Archive | February, 2011

Personal recovery – creating the conditions by tackling inequalities

18 Feb

I had an interesting  conversation with Lynne Freildi, an independent researcher, about how  the advocates for personal recovery often fail to acknowledge that a people’s capacity to connect is dependent on their having the assets to give them the free time  and means to participate. Many in rural areas do not make meetings because they lack the cash for a taxi or bus. Too often we forget having money helps us to participate. Lynne’s frustration is that people can be offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but not the bus fare to get to it.  Friedli L with Carlin M (2009) Resilient relationships in the North West: what can the public sector contribute? Manchester: NHS North West

I’m also frustrated by the fact that professionals like to tie down services to specifics that can be measured and delivered as activities and ignore the complexity of people’s lives and what matter to them. Public and shared spaces are important because they create the space for conversation, not just with your family and friends, but other people you barely know. Walking the dog generates easy contact with people you don’t know – and it would seem to me that healthy communities exist where people feel safe with the people they barely know.

Too much political energy has become very managerial and completely detached from the things that make life bearable or create opportunities for personal change. Roger Stone, the leader of  Rotherham is a politician who knows that children in Rotherham suffer because they lack books – so he set up the ‘imagination library’–  his starting point is that  people learn when they are given the opportunity to change in a non-patronising environment.  I have observed that he is sometimes  patronized because he is not focused enough on predictable outcomes. Surely the role of political leaders is to attend to local resilience and well-being.

While most politicians are focusing  public funds on individual interventions, such intensive support cannot be a model for developing local well-being across the communities.  Another more open model of collaboration is needed if people are to decide themselves when to change their diet, life styles and relationships. Nudging in the right direction through ‘smoking bans’ may help, but ultimately, it is people who find new ways of living. Removing inequalities is as important in this process as is positive thinking or an army of well meaning practitioners.

Being open to diversity is not about ‘letting a 1000 flowers bloom’; a common put-down by policy-makers at the moment – but about letting people work through their own diverse solutions. We need to help create the conditions for well-being and personal resilience and that  means attending to inequalities that affect so many people.


Regional bodies back – BIS opens six local offices

8 Feb

At last a recognition of the new for a regional and local eco-system – a regional bodies are back

“Vince Cable is to resurrect regional government offices just six months after Eric Pickles axed them, amid concerns government policy-making could become too centralised, LGC has learned.  The move means the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (DBIS) will establish six offices – called Local BIS – to replace the eight that were axed in July. A decision on their location has not yet been made.

A DBIS spokeswoman confirmed to LGC the business secretary had decided the department “requires a policy presence outside Whitehall to ensure it can communicate effectively with local enterprise partnerships, the business community and other bodies, including local authorities”.

“The teams will be part of DBIS and will support [its] overall objectives, particularly those relating to growth and jobs and rebalancing the economy,” she said.

She added that staff would transfer to Local BIS from the regional offices as part of the government’s “internal reorganisation”, with some coming from the soon-to-be-abolished regional development agencies through Transfer of Undertakings regulations.

Julie Flanagan, a negotiator for the Prospect union, confirmed staff would include officials from other departments, including the Department for Communities & Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, who would be responsible for the statutory functions of government that have to be delivered at a regional level.

She said about 300 staff would be allocated to the new offices, down from 1,500 employed under the previous arrangements”.



Will Manchester Innovation Network Survive when Knowledge Capital Closes /

4 Feb

Yesterday, Knowledge Capital in Manchester brought together innovators from across the city; social entrepreneurs, consultants, researchers, digital companies mostly from small organisations. Sir Richard Leese opened the event attended by about 100 people, many reported how the KC exchange network had helped them and regretted that this was their last event.  Along with manyother connecting bodies, KC will close at the end of March 2011 due to public sector funding cuts.  Participants discuss a future exchange network:  most wanted a network between those with common interests,  easy navigation between networks and some investment in bridge-building across busines and  public innovators and with the universities. Manchester Business School had a strong presence at the event which was appreciated and those from fron those leading public engagement from  and corridor connects. People mentioned new initiatives – like James Duggan a post-graduate in Education who is now helping NESTA adn NEF with their Co-production roadshow Show 

There is a need for some minimal resource for organising connection with those outside of the common interest group,  to those ‘who don’t hear about their work or get what they do.’  There is a wall between the mainstream and innovators in all sectors and innovators  find ‘getting to market’ difficult. However, it is not just individual businesses that need to be innovative but those in leadership positions who can help evolve new business and public co-systems. As an example of this was the Sharp Project in the Northern Quarter, Sue Woodward gave a brilliant presentation on how the Sharp Project work, it doesn’t provide space for any creative digital industry, only those  who can see the benefit of collaboration and exchange. 

Exchange does not require heavy investment but it does involve some investment. At present, few in public bodies or business are promoted or rewarded for such activity, yet this is the work that adds most value to the  supply chains, particularly where the chain is weak. The problem for most social enteprise and SMEs  is their lack of access into national or global markets> To emphasise this point  one speaker talked about how the ‘geeks’ in the northern quarter were not at the meeting because they were not comfortable with socialising.  If HE and business recognised the potential of these innovators, who are the same people thay created facebook, google etc they would find ways of reaching out to them.

Perhaps it takes a community organiser like Obama to appreciate the need for building bridges back into communities.  Cathy Garner Director of KC had organised for a link to Professor Richard Seline who linked us into the White House – where the chief economic advisor described the new US strategy for supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs  –  this strategy includes£2 billion investment, tax breaks, incentives, mentors, outreach and investment in connectors. Meanwhile in the UK small businesses such as Pinchjos are being crippled by NI tax contributions, VAT and increases in supplies. 

There is  tendency in Britain to talk about supporting innovative small enterprises but in reality giving them very little. Often this is because the experience of  being an innovator  is not appreciated by those who work in large corporations or public institutions. Small social enterprises do not have the contacts or the time to connect – yet, they can see the benefits of collaboration adn attend the Innovation Network – there should be more capacity within the civil service and public insitutions to reach out, along the lines of the Beacon Projects and an understanding within politics of the need to invest in building connections and developing collaborative capacities. Something we referred to in Place Based Innovation.

City Activism

1 Feb

The progressive response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago

Activists in City Hall by  Pierre Clavel – Cornell University Press

This is an interesting read for active community organisers and local political leaders. Progressive black mayors, Washington and Flynn, were elected in Chicago and Boston with significant majorities after a history of community organising.  People were fed up with cronyism and ‘fixing’ by the political elites running cities.  The connection between the mayors and their communities meant that people became more imaginative about what they could demand more from the city administration in terms of rent-control, planning deals, jobs etc. The mayors also looked to employ creative and committed lad executives and help from the local universities to transform local administration policies.

This is the 1970-1980s a time of continuing manufacturing decline , and huge  job losses  in  Chicago and Boston, and when land was being snapped up by developers . It was a time of social movements and City activism was growing, often led by black community organisations and political leaders.

 ‘Activists in City Hall’ describes how local leaders  can make a difference when they move beyond ‘campaigning’ and become progressive city administrators.   They organised Trusts, Forums and Partnerships to give voice to disadvantaged communities, once these matured and gained in confidence these same neighbourhood groups demanded much more from local developers and from the city administration. These particular black mayors provided a bridge between the communities and the city administration. Many of the key managers they employed to develop their ideas and projects, jobs are women. However the significance of women as organisers  is not mentioned;   some key managers were academics.  University support in both cities was strong. City hall recognised that intellectuals were need for policy development as well as analysis, especially when national policies that disenfranchised the cities would make all their work irrelevant.

What these city leaders did was nurture local organising which led to an increased confidence and independence within neighbourhoods to flex their muscles and put more pressure on the city administrations.  Pushed from behind by growing neighbourhood militancy these mayors created a climate of hope.  Washington had a heart attack in 1987, and as times changed, growing neighbourhood demands for total local control of budgets were finally met with refusals by the city administrators.

This book is extremely relevant to the Big Society conversation and to the gap currently emerging between transitional public bodies and the demands from communities and social entrepreneurs. 

In the UK there is a tendency to capture local politics as ‘bottom-up’ activities that can tamed by technical managers – we are poor at telling the story about the power of communities to transform local administrations and academics reluctant to name community leaders and their role which undermines the power of local activism. Chuck Turner in 2004 stated that the transformation of Boston was totally dependent on a Rainbow coalition of local groups and that this was accepted within City Hall.

We have to recognise that unless have a national movement to pressure the president, the power of liberal communities and people of colour in Boston will not have any translatable impact of the lives of people.