Posts Tagged ‘capabilities’


mindapples: a wonderful idea

November 29, 2008

A good friend of mine is kickstarting a debate about mental health via the rather lovely concept of ‘mindapples‘ – asking people to talk about what their mental equivalent of 5-a-day is. It’s fitting for an idea like this, that *just makes sense*, that Mindapples is beginning to generate all sorts of interest.

I find it oddly moving to read other people’s submissions. There’s a Theodore Zeldin-esque quality* to what people say: we gain new insights about aspects of people’s minds and emotions that usually remain hidden. Making these things public leaves us readers with a warm glow about being human (well, that’s what it does to me anyway).

Visit the website to find out more, and to submit your own 5-a-day. A has asked that we all share our own 5-a-day, so for what it’s worth, here are mine.

  1. Having my hair stroked
  2. A teenage-length phone call with an old friend
  3. Telling someone they are brilliant and amazing
  4. Exploring new stuff – ideas, places, people
  5. Reading in bed with tea, in blissful silence

If I could have a sixth it would have to be some combination (but not together) of porridge/wine/coffee…

* to illustrate what I mean, I can’t resist posting Zeldin’s chapter headings in my all-time favourite book of his, The Intimate History of Humanity:

  1. How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them
  2. How men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations
  3. How people searching for their roots are only beginning to look far and deep enough
  4. How some people have acquired an immunity to loneliness
  5. How new forms of love have been invented
  6. Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex
  7. How the desire that men feel for women, and for other men, has altered through the centuries
  8. How respect has become more desirable than power
  9. How those who want neither to give orders nor to receive them can become intermediaries
  10. How people have freed themselves from fear by finding new fears
  11. How curiosity has become the key to freedom
  12. Why it has become increasingly difficult to destroy one’s enemies
  13. How the art of escaping from one’s troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to
  14. Why compassion has flowered even in stony ground
  15. Why toleration has never been enough
  16. Why even the privileged are often somewhat gloomy about life, even when they can have anything the consumer society offers, and even after sexual liberation
  17. How travellers are becoming the largest nation in the world, and how they have learned not to see only what they are looking for
  18. Why friendship between men and women has become so fragile
  19. How even astrologers resist their destiny
  20. Why people have not been able to find the time to lead several lives
  21. Why fathers and their children are changing their minds about what they want from each other
  22. Why the crisis in the family is only one stage in the evolution of generosity
  23. How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them
  24. How humans become hospitable to each other
  25. What becomes possible when soul-mates meet


capability-based public services

October 21, 2008

I went to a talk too early on a Monday morning by Hilary Cottam (my boss of some years ago, and now director of Participle) and Annie Shepherd, the Chief Executive of Southwark Council. They were talking about the work they’ve done in Southwark on a future social care system that is based on many of the coproduction principles I talked about in a previous post. I liked Hilary’s use of capabilities (based on the work of Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen), and her argument that the key capabilities public services should be growing centre on relationships, work and learning, and environmental factors. She is doing this work with Charlie Leadbeater, and they have eye-catching ambition of writing the Beveridge report for today’s world.

But the work they have done to make better use of all resources in Southwark to enable people to live independently (for example, the latent desire to do more volunteering Cottam and co believe they’ve found, or the 80% of monetary wealth is in the hands of people over the age of 60) is not easy to connect immediately to the grand narrative of ‘a new Beveridge’.

More intriguing are the steps along the way to this brave new world. These steps raise some serious questions and tensions about a more participative model of public services. Beyond the fascinating issues that Annie talked about – of how to manage a moribund system of social care at the same time as developing a new system, all on existing resources, there are two tensions that I think are really significant:

First, as Hilary said, the biggest challenge for the new service they’ve developed with Southwark will be to get the wealthy older people in Dulwich to use it. They need to participate to cross-subsidise the participation of poorer people. And yet they have few incentives. This reminds me of something we noted in Kent with the low income families work too: that the poorer you are, the more you have to participate to get services. Is there a risk that all these middle class policy makers go all rosy-eyed at the thought of more volunteering, more participation, whilst never imagining that they would do it themselves?

The second tension is a really big deal, I think. It is about whether this agenda is treated as simply the next wave of managerial reform, or a new form of politics altogether. For me, unless it is the latter, it is meaningless. Talking about coproduction necessarily implies a willingness to shift power and share it more equally; however it also demands that we recognise the value of the ‘core’ economy (i.e. the non-monetary economy) – and that means that our politicians must begin to lead the way in questioning our unquestioning adherence to the notion that paid work is the best route out of poverty, and ultimately the key way in which we define the health of our society.