Friday, 9 July 2010

A small milestone

Just to note that over 10,000 pages from this blog have been uploaded over the last 14 months. To celebrate this, I have created a PDF of all the pages from this blog. If you would like a copy, please email me and I would be happy to send one to you.

Please keep reading & browsing!

Thank you.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Big Society: report on the network meeting

OK – so I am reflecting on the Big Society network meeting (see below) at the Department of Communities and Local Government that happened last night (6/7/10). All in all, I am very glad I went. As always a great networking opportunity and I met some lovely people with whom I plan to keep in touch. It was also helpful to hear a little more about how the plans for the Big Society are shaping up – although everything is very much in an early stage of development as was stressed to us by Paul Twivy yesterday. The format used did allow some shaping of the agenda from the floor – which was a healthy innovation for a meeting in a government building.

I could be very picky about the process used (it was NOT open space technology in my view and it concerns me that some people will have left last night thinking that it was) but I recognise the constraints that the organisers were working under. The room size for the numbers present and air con were severe limiting factors for sure. There was some tweeting and talking about the (minimal) visible diversity present in the room and indeed amongst the people who got up to nominate discussion sessions. And so I am left feeling that several opportunities were missed to join people up and indeed allow those collected the chance to help shape the future agenda. Much more could have been achieved with a little more space, time, design and cool air.

Where next? I am hoping this is just a beginning and over the course of the next few months, there will be more scope to develop this idea of a Big Society. Some questions are buzzing in my head (and I am grateful to the meeting yesteday for helping to stimulate these thoughts):
  • Can you get ‘owt for nowt?’ (Energising, coordinating, developing volunteering in the UK won’t happen without some considerable investment in a range of structures designed to do this. This was a point made several times last night)
  • What local leadership will help the Big Society come to life? (There are already many volunteers in local government at all tiers already, including several thousand unpaid community / town councillors. Moreover there are many district, unitary and county councillors too. Beyond this there must be many thousands of treasurers, chairs, secretaries of thousands of local voluntary groups. All these people have a leadership role and will be helping, or not, draw more people in. What is now needed to support the leadership that will help do this?)
  • Just what levers can be pulled to grow the legions of voluntary workers still more? (Some people seemed to believe it was an absence of information about opportunities that was a significant barrier to more people getting involved. Others wondered whether just be inviting people, that in itself would bring more on board. Others, including me, wondered if a key factor was confidence in that a person needs this to be prepared to volunteer. There were many more factors explored such as the use of technology. My hope is that evidence and research, as well as more ruminating, will help identify what interventions will achieve the most gain  and guide action from here.)
  • How do you engage the unengaged or even the ‘don’t want to be engaged’? (If the Big Society is to really take off, many more people will need be involved. How will some people, particularly those who may feel they have nothing to offer, be attracted to join in?)
  • What wheels need to be reinvented and which existing one, with a bit of oil perhaps, could work far better? (For example, Paul Twivy spoke yesterday about the idea of a new mutual financial institution that could provide low cost indemnity insurance to volunteers etc. I was left wondering don’t we already have a people’s financial institution called the Post Office? I am worried that in the rush to produce some shiny new ‘Big Society’ some existing structures, such as local libraries, may just be overlooked. Equally there may be some bodies that have served their purpose and something new is required. These decisions need to be made carefully, I think.)
So as always, more questions than answers – but let’s keep the dialogue going!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Why we need 'Austerity Charters'

A few weeks ago I was talking with some civil servants about the implications of the budgetary cuts to come. One matter that was concerning them was the impact on staff discipline. As one person put it succinctly "why should I seek to sack an underperforming member of my team, when I know that if I do, the then vacant post will be frozen. It is better to have 50% of one person than 100% of nobody".

Another possible result of the current circumstances will be that just when you need everyone to be thinking about how to innovate and do more with less, people will be more inclined to keep their heads down and play 'safe'. (I have blogged about this already here.)

There are probably many more examples of perverse & unfortunate consequences of the current resource regime in public service organisations. The question is: can anything be done about this? My proposal is that every public service organisation should develop and approve what I will label an 'Austerity Charter'

The purpose of these charters will be to make crystal clear the principles, policies and values that will underpin how decisions will be made about where and how the large reductions in expenditure being considered will be implemented. For example, one point might cover the issue above such that posts vacated as a result of disciplinary action will not necessarily remain frozen, might go some way towards alleviating the problems that might emerge otherwise. Another part of the charter might seek to clarify that decisions about job losses will not be influenced by what action a person takes to innovate better ways of providing a service.

I don't really know what would go in such an Austerity Charter. But I do know that it up to the organisations themselves to resolve and that this will be best done in as open and inclusive a way as possible. Trade unions and staff associations clearly have a role to play, as do other stakeholders. (You will not be surprised to know that I would favour a whole system approach to the development of such charters.)

Such charters probably already exist but in the various fragmented & suspicious minds of all those who are affected, be they people who are likely to be made redundant or those will have the task of making such decisions. Nobody will find this easy, and some will find the process over the coming months distressing and life changing.

With reference to transactional analysis, will the leaders of the organisations be 'adult' enough to agree, focus and make explicit how these austere measures will be implemented? Or are we moving into a time where not only will the decisions be made behind closed doors, but the way of making the decisions will also be kept secret and implicit? I believe the latter approach is likely to lead to more staff distress, more harm to citizen/customer service, more distraction, less innovation and, probably, more procrastination and sabotage.

What do you think?

Or has your organisation already produced an 'Austerity Charter'?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Big Society with a big Open Space

In anticipation of a meeting I am going to next week:
The Big Society Network is an organisation to exists to help people achieve change in their local area. Our aim is to create a new relationship between Citizens and Government in which both are genuine partners in getting things done: real democracy using all the human and technological tools we now have available. This partnership will also add a third and fourth leg to its sturdy chair by involving business and the voluntary sector.... On the afternoon of the 6 July we plan to bring a cross section of people from across civil society into a conversation with the Big Society team. (
I thought I would post three excellent videos about Open Space in action and how the process helps to nurture engagement and responsibility - themes that will no doubt be picked up by those present next week. (The event is still open for anyone who wants to go...)

I am very excited by the fact that the meeting next week will be "facilitated using open space technology which will enable all participants to shape the agenda". It will be most pleasurable to be part of an Open Space that somebody else is facilitating! I will let you know how it went... watch this space.

And many thanks to Brendan McKeague of the Life School (Perth, Australia) for these youtube links. And thanks to Ingrid Koehler of the IDeA who alerted me to the event.

Cost reduction in a cold climate

Barry Toogood from Mentis - has just sent me a link to an excellent paper which will stimulate your thinking around the subject of how to move forwards in these austere times. It contains some useful mnemonics & frameworks for thinking. Do have a read and I am sure that Barry would be interested in your thoughts. (Copy me in too - thanks!)

Here is the link to the paper: