Archive | May, 2011

Mary P Follett and the Guardian – MBS public leadership partnership

29 May

We will hold the second MBS Guardian Public Leadership roundtable on the 7th June in Wakefield – where local leaders will talk about the role of future leaders, particularly in the public sector.

Too much press talk of leadership ‘heriocs’ obscures what leadership really means in the public sector – the days of merely ‘managing the shop’ and ‘overseeing operations’ in one organisation have gone. Neither is leadership a matter of charisma and charm. Surprisingly for some, there are some very impressive public leaders in the North and in the public sector – which was the reason for setting up the MBS Guardian partnership to give voice to those who are not only trying to find ways of transforming their own services but also developing collaborative relationships with those in business, communities and the Third Sector in the context of increasing demands and drastic cuts. Cath Fry, a former Manchester Cllr who died recently has left a very deatiled account of how the council were left in a very similar situation in the early 1990s when Margaret Thatcher was in power.

The press focus on nationla public leaders, and especially those who are more visible to them in London, but there are examples of impressive public leaders in the North, who realise that it is the way organisation collaborate that is important to the revival of places, competition might be an initial stimulus but it is only a catylist if the wider context is open to innovation because of the foresight and leadership or those who collaborate. Current examples transforming public leadership in the North can be read by looking at the MBS Transforming Management site.

The workshop conversation will appear on the Guardian Public Leadership Hub at on June 8th 2011.

Obama has shown that leadership is indeed about words as well as deeds, no matter how hard some would like leadership dismissed as a set of competences and or tasks, how leaders frame conversations matters and how we frame leadership is equally important. The long-time focus on leadership as a matter of personal qualities not what leaders think and do is unhelpful to creating the conditions for innovation for those those attempting to transform practice in a way that adds public value, and is not only concerned with the ‘bottom-line’.

This process is about how people engage as well as what they intend and the words written in an action planning process. An interesting argument is developing in London between those who are finding mutual solutions by only engaging with those who already seek them, and tend to view community engagement through ‘rose tinted glasses’, without recognizing the fact that community organising can be a matter of daily negotiations and grievances, when it involves those who disagree, cannot see the point and want no change. Stress comes from the emotions of engagement – Those backing the Big Society are in danger of romanticising community organising as did the Chicago Settlements in 1890s, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they were ‘well-meaning’ but paternalists. Its worth reading Mary P Follett who got her hands dirty and wrote about community leadership and probably invented community development. She saw the connection between community organising, leadership and active democracy. See Mary P. Follett – creating democracy and transforming management, by Joan Tonn Yale Uni press ISBN 0-300-09621-6 2003.


Falmouth University help SMEs utilise digital connectivity

14 May

Just returned from an interesting seminar organised by Falmouth University Innovation Unit on how researchers can
help communities and SMEs can use digital connection to galvanise more innovative services and business practice.

The Falmouth AIR project is a new portal for connectivity in the SW made possible by major investment by BT and EU Convergence Programme, led by Professor Mike Wilson, the Innovation Centre has various projects on the go that will bring researchers closers to local communities and local businesses. The work with BT called the ‘University of the Village’, financed by the AHRC Connected Communities programme is widening their way of providing learning through life, experience, creative arts and design; another programme connects Falmouth with Aberdeen and Glamorgan Universities and promotes the specific needs of those in rural areas in Scotland, Wales and the South West- this is training post-graduates in ‘engagement’, and tackling local problems such as poor tranport, home health-services etc by co-designing solutions with local communities that involve digitial technology. This work is financed by the EPSRC at

Digital connectivity is helping drive much more public service innovation through co-design and co-production – although there appears to still be a focus on the practice of ‘engagement’ rather than on finding out what people what to engage in. Too often academics want to define the problems and then go out and ‘engage’ about what they think is important,in fact co-production rarely works unless focused on what that local people themselves care about. Asking people what they think about fast-broadband when they have no idea how it can be used is unlikely to increase uptake.

Similarly, the business community are crying out for researchers to find out what problems they face rather than sell them a new ‘App’ or indeed expect them to come up with new ‘app’ ideas. As it turns out, those SMES that the workshop said that what they cared about at the moment is reducing costs, if high speed broadband helps them do this then they’ll buy it.

The government’s plan to get 90% of the country connected is not merely a question of laying down the infrastructure but of local people and businesses seeing why they should use it, and pay for it. Too often it appears the government are keen on public sector financial cuts but weak on how to build the capacity for growth. In Cornwall 89% of private scetor productivity comes from SMES, and micro-SMEs at that – supporting this sector is critical to the local economy and local resilience. Its really positive that a university like Falmouth is trying to connect to this sector.

It is significant that it is the university taking a lead here in this development, demonstrating what many more universities could be doing to support place-shaping and the local economy.