The Shift in the Responsibility for Change!

Every once in a while an article, a talk, a debate etc. comes along which helps crystallise nagging concerns/thoughts that I haven’t been able to pin down. Well, this has happened recently upon reading the recent thought provoking IPPR article and listening to debate on “The happiness industry: How the government and big business sold us wellbeing”.

Based on Will Davies’ book of the same name IPPR curate a fascinating discussion between the author and a representative from NEF on the growing medicalisation and how our emotions, psychology have become monetised. We can now apparently measure our happiness and wellbeing! By offering strategies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and the plethora of “self-help” techniques around we are now apparently far better equipped to take control and “heal thyself”.

As individuals we of course ideally need to be independent, healthy, fully-functioning beings. Yet a primary contention of Will Davies is that the focus on the individual focus for change somewhat negates the need for the populous to put pressure on or for organisations and political institutions themselves to make changes which address root causes and not simply focus on symptoms. To give this particular Wellbeing area justice take a look at the IPPR article with podcast or video.

It set me thinking about other matters and work I’m either directly/indirectly affected by or involved in. Yes, in public service austerity and budget cuts remain all-pervasive, yet does this mean our models of transformation are going in the right direction or supported from the ‘correct’ perspective?

We talk a lot about changing the relationship between citizen and state, partly to break the so-called “dependency-culture” and partly because we require greater collaboration to meet increasing community needs with diminishing resources. There is undoubtedly tremendous potential in areas such as collaborative consumption but unless public institutions take the lead we run the risk of leaving a space within which, what I term, a mythical “free market” will be filled by profiteering conglomerates.  Far from being anti-business, I’m more concerned how we as public bodies support communities to be engaged and involved on an equal footing. In order to achieve this structural barriers need to be tackled alongside empowerment strategies.  Ideas explored more fully in Chapter 4 of an insightful paper by NESTA.

A strange and possibly trite indirect link here – I’m hopefully about to move house and as you know the paperwork to be completed seems endless. Proof of ID etc. for a mortgage is essential yet all the necessary documentation is on line meaning all the cost of production and effort to coordinate is placed on us as customers. Now, anyone who knows me will testify my belief in the power of cyberspace to be a positive force for good, nonetheless my current experience got me thinking about the inexorable move to Digital by Default a bit more.

Certainly as a strategy it will save money for local councils and for many make services easier and more available. To me though we have to avoid a consumerist approach and as referenced in an article entitled: “The Role of The Individual in ‘Digital by Default’ Public Services” local government must, as the LGA have stated –

  • Put citizens at the forefront
  • Give citizens real reason to participate
  • Co-design services that are affordable, are built around needs and make a visible difference

Self-service either externally or internally in an organisation has to avoid issues such as disadvantaging the ‘user’ in respect of overly shifting the burden costs and compromising service standards and the like.

Again the point being that we organisationally need to design with a citizen-led focus ensuring we avoid potential systemic problems like digital exclusion. Cost savings cannot be the only principal driver, it surely has to be about enhanced and improved pubic services.

On a digital note it is why I’m very excited and proud to be part of the #notwestminster ‘posse’. The latest phase of our work being coordinated by colleagues such as Dave Mckenna and others, focusing on “local democracy design challenges”. Dave’s blog explains where the ideas emanated from, how they have been built on an event earlier this year and a are being pushed forwards by a quasi digitally based movement rooted in local democratic engagement with the purpose to improve all aspects of collectively-based local democracy via a digital lens and grass roots development, buy-in and now active implementation.

To conclude…

OK, I could go on but let me try and bring these ramblings to a summation. The endless refrain right now is that public services must transform and constantly evolve. Hard to disagree with this on many levels. My concern is that we transform without a “public service ethos”. For me it’s a belief system, an approach to society and why many of us “got in the game” in the first place.

Public services have always embraced change that is not up for debate for me; it’s more about the basis and nature of the change. Local government has always placed tackling inequality, democracy and serving communities at the heart of what it does. Certainly many failures as well as successes can be cited, however the right raison-d’etre and ethos is still running through and being fought for by the public sector family.

Going back to where this piece began, the current dominant thinking about Wellbeing strategies and interventions (as an example) purports a very individualistic model. Dangerously for me, we run the risk of moving people’s dependency from a social interventionist sphere to a psychological dependency reliant on mechanisms like CBT or counselling without improving people’s quality of life and long term self-sufficiency. Neither positions are ultimately desirable, however the latter seems to be moving us further and further away from a strong ideological basis for tackling the larger societal and structural injustices that no individual citizen could hope to affect by themselves.

A generalisation but do we really want a USA-style “I’m in therapy” dependency culture?!

It may be viewed as counter-culture right now, nevertheless my belief is more than ever public services should adopt a  fully democratically mandated quasi-collective bargaining role in collaboration with its citizens.

Social Media Elections – Revolution or Integration?

As the ‘Pre-Election‘ period looms large and guidance for local government officers like myself is disseminated, noticeably the social media aspect of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” is front and centre! Does this mean we are moving, both locally and nationally, towards a truly Social Media based Election for 2015?

Being a heavy user of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. for work and pleasure it is clearly apparent that national and local political parties have upped their social media output. Undoubtedly the larger parties have their on-line strategies in place to help increase reach, engagement and persuade the electorate of their respective virtues.

It is well documented how President Obama used a Digital Strategy and particularly social media to help him win in 2008 and repeat the feet in 2012. A method of campaigning now adopted globally. The parties in the UK are gearing up and if you can get a copy of this research it’s interesting how certain parties get more traction on Twitter than Facebook and vice-versa.

Vote_Social-Media

On-line, Off-line or Both?

This is a lazily framed question really because right now it surely has to be, unlike my favourite whiskey, a blended approach! My educated guess is that social media is principally being utilised to attract the younger voter. Emerging research indicates that broadly speaking young people will be more influenced by social media, or at least more engaged by it, although it remains to be seen whether this will have much influence in terms of voting.

At the moment most people do not use social media to follow mainstream politics. Very astutely for now political parties are not using social media to engage directly with the electorate. They mainly seem to use platforms such as Twitter as a way of amplifying a message in traditional print or audio-visual media rather than asking people to actively participate in an issue that is of interest to them. Over time my feeling is this approach will change and more people will engage more directly via digital, however we are not there yet.

The foot soldiers will still be out leafleting, doorstepping, supporting local campaigns and so on. Just as they cannot afford to be absent from the digital world any more; it would equally be politically suicidal not to have a presence in traditional media and visibly doing the grass roots work – the off-line world at the moment remains the bread and butter of successful campaigning.

What Next Then?

Yes, the cliché is: “If I knew that…” Nonetheless, the move to digital campaigning is evidential merely by parties seeing the need to invest time and resources to this method of campaigning.

For me, the greatest traction being gained in local elections is through the growth of the ‘hyper-local’ campaigning and reporting: before, during and after whether we choose exercise our right to vote on 7th May – an argument succinctly articulated here.

So, for the time being I see Social Media approaches to elections as integrating into and augmenting established campaigning and media/reporting methods – the revolution, driven by the grass roots, is on it way but sometime in the not too distant future I feel!

Like a Kid in a Digital Toy Shop!

I’m still a relative ‘newbie‘ trying to work my way through the multitude of Digital Tools at our disposal! There’s so many which could enhance and complement off-line engagement methods to support involvement and democracy.

We know there is a growing desire to harness the power of the Internet and social media to engage on-line, to share stories, to gather insight and to harness the power of the crowd. Too often traditional ways of engagement and involvement seem inadequate and reach only a tiny fraction of those affected by decisions taken and traditional meetings alone can too often be confrontational and composed of the active few.

As stated, I’m still finding my way and part of the issue is knowing what’s out there – do I ‘Hangout‘ with Google or ‘schedule’ with Doodle???

ConfusedNeutrino

Where to start? I do feel “Like a Kid in a Digital Toy Shop” however the danger is I will gorge myself and get or become sick of the plethora of goodies out there. The starting point for me is to know what’s available; here’s an excellent piece entitled “Let’s Get Digital! 50 Tools for Online Public Engagement by Community Matters, outlining some current cracking resources. Read it quick because it’ll be out-of-date next week!

The key I think, is how we work our way through the options for our personal use and organisationally testing the best platforms/tools etc. with our communities on a ‘hyper-local‘ basis. To illustrate the latter, if a healthy democracy is partly dependent on a free press then as the Carnegie UK Trust report last year, “The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Local” showed how Digital neighbourhood reporting for example is positively disrupting established practice in a community-led way.

Time for us all to see which ‘Toys’ R US and which work best with our local communities!!!

Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity!

The title of this blog encapsulates the approach I am taking on helping to modernise the Diversity strategy in the council I work for, more of that in a moment. It’s just over a year since Government Digital Service published an good blog on a checklist around digital inclusion and there have been many others since.

inclusion

Still enthused by our #notwestminster event at the start of the month I’m genuinely excited by the future. My excitement is slightly tempered by the nagging thought that Digital has the potential, if we’re not careful, to perpetuate inequalities in society, for example:

  • who gets access
  • who is digitally literate
  • does everyone know the rules of engagement
  • are organisations prepared to be truly open

Many other aspects exist, however for me this is where the on-line and off-line worlds collide in respect of encouraging Diversity and tackling Inequality. Back to my current thinking on this ‘off-line’. In the Einstein-ish equation Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity, the final element vis-à-vis public service is not about profit but focusses on improved services.

Beyond tokenism

Diversity has traditionally been thought of in terms of the ‘visible’ differences between people, such as gender, race, disability etc. with a focus on eliminating discrimination based on these differences.

Diversity is about those differences, but this narrow definition ultimately short-changes what it really means. Diversity is about what makes each of us unique and includes our backgrounds, personality, life experiences and beliefs. In fact, all of the things that make us who we are. It is a combination of the visible and invisible differences that shape our view of the world, our perspective and our approach.

This broader view of diversity is encapsulated by the idea that diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’[i] – where different perspectives and capabilities are the point of difference, rather than our visible characteristics. Whether it be off-line or on-line I believe we need innovative ideas from anywhere and anyone to transform services, however this must be open to all!

So what does this mean for the business case for diversity? A lot. It offers a more inclusive and engaging discussion than one focused on visible diversity, which is often duality and therefore divisive. And it creates a new line of inquiry about the nature of the business case, shifting the question from ‘How can increasing gender, racial, LGBT, disability, age diversity etc. help us improve business outcomes?’ to ‘How rich is our knowledge bank?’, ‘Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?’ and ‘Are we fully valuing and leveraging the potential of all our communities and employees?

These questions need to be answered in the ‘digital’ world as much as the ‘physical’ one.

Diversity is leveraged through inclusion

But more than just changing the business case conversation, focusing on diversity of thought enables us to see people as individuals rather than as representatives of a group and this helps us to find common ground when working together. It provides a focal point that is applicable across different cultural and national contexts. And while research on diversity and performance often focuses on visible diversity, the case connecting diversity of thought to engagement and innovation is growing and appears more solid than the causal link between gender, race, LGBT etc. and business success.

NB: recognition still needs to be given to the fact that certain groups have and continue to face greater discrimination than others in society.

Simply ‘having’ diversity is not enough

Diversity is leveraged through ‘inclusion’ – the extent to which individuals feel valued and included by an organisation, a process or way of working. This is achieved through inclusive leadership, namely by ensuring all communities and employees have the opportunity to fulfil their individual and combined potential. According to Miller and Katz (2002): “Inclusion increases the total human energy available to the organisation. People can bring far more of themselves to their jobs because they are required to suppress far less”[ii].

Diversity and inclusion are therefore related but different concepts. You can have a diverse workforce without inclusion; and inclusion without diversity[iii]. But one without the other is only half of the business performance equation. Again, put simply: diversity + inclusion = improved business outcomes.

It is therefore a reasonable inference to make that if organisations can see a more granular link between diversity and business outcomes through the lens of inclusion, and this link resonates with personal experiences, then the business case for diversity will be more tangible.

And this will help to close the perception gap between diversity and the bottom line.

Improved customer insight and service

Any organisation should be committed to providing high quality services through understanding and meeting individual customer needs and aspirations. We know that these differ from customer to customer, so we will adjust our services accordingly to ensure that they all have a fair and open chance to use and benefit from our services.

So, our commitment means understanding and meeting the needs of customers regardless of their diversity.

The diversity of a workforce can and should provide invaluable customer insight and lead to more effective and targeted services and/or provision to meet customer or the communities’ needs – again helping to deliver the ‘bottom line’.

To Conclude…

Whether it be internal to an organisation or external collaboration with communities we need to embrace Diversity as core to our business, whatever that may be. I believe if we adopt such an approach within public services via Digital greater creativity, ideas and solutions will emerge to address the challenges we face, resulting in benefits such as:

  • more citizen-led and shaped services
  • better informed and engaged communities
  • increased involvement, representation and engagement
  • greater involvement in the democratic process
  • community resilience and capacity building

The digital tools are out there and growing in numbers all the time, some good examples here in the Creating Digital Communities report by the Tinder Foundation and some excellent thoughts from John Popham’s in his recent piece ‘Making Digital Inclusion Mainstream’. It’s our responsibility to make digital tools and mechanisms accessible to all and maximise the assets/ideas that everyone possesses.

My enthusiasm has never been higher but we must avoid a ‘Digital Divide’; if not the potential of democracy and equity on-line will be undermined! Sentiments excellently outlined here in a presentation ‘Digital inclusion – by default or intervention?’ –

——————————————————

[i] 2010 USA State of Workplace Diversity Management Society for Human Resource Management.

[ii] Miller, F.A. & Katz, J.H. (2002) The Inclusion Breakthrough Berrett-Koehler Publishers, CA USA.

[iii] Kandola, B. (2009) The Value of Difference – Eliminating bias in organisations Pearn Kandola Publishing, Oxford UK.

It’s Up for Grabs Now!

“It’s up for grabs now,” hollered a disbelieving football commentator Brian Moore as Michael Thomas Michael-Thomas--001careered through the Liverpool defence in injury time of the final game of the season. Within seconds, the midfielder had bundled the ball over a bamboozled Bruce Grobbelaar and my beloved Arsenal had wrenched the title from the home side’s grasp. This sentiment is how I feel about society right now.

My two kids live in an unrecognisable society, in many ways, to the one I was born in – 1966, hence BundyBoy66! No Pythonesque “you were lucky…” here because to me it’s just different, yet common themes remain core in our narrative: inequality is rising, groups of people demonised, the World’s at war, disaffection all around, I could go on… This is my first quick foray into the ‘blogosphere’ and I want to inject some positivism into these austere and challenging times.

Being part of the fantastic team who coordinated Local Democracy for Everyone – We’re not in Westminster any more in Huddersfield 7th Feb 2015 reminded me what’s at stake and who’s up for it. The room was packed with young people, the experienced, Cllrs, reps from all sectors – all looking to make a difference. A number of great blogs have been written about the event, many key ones captured here – top job Spencer!

Wider than #notwestminter (which trust me will become a force for change!) is how collectivism/community and democracy can be enhanced by Digital. It is no panacea but I really see it as one of the key ways democracy can go back to grass roots and increase citizen engagement. Here’s a practical example from one the participants at #notwestminster voXup – check out this cracking idea! The point being that Digital has the potential to empower, democratise and equalise; however for me, whether you work for a PLC, charity, social enterprise, local council etc. it needs to be based on a public service ethos!

community

I’m lucky to have an incredibly varied job which involves projects such Social Value, Diversity and Equality, supporting the VCS, Community Cohesion. All of these areas have massive challenges, however whether it’s because or in-spite of our current adverse times I get the sense people not only need but want change.

Digital can and will help with the required transformation. The recent Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy report has some great recommendations; my favourite being having a secure on-line voting option by 2020. YEAH…why not! My focus though is local and no criticism intended but voting is an ‘output’ greater citizen engagement is an ‘outcome’.

I’ll sign off for now, suffice to say let’s ignore the shouts about apathy and disengagement; a massive part of the future is how all institutions/bodies go where the people are – not forgetting the dangers of exclusion, increasingly Digital is where it’s at. Change is coming…I love this TED Talk on Upgrading our Democracy.

Believe me, the future – “It’s Up for Grabs Now!”