in relation to core public services. Estimates suggest that getting on for 1 in 8 public libraries are now volunteer-run with the whole library service being largely a voluntary effort in some English counties Volunteering for private sector organisations may seem counter intuitive and the idea that volunteers help make profits is frowned upon. However more and more corporations sponsor volunteer activities from which, whatever their warm words about corporate responsibility, they presumably aim to boost their brand value.
A final and, in my view, increasingly important issue concerns the level of commitment (to which I would add responsibility). Here again there is huge diversity from virtually effortless clicktivism (deos this even count as voluteering?) to the huge often statutory responsibilities being the chair of a school governing body or major charitable organisation. People in the latter roles may, despite the voluntary nature of thier engagement, be considered fair game for public censure for underperformance, prejudice or negligence.
Typologies are all very well but what is to be done with this complex picture? I am not arguing for neatness, much less for regulation (as the aforementioned Davis Smith argued in response to the LGA initiative, the problem with organised schemes is the scope they create for red tape and disputation). But a more systematic approach to the way we think about volunteering activities might help all of us involved in promoting volunteering to ask better questions and be more consistent, fair and open in our approach. The failure to recognise the civic contribution of familial carers and the resistance to giving some kind of material recognition to the contribution made by people taking on activities with high degrees of public accountability are two examples, in my view, of unclear thinking.
This blog post aims to start not win a debate, but one idea worth considering might be a ready reckoner which puts the demands and expectations of volunteering on one side and the incentives, rewards and support on the other. The former might include time and difficulty, length of commitment and level of responsibility, while the latter would include scope for personal development, material rewards and social recognition. Such a formula might help encourage a more systematic approach to thinking through the structure of expectations and rewards for new forms of volunteering and would identify some existing forms which, on the face of it, seem to offer a ‘good’ deal and others that are less so.
From the perspective of the volunteer, volunteering always will and always should be driven by the heart as much as the head. The potential advantages of a more robust and broadly applied conceptual framework are not only help for those designing and managing volunteering schemes but, more importantly, that the social-economics of volunteering could provide a more powerful alternative paradigm to the highly developed market economics of paid employment.
Like a reformed smoker I am lifetime policy wonk who has now turned against my former habit. This is how I put the argument in a recently co-authored review article on ippr’s recent Condition of Britain report:
This is not, of course, to say that policy is dead. The point is that most social policy goals involve what Jocelyn Bourgon, and her colleagues in the New Synthesis project on 21st century public administration, call ‘civic effects’, that is changing social norms and behaviours and increasing in the resilience and problem solving capacity of communities. But if this is the goal the success factors are as likely to be authentic leadership, convening new forms of dialogue and collaboration and creating varied platforms for local and individual initiative as policy codified in legislation. To put it another way, the centre left has tended to see social engagement as a facet of the transformative project of policy making but instead we should see policy as a facet (and sometimes even a relatively unimportant one) of the transformative task of social mobilisation.
One weakness of my argument has been a paucity of examples of purposive social change in which traditional policy played a small or subsidiary part (I have relied a little too much on the fat-busting Mayor of Oklahoma). So, I am relieved to rediscover the literature of collective impact.
In this piece from Stanford Social innovation Review, Fay Hanleybrown, John Kania and Mark Kramer build on earlier description of collective impact projects and their success factors. The original piece contained a table of five conditions for success which is so simple and convincing that I have it printed on to a card I carry around in my wallet.
In the second paper the authors provide more case studies of successful collective impact projects in areas ranging from tackling teenage binge drinking in a Massachusetts district to cutting homelessness in Calgary, Canada. These projects have a clear mission which the participants are willing to spend years working at, they are highly collaborative and combine expert agencies with community groups and concerned citizens.
Here are four extracts that help illustrate why collective impact is different than conventional policy making:
The most critical factor by far is an influential champion……. one who is passionately focused on solving a problem but willing to let the participants figure out the answers for themselves, rather than promoting his or her particular point of view
Collective impact efforts are most effective when they build from what already exists; honoring current efforts and engaging established organizations, rather than creating an entirely new solution from scratch.
Strategic action frameworks are not static….They are working hypotheses of how the group believes it can achieve its goals, hypotheses that are constantly tested through a process of trial and error and updated to reflect new learnings, endless changes in the local context, and the arrival of new actors with new insights and priorities
One such intangible ingredient is, of all things, food. Ask Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, founder of the Elizabeth River Project, what the secret of her success was in building a common agenda among diverse and antagonistic stakeholders, including aggressive environmental activists and hard-nosed businessmen. She’ll answer, “Clam bakes and beer.”
Of course, national and local policy can facilitate collective impact projects (although on the whole it has been more likely to disrupt and deter them) and these projects may well end up identifying necessary policy reforms. However, the question posed by collective actors is ‘what can we do given the policy context we have’ much more than ‘how can we change that policy context’.
The Stanford piece doesn’t refer to a single UK project. After the original piece there was a flurry of interest in the UK, including this post which kindly refers to the RSA but I can’t find much else. Am I missing something or is it that a combination of centralisation, austerity and short termism makes collective impact projects here just much harder to design and implement?
If so, I take that as a challenge to which we must try to rise.
How’s this for an admission guaranteed to alienate old comrades and make me look like a geek? I am a really big fan of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.
Watching him speak last week at the Downing Street celebration of a hundred mutuals spun out form public services I realised his ordinary bloke appearance and deadpan style are increasingly reminiscent of Jack Dee. At one point he told the admiring audience of mutual pioneers that he belonged to the ‘JFDI’ school of management (JDI stands for ‘just do it’). Apparently, when he explained to Cabinet Office officials he wanted to see more mutuals they asked him whether he was asking for new regulations, new legislation or maybe a cabinet committee? ‘Tell you what, how about just setting up some mutuals?’ was his characteristic response.
Having achieved his target of a hundred – many of them like Hull City Health Care Partnership both substantial and successful and most of them, despite austerity, growing – Maude’s ambition has expanded. Following the excellent recent report by Chris Ham on the importance of engaging NHS employees, Maude has urged ministers in the health department to accelerate the development of employee mutuals in the NHS.
This is not the first time the Cabinet Office minister has tugged the tail of his colleagues running big service departments. The Government Digital Service – which Maude defends robustly from its Whitehall and industry detractors – has caused many a ripple by challenging the cosy relationship between departments and the major IT systems integrators and by asking tough questions about over-complicated, secretive and unrealistic delivery plans (in the case of the DWP and Universal Credit these questions reportedly ended with a Cabinet bust up). Maude has considerable credibility in these spats because of his own command of detail, as the IT firms that were called in early in his tenure to renegotiate contracts can attest.
Best of all, IMHO, Maude is a champion of radically different ways of thinking about policy making itself. As well as backing the successful mutualisation of the behaviour change unit, he sponsored the setting up of a design based Policy Lab in the Cabinet Office (still small but well led by Andrea Siodmok FRSA. He is also an enthusiast for open policy making of which I have written warmly on this site. I don’t want to be indiscreet about the conversation I had with him after the formalities of the mutuals event but it is safe to say that if there is a battle in Downing Street over whether the Conservative manifesto should focus on themes, methods and direction or on detailed policy promises he will be on the right – former – side.
The Labour Government elected in 1997 promised to change the way Government worked. It even published a long since forgotten white paper on modernising Government in 1999. But although there were innovations – like devolution to the nations and London, the Policy Action Teams and Public Service Agreements – in terms of rethinking the relationship between state and public, nothing Labour did matched the John Major’s Citizens Charter (much derided at the time). Maude’s innovations continue to be at the edges of Whitehall, but as his thinking grows in influence (partly because he JFDI) I suspect he too will be looked back on a as a genuine pioneer.
I think we have persuaded Francis Maude to speak at the RSA in the autumn reflecting on his experiences as Cabinet Office minister and speculating on what government’s operating system could and should be in five years’ time. Hopefully he will be in broad agreement with some of what I said in my recent annual lecture….
The values and analysis behind the Power to Create encourages a questioning of the very idea of traditional policy making.
The success of most social policy interventions – the interventions that could help foster mass creativity – rely on what academic and former Canadian cabinet secretary Jocelyne Bourgon calls ‘civic effects’ that is the public engagement, mobilisation and behaviour change. But civic effects are more likely to emerge from political leaders articulating a clear vision, convening new conversations and collaborations, leading by doing than through the slow, cumbersome process of developing and implementing policy. When it comes to social policy, politicians and managers need to replace the blunt tools of policy making with those of design, in which continuous experimentation, learning by failing, co-producing with consumers and users is the norm. This, of course has major implications for our systems of law making and accountability.
If he does confirm a date we must see if Jack Dee is free to be his warm-up.
It is now ten days since my annual lecture on the Power to Create. Writing a set piece speech can be a bit like preparing a big meal. You spend ages on it but it is consumed very quickly with little but some temporarily satiated appetite to show for your efforts. So I am very grateful for the positive feedback I am still receiving.
The full lecture is on the RSA website. But if twenty five minutes viewing is too big an ask, here – thanks in large part to my excellent researcher Carys Roberts – is a reduced and amended version of the speech which you should be able to speed read in five.
The Power to Create
Creativity is often seen as an attribute of certain activities and industries. Fourteen industries such as architecture, fashion and publishing comprise a creative sector that in 2012 contributed £71.4billion to the UK economy and employed 1.68 million British people. This sector has achieved the fastest growth of any UK sector in 2012. Our status as world-leaders in design, arts and television formats brings clear economic benefits as well as being a cause for celebration in its own right. Indeed, the RSA argues strongly for the links between cultural flourishing and social and economic progress.
Yet by focusing on creativity in a growing but discrete section of the economy, we can lose sight of another account of creativity – one that is more universal and democratic. The RSA is starting to explore how the creative life, too often confined to an elite or a sector, should be fostered throughout the economy and society. We are striving to realise the promise of mass creativity. We refer to this idea as the ‘Power to Create’.
At the heart of the Power to Create is a philosophical commitment to the ideal that everyone should be the author of their own lives. As Amartya Sen has put it, ‘the freedom to determine the nature of our lives is one of the valued aspects of living that we have reason to treasure’. While the first aspect of a creative life is individual freedom to think our own thoughts and make our own decisions, it also requires positive freedom and resources to pursue our choices; not just hard resources, but the capabilities and knowledge to be free.
The aspiration of a creative life also requires recognition of our inherently social nature. Our creations, whether performances, products or ideas, are grounded in and find meaning in the social relationships of which we are a part. Thus to prize creativity as a substantive virtue urges our commitment to a society in which this prize is realistically attainable not just for ourselves but for our fellow citizens. The progressive mission is for what Roberto Unger describes as a ‘larger life’ to be available for all.
A creativity tipping point?
Is there any reason to believe the Power to Create is anything other than a distant aspiration? I believe there is. We are reaching a point at which the possibility of, and the need for, a creative citizenry looms before us and presents us with urgent choices.
An increasing supply of creativity
The first changes are around human capability and appetite. In less than two generations we have gone from under 10% to almost half of young people experiencing higher education. While we might lag behind other countries in some areas, our young people are in the top quartile of developed nations when it comes to problem solving ability. RSA research shows more young people than ever before wanting the autonomy of owning their own business even though the returns and security are often lower than a traditional job, and among those opting for employment a growing proportion say they make decisions influenced by the values and ethical practices of employers. Around the developed world more people are making their life goal what the Word Values Survey calls ‘self-expression’.
Technology is the second great engine of change. The internet has led to a step change in affordable easy access to key tools of creativity: learning, communicating, trading and collaborating. In music, films, photographs, blogs, apps and social networks hundreds of millions of people have generated content. Inexpensive platforms such as Etsy and Kickstarter have released waves of human creativity, entrepreneurial aspiration and collaborative endeavour. Peer to peer and sharing economy platforms whether social enterprises like Streetbank or commercial like AirBnB enable anyone to trade, blurring the boundaries between buyer and seller. Human trust and reciprocity are as important as digital algorithms to the success of these platforms.
Technology can reduce autonomy and dull creativity and as it becomes ever more central to our identities we need to have an explicitly political debate about who controls it and for what purpose. Nevertheless, in aggregate, across a wide spectrum of human activity, greater creativity is being enabled and encouraged. And as the rise of music festivals and the makers’ movement show, while the relationship between creativity on and off line is unpredictable, it is also largely positive.
An increasing demand for creativity
The third trend is the increasing demand for a creative citizenry in all sectors. Various factors including the accelerating pace of change in markets, the need for continuous innovation, the expectation of more personalised service and the growing appetite for authenticity and emotional connection in products and services, all increase the premium on the capacity of employees to be creative and self-motivated.
Increasingly the Government too wants creative citizens. In the face of complex problems and the impact of austerity forward thinking public agencies are recognising that their citizens and communities need to be seen as potential assets not just bundles of needs. As Simon Stevens head of NHS England said in June ‘achieving change in the NHS is not merely a techno-rationalist activity, it’s health as a social movement’. Methods of service co-design and co-delivery are being pursued, again blurring the boundary between producer and consumer. Initiatives like Homeshare are modern examples of an old ideal – reciprocal civic relationships offering an alternative or adjunct to public services. Of course, huge challenges like caring for an ageing population, tackling inequality or responding to climate change require concerted action at national, local and international level, but our strategies will also require an adaptive and creative citizenry with the skills and confidence to develop its own solutions.
The barriers to a creative society
In our culture the idea that everyone can and should live creatively is not yet accepted as an aspiration let alone a practical imperative. 43% of the workforce, thirteen million people in the UK report that they are not using their skills at work. In assessing the value of education and employment we still give a relatively low priority to autonomy, engagement and motivation.
A concrete symbol of limited commitment toward the ideal of creative lives for all is the persistence of educational privilege and inter-generational inequality (‘the past devouring the future’ in Thomas Piketty’s memorable phrase). The point is not inequality per se, but that the concentration of wealth and opportunity means key resources that foster creative aspirations and choices are not distributed in the way most likely to maximise the benefits to society as a whole. If we judge social progress by the scale of human creativity extreme inequality is deeply inefficient.
Not only is capital concentrated in certain strata of the population, it is concentrated in assets – like London house values – that do little to expand people’s creative possibilities. Access to relatively small amounts of capital can have a much greater impact on people’s sense of efficacy and opportunity than increases in income, yet a quarter of our adult population effectively have no capital. Some of the first casualties of austerity were initiatives – the child trust fund and the savings gateway – explicitly designed to address this deficit.
The idea that one class is simply by its nature bound to rule another is seen as reactionary and even offensive but the assumption that only a certain strata of people, of learners, of workers, of places can be expected to be creative endures. So long and so deep has that assumption held sway it is deeply inscribed into our society’s institutions.
In the workplace, we assume that only a certain number of roles within the institution can be creative and that an essential role of management systems is to sort posts and people into a pyramidal structure with the most creative jobs at or near the top. Institutions often allocate each individual a role and separate this from the other multiple roles they occupy. We talk about the different interests of teachers, health workers and police officers on the one hand and parents, patients and citizens on the other, but most teachers are parents, all of us will need care at some time and we are all citizens. And institutions too often lose sight of substantive and ethical goals instead prioritising organisational self-interest or – in the public sector – risk avoidance. As John Kay argues, when companies replace the goal of producing great products with maximising share value they easily lose their way. When the only way to cope at work is to leave your identity, values and human sympathies at home in the morning it is not surprising that many people feel demoralised and jaded.
Most large organisations are trying to grapple with these institutional habits and their impact on their capacity to recruit, retain and motivate creative employees. Frederick Laloux cites Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processing company, as an example of how these barriers can be overcome even in a capital-intensive business working to exacting standards in a traditional industry. Up to 2,400 employees each year run the company entirely on self-managing principles, according to which any ‘colleague’ can make creative decisions, and rather than operating within a hierarchical pyramid colleagues agree to honour commitments to each other. The best schools aren’t just good at getting children through exams, they are intelligent communities.
The role of the state
As a goal, democratic creativity leads to a profound reconsideration of the role and working methods of the state. In some areas the state would do more than at present, in others less.
Greater activism is needed in shaping the market and its outcomes. The creative state would ensure open markets with low barriers of entry and diverse forms of ownership: encourage and enforce permissive intellectual property regimes, demand that utilities and essential services – including the global internet giants – are run to with the public interest at heart, invest in tomorrow’s infrastructure (including new institutions which foster and grow innovation). As Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer have recently argued, the greatest achievements of capitalism lie less in economic growth or profit but in helping find solutions to problems that matter to us. The answer is not reams of flawed regulation (which tends to become outdated as soon as it is implemented) but a new partnership between modern Government and enlightened business based on a shared commitment to a creative economy.
But as well as being more active in markets, the governors of the state – particularly the central state – need to be aware that its scale, complexity and accountability often make it badly suited to human scale interventions. Today’s citizens, aspiring to greater self-determination, want a government that enables them to feel self-reliant not one which creates and reinforces dependency. The creative society would seek to devolve power to the lowest effective level not just because the centre is too distant but because we would encourage different places to do things in substantively different ways, not just experiments in service delivery but experiments in place shaping, indeed experiments in living.
More profoundly the values and analysis behind the Power to Create encourages a questioning of the very idea of traditional policy making. A new policy-making process that fostered mass creativity would see leaders articulating a clear vision as teachers and convenors, not as people who make decisions on our behalf. When it comes to social policy, politicians and managers need to replace the blunt tools of policy making with those of design, in which continuous experimentation, learning by failing, co-producing with consumers and users is the norm.
In the face of the economic stagnation and crises of the 1970s a powerful neo-liberal critique seemed to win the argument that state intervention and the pursuit of social justice and expanding public provision were incompatible with economic dynamism. In response, in the nineties, modernisers like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Gerhardt Schroeder developed the argument the goals of social justice were compatible with, indeed complementary to, a successful market economy and that, in turn, a dynamic economy enabled investment in measures to promote justice. Although intellectually more subtle, in practice this approach encouraged a view that as long as the economy was delivering growth the method by which it did so and consequences of that method were largely irrelevant. Thus the rise of speculative finance and the growth of market generated inequality were largely ignored as long as the tax receipts kept rolling in.
Following the 2008 credit crunch there was strong feeling that the nature of the economy itself required re-examining. The power of financial capitalism and the scale of extreme inequality were seen although critical problems although not ones with ready solutions. The big question is whether it is possible to envisage an inclusive, sustainable, economy which contributes to progressive values not just through generating taxable surpluses but through its very mode of operation. Partly spurred by austerity there is also a recognition that social programmes cannot succeed unless in they too – built in to their operating system – enable citizens to grow their individual and collective resilience and problem solving capacity. Furthermore our traditional ways of thinking about politics, policy and social change are proving increasingly inadequate in the face of an ever faster moving and more complex world.
The ‘Power to Create’ moves beyond an instrumental view of the economy, a paternalistic view of social policy and a mechanical model of policy. The radical reform of our economic, social and political institutions must be premised on the historical possibility, and the ethical imperative, of creative lives for all.