Posts Tagged ‘coproduction’


Entering the political wilderness?

February 5, 2015

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Those who know me well know I am something of a political geek. For a long time now I’ve lectured my apolitical friends about the importance of getting involved, because I truly believe we get the politics we deserve. But the fact is, while I still believe this, I feel more and more dubious about channeling my commitment to being involved in politics into supporting a mainstream party.

Having attempted (and failed, by 100 bloody votes, since you asked) to get elected locally myself last year, I can’t shake the feeling that trying and succeeding to get elected has the massive downside of shriveling people up. Just look at the twitter feed of any political hopeful. Endless ‘selfies’ (“look, we’re really down with the kids!!”) on the campaign trail, RTs of party HQ messages, not a single personal view expressed at any cost (Jamie Reed MP, @jreedmp, may be an honourable exception to this). Beyond Twitter, and more significantly, I fear those people who are really serious about getting elected are forced (or choose??) to give up their opinions, their social lives and their family commitments.

The kind of blind promise you’re expected to give to your ‘tribe’ risks making our politicians brittle, bland robots, focused on their opponents in Westminster rather than on their constituents. We, the public, are treated to repeatedly parroted lines cooked up by youthful yet frazzled special advisors, in language that’s supposed to convey ‘I get it’ (Cameron’s ‘rolling up his sleeves’; Miliband’s dropped ‘t’s). And, as happened to Ed Balls the other night, these dessicated people are inevitably and constantly on the defensive, terrified that at any moment they might trip up and say something they shouldn’t, leading to a media frenzy whipped up by bored lobby journalists who get their kicks off making our MPs look opportunistic, jumped up and ideally corrupt.

Is this really what we want from our politics? In the past I might have asserted that however bad it is, any mast is better than no mast when it comes to pinning your colours (as an aside, check out this great site if you’re trying to work out where you stand). But as time goes on I find myself becoming more idealistic. It’s not just that I’d like a more functional way of doing politics: we need one urgently, unless we want the non-voters to become the biggest ‘party’ in town (only 41% of people say they would vote if there were a general election tomorrow, the lowest number ever recorded).

We need politicians who aren’t afraid to argue for their beliefs, and can do so publicly without fearing accusations of trying to oust their leader or split their party. We need politicians who are able to raise their families alongside their work without asking their partners to do more of that hard work than is fair. And we need politicians who inspire through their authenticity rather than revile through their predictable conformity to the ways of the political elite.

Anyway I can’t let this post just be a rant. So let me share two things that give me hope today.

First, the incredible surge in support we’re seeing for the Green Party. Anything that forces the Labour party to think long and hard about their radicalism and ambition gets my support. As George Monbiot argues so well here, we cannot create a successful alternative to mainstream politics until we are able to vote for it.

Second, and this really does excite me, is the creation of the Alternative Party by Uffe Elbaek. Uffe is an amazing guy, an idealist who had a go at ‘doing politics’ in a mainstream way in Denmark. This new border-crossing party is in part his response to that experience. I can only love a political party that puts this at the heart of their manifesto:

The Alternative is curiosity. About developing our local societies, cities and nations. We want to take back ownership of the economy and of democratic decisions. At our workplaces and in the places where we live our lives. Without losing the global vision for the responsibility for finding mutual solutions with our neighbours – including those who live on the other side of the world.

Which begs the question: how do I best apply my commitment to being politically engaged in this new world? It feels like it might be time to walk away from mainstream politics. I wonder all the time whether more direct forms of participation are now our best hope for knitting democracy back into our everyday lives. But is that really the right thing to do? And where do I go from here? Answers on a postcard please.

(if you’re interested, the T-shirt in the picture came from Cassie Robinson’s brilliant Civic Shop currently residing in Somerset House. Go and visit.)


in a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?

May 13, 2009

… this is the question behind Us Now, the film I participated in a little while ago. There’s been quite a flurry around it recently (check out the usnow hashtag on twitter… by the way if anyone can tell me where the hash symbol is on my macbook I will be eternally grateful!) because, excitingly, you can now watch the whole film online, and free, courtesy of


more on local pounds and transition towns

March 2, 2009

thanks to T for mentioning an article in the FT this weekend on the Lewes pound that I mentioned in the blog below. And I am very, very interested in the transition towns network. Their wiki is exciting and inspiring. I especially love their 12 step plan, which includes stages like ‘the great unleashing’ and ‘honour the elders’. Wise advice indeed.


coproduction and communes

February 24, 2009

lewes-poundwhen I was out in LA I managed to fit in a catch-up lunch with John Thackara, whose book In the Bubble was a real source of inspiration for me when it was published a couple of years ago. Our conversation turned from sustainable design to communes, as we turned over the question of what tools and support people need in order to make it easier to share resources. Wannastartacommune is an inspired site, from its name to its content, on this question.This isn’t about ethereal or abstract debates about the principles of coproduction, but rather, simple legal, technological and practical issues that might enable groups of older people to pool assets in order to make them go further, for example.

And so to the bulk-buying project that has grown out of our Just Coping work in SILK. We’re currently working with the Digital Inclusion Team at CLG to business case an idea from our workshops with residents of the Parkwood Estate in Kent to make it easier for people to club together to buy stuff they need – simple, but genius, and it has the potential to make everyday life much better.

I was mentioning this project this morning when I met up with the new economics foundation. They are doing some fantastic work on coproduction and sharing resources. This pamphlet, by their new head of social policy Anna Coote, is a piece of original thinking that connects up the agenda around sharing resources for environmental and social reasons. nef are building a really interesting set of projects exploring different aspects of how to put coproduction into action. Just a few examples of this include:

Work on alternative currencies. The picture on this blog is of the ‘Lewes pound’ – an currency that John Thackara alerted me to, and designed to incentivise Lewes residents to shop locally. L from nef also told me about other areas who are developing alternative currencies, not only to support local businesses, but also to facilitate timebanking and to put a value on non-monetary resources people can contribute to their communities – for example Brixton should be getting their own pound later this year.

Work on procurement and commissioning models. There’s an essay about nef’s work with Camden on this issue in the pamphlet I’ve been editing for IDeA – will post this up once it’s launched at the end of March. Other councils such as Kirklees are also trying to find ways of embedding the principles of coproduction into the way in which they commission services – no mean feat. This is the detail where the devil resides. If we don’t get it right coproduction will remain a thinktank idea rather than a practical agenda.

Work on measuring value and impact. There are various models out there for measuring impact at an individual level – not least the stuff on ‘my metrics’ that J and I wrote about in Journey to the Interface – but the real prize will be in helping local councils and other public service organisations measure value from coproduction models in new ways. There’s a real tension between trying to monetise or turn everything into numbers to make measurement easier, and asserting that some value just can’t be converted in this way. Again, nef’s work on the social return on investment is pretty advanced here, but there’s lots more to be done.

Work on the core values of coproduction. One of the things we discussed this morning is the fact that it’s too easy for the underlying value system of coproduction (about mutuality, respect, recognition) to get lost in its translation to a ‘mainstream’ political agenda – see for example what has happened with self-directed support, which too often is simply seen as individual budgets. In my view, the only way we can come up with a credible and authentic account of what coproduction means is to draw on emerging practice across many sectors, from housing to social care to policing. How can we connect people together who are pioneering in this field, in order to give them even more rocket fuel to keep going?


the with economy

January 29, 2009

i’m pleased to see that I’m not the only one reading Daniel Miller: I’ve just been reading Charlie Leadbeater’s thinkpiece, The With Economy, where he draws attention to Miller’s argument that the difference between a full life and an empty life is whether or not you have fulfilling relationships that give you meaning and purpose. I’ve written about this in a previous post and I continue to think about how it relates to the work I’m doing at the moment.

Charlie as ever has helped me to crystallise a few more thoughts around this issue of relationships and my view that the individual/society dichotomy is a false one: as individuals, we are fundamentally social. Being connected is a vital part of the human experience – just look at the correlations between loneliness and isolation, and a whole range of negative factors such as mental illness and crime. Conversely, the growing body of research around resilience (e.g. Martin Seligman) shows that significant personal relationships, and participation in associative activities are both important protective factors.

Anyway – couple of things from Charlie’s piece that I particularly liked. First, he picks up on this issue of ‘fairness’ – a particular favourite of government ministers currently – and argues that it is peculiarly de-personalising as an agenda for public services: it implies the impartial allocation of resources, the objective assessment of needs – quite the opposite of the co-production agenda, which is all about building more collaborative and supportive relationships between citizens, professionals and the state. In a world of fair, target driven public services, we risk robbing these services of their humanity. Is care really the same as a thirty minute visit by an overworked, underpaid care assistant, he asks.

Second, Charlie asks what it means for political philosophy if we accept the argument that far from being atomised individuals, we are fundamentally social beings. Political philosophy is traditionally concerned with the relationship between the individual and society, and this colours the way we frame concepts like justice, rights and equality. How would these concepts change if we were to develop a political philosophy based on the notions of interconnectedness and inter-relationships?


bins and mainstreaming

January 29, 2009

today I spoke at the New Local Government Network annual conference. Thankfully no need for slides at this one, but I’ve written up what I said here. Mainly about bins (thanks to M for that particular flash of inspiration).

There were some great contributions from other speakers – Victor Adebowale, chief exec of charity Turning Point, told a powerful story about his experience of co-designing a service on an estate and then trying to get the council to see that this might be a new way of commissioning for outcomes (they didn’t get it). Jeremy Beecham and others made a big bid for local government getting more control over how to deal with housing issues in the current recession – I would agree wholeheartedly with this.

And we heard Gordon Brown (who he??), whose eloquence on the global financial crisis was impressive, although the consensus amongst delegates was that it was still problematic to translate this into specific action that local councils could take, given how many of the things – tax, benefits, business advice, skills, job centres – remain national services, delivered locally, but whose priorities are determined by Whitehall. Still, he managed to promote the Cabinet Office’s latest document on this several times over – Real Help Now – worth a read to see what government is thinking about getting businesses and families through the recession. I fear it won’t be enough…


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.