Posts Tagged ‘leadbeater’


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.


it’s all in a word…

August 4, 2008

The current trend seems to be to try and distill one’s thinking to a single word. Three in particular spring to mind that are doing the rounds in the policy world…

Nudge – Richard Thaler says that policy should go with the grain of how people behave anyway, shock horror

Blink – Malcolm Gladwell argues that instinct (ok, ok, ‘rapid cognition’) counts and we should take it seriously

With – not yet a book but guaranteed to be so within 18 months… Charlie Leadbeater says that it’s time to think about ‘with and by’ not ‘to and for’ when it comes to public service design. A thesis he begins in We-Think but most recently talked about at the social innovation conference in San Sebastian (more on that in another post)

I’ve never quite managed to boil my own thinking down to a single word, but I’ve got a few that I’m pretty fond of. In no particular order:

Authenticity: I think most people have a pretty good bullshit detector and there’s rarely any point in pulling the wool over people’s eyes

Autonomy: my money’s on the fact we’re going to be hearing quite a lot about ‘control’ in coming months but I prefer autonomy. At Demos we used to talk about ‘people being architects of their own lives’. I like that too but it fails on the word count in this particular post.

Connectedness: not exactly a word but a really important principle. Most ‘bad’ outcomes – mental health, physical wellbeing, behaviour – can be correlated to loneliness and isolation. People need to feel seen and heard. I read a report last year that found that low income mothers have much smaller social networks than middle class mothers. This makes a mockery of how we deal with, for example, young offenders, or people with mental health problems, where we actively remove them from society. Just imagine if connectedness was a performance indicator for public services…

Usefulness: Marx talked about productivity, Sennett (in The Culture of the New Capitalism) about usefulness. I love both of these, but usefulness wins out because it encompasses non-paid work too. Feeling useless is surely one of the worst and most debilitating emotions someone can experience.

Pride: I really like this one. People who are proud feel good about themselves, and how they are living their lives. When we were working with the families in Kent, many of them felt ashamed of even letting our ethnographers into their homes. At a more macro level, imagine if Brown’s doomed attempts to define Britishness centred on pride? Not in a grim empire-building way, but more in a sense that Brits should feel proud of their country, proud of what it stands for. When I saw him speak, the only thing Richard Thaler said that I liked was about the contrast between the UK’s ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ signs and the US’s ‘Keep America Beautiful’ signs.

Liminal: ah, my favourite space. And such a beautiful word. In-between, murky worlds where interesting things happen and new perspectives emerge from the collision of different views and experiences. A good anthropological word too. In fact so good, it’s got a website all to itself.

Value: I have a feeling that much of my thinking rests on a desire to redefine what we value in society: unpaid work, love, emotions – too often treated as value-free in a world where markets and rationality rule. If I were making a visual thesarus I would connect value to meaning, experience and relationships.

I’m pretty sure there’s a counter-point blog to this post, on words that should be banned… can we start with ’empowerment’ please?