Strand I: Defining valued outcomes

How can civic partnerships establish clear goals to guide the action required to meet a complex set of local challenges?

We live in challenging times. As individuals we need to find ways in our own lives to support our families; develop and maintain our membership in wider networks of relationships; earn our living; contribute in other ways to advancing what we value; and learn how to do all of this better. Of course, these various aspects of our lives are inter-related and sometimes in tension, as we search for a good balance between different requirements. So it is at the level of communities.

In the work John O’Brien and I did with public authorities and local people in two English Counties (reported in Conversations about building sustainable and inclusive communities http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/authors/david-towell/conversations-on-inclusive-communities.html ) we were able to identify an middle level ‘system of challenges’ (represented diagrammatically in Conversations, page 8) which connect eleven major sets of issues which call for local co-production of effective responses. Of course, each of these could be disaggregated and other issues added to create a more complex map and, in turn, this could be refined to add further detail.

Historically in British public policy, challenges like these have been addressed through separate policies, different departments of government or other agencies and involving different professions, often through specific programmes or services which were not well connected either with each other or with the communities they served. That was always a weakness but in a period when the costs of failure on some fronts (for example, in relation to climate change) are likely to be huge and the continuing financial crisis is a major constraint on investment, there is a renewed premium on securing maximum impact on local priorities from all our efforts.

An important contemporary response to this requirement is found in what I call outcomes-based policy-making. (See for example the current London Borough of Lambeth experiment in Social Value commissioning http://www.collaboratei.com/media/4098/Social%20Value%20A%20Commissioning%20Framework%20Report.pdf ) The concept is simple (although the practice less so). Essentially the idea is to encourage civic leaderships, working with their communities and other local stakeholders to ask – and answer – the question ‘what are the key things (the valued outcomes) we are seeking to achieve overall in this locality?’ and then to use this public statement of priorities as the template to guide and evaluate everything which is done e.g. through the enabling role of the local authority, the services it commissions and provides and different kinds of community action. Clearly the same approach, but refined to reflect more local opportunities and perspectives, can also be applied at the neighbourhood level.

Central to this approach is the way in which these key outcomes are developed and expressed. As I say in the introduction to this second series of blogs, democratically-elected local authorities and their officers have a responsibility for ‘place shaping’ to promote the well being of the whole community, by protecting the environment, enabling sustainable economic development and advancing social justice, all with the support and active participation of local people.

In Britain, the fullest statement of national policy on sustainable development is presented in the last government’s White Paper (March 2005)Securing the future. A subsequent White Paper (October 2006) Strong and prosperous communities provided a comprehensive framework for local government (as ‘strategic leader and place-shaper’) and its partners to produce and deliver Sustainable Community Strategies. Some but not all of these intentions have been incorporated at least into the rhetoric of the current coalition government, for example in its Big Society programme, and the recent Public Services (Social Value) Act (which came into force in January 2013) explicitly mandates a broad outcomes-focused approach in requiring ‘public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being’ (not just economic efficiency) in exercising this local leadership.

So for example, in the London Borough of Islington (where I live), the local authority has defined more fully what these three areas mean in terms of strengthening the local economy and paying the living wage, promoting vibrant and inclusive communities and minimising negative environmental impacts, all as part of a political commitment Towards a Fairer Islington http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fHnCEU9F-c

On a broader front, it is now 20 years since the 1994 Aalborg Declaration which led ten years later to the European Sustainable Cities Charter www.sustainablecities.eu/aalborg-process/charter  This charter has now been signed by 2700 local authorities from 40 countries. The 10 Aalborg commitments (informed by the 1992 Rio Earth Summit Agenda 21 proposals) make sustainability central to local policy making, including through attention to local economic development, protection of the environment, non-polluting transport and responsible consumption; emphasise social justice and the health and wellbeing of local citizens; and recognise the need to advance this agenda through strengthening participatory democracy.

Informed by useful frameworks like these, every locality needs processes of leadership and stakeholder engagement to agree local goals and express these in terms of valued outcomes. They also need ways of working across agency and other boundaries to pursue these goals effectively and ensure that local people are active partners in both shaping the goals and delivering necessary action. The next two blogs in this series, Strand II and Strand III, explore these two requirements in more detail.

 

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Building a better future through civic partnership

Happy New Year!

The Centre for Inclusive Futures summarises its mission in the strap line Developing sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens. That is, its broad definition of a better future is one which is sustainable and inclusive. In the first series of these blogs, we explored how ‘small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens’ (to borrow from Margaret Mead’s famous aphorism) can bring about change inspired by this objective. In the last posting, this series of blogs was brought together into a short pamphlet, Networking for Social Change, using as its main example, the work of the inclusion network (la red inclusiva) in Bucaramanga, Colombia over the last five years. (This pamphlet has just been published in Spanish.)

This second series of blogs planned for the first half of 2014 picks up this exploration with a focus on civic leadership for local transformation. We continue to emphasise the importance of citizen networks as grass roots drivers of community development, but as in the penultimate blog in the first series, consider further not only how local innovation can be ‘scaled across’ (to use a concept from Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze) but also how it can be scaled up to the level of towns and counties i.e. the first level of democratic local government. This time the examples are mainly drawn from Europe and North America, but still with Colombia partly in mind. (As the Networking pamphlet describes, two members of the red inclusiva are now involved in municipality advisory groups and one has just taken up a similar role at the regional level in Santander.)

Looked at from the perspective of citizen networks like the red inclusiva, this is a story of how self-organising groups can broaden their base, build alliances and seek policy influence so as to create the local conditions for system change e.g. in local education.

But equally, democratically-elected local authorities and their officers have a responsibility (within national laws, policies and resource allocation processes) for ‘place shaping’ to promote the well-being of the whole community, most importantly by protecting the environment, enabling sustainable economic development and advancing social justice: goals which require the support and often the active participation of local people. (In the U.K. at least, current ‘austerity’ policies are significantly weakening the capacity of local government to fulfil these functions, arguably making this partnership with local people even more important.)

Our focus here is on both sides of this equation: that is on how citizen groups and local authority leaderships can together create the civic partnership required to build sustainable and inclusive communities. At this level of course, there are potentially many ‘players’ including: informal citizen groups and networks; more organised voluntary associations perhaps with specific missions e.g. to advocate for disabled people or protect the countryside; non-governmental organisations which provide services e.g. in health and social care; commercial organisations, both local and super-local offering goods and services for sale and providing employment; and public bodies, including the local authority itself, which may have enabling, commissioning and service providing functions, as well as being the focus for local representation.

Our interest is in civic partnership which engages with these complex agency networks to advance the local agenda for a better future. In the coming weeks, the new series of blogs will explore at least the following themes and questions:

1.    Defining valued outcomes

How can civic partnerships establish clear goals to guide the action required to meet a complex set of local challenges?

 

2.    Engaging whole systems

What is involved in working across agency and other boundaries in order to address these complex challenges most effectively?

 

3.    Co-producing the future

How can local people become active partners in shaping and delivering the actions which affect them and their communities, now and into the future?

 

4.    Strengthening resilience

How can communities and the networks of agencies which serve them enhance their capacity to cope with the multiple uncertainties impacting on local life?

 

5.    Working inclusively

What processes are required to ensure that the diversity in local communities is both valued and mobilised to achieve a better future for all?

 

6.    Finding cooperative solutions

How then can citizen groups and networks build the alliances and shape the local agenda for transformative change?

 

These blogs are intended as a stimulus to creative reflection on how we can best network for social change at the civic level. Perhaps you would like to join the conversation?

 

Bringing it all together

Since the last post in this series, I have spend a month in Latin America, including a week in Bucaramanga, working with the red inclusiva (inclusion network) there whose story figures frequently in the earlier blogs here. For the purposes of this visit I produced with my Colombian colleague an 8 page pamphlet Networking For Social Change (now published on the web at http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/authors/david-towell-phd/networking-for-social-change.html) which focuses on their story as a great example of the kind of group which Margaret Mead had in mind and uses ideas in the previous blogs to offer succinct reflections on their experience. (The 8-page format is designed to make the text accessible to busy people and fit into a series of short pamphlets – this is the fourth – mainly addressed to advancing inclusive education which Heidy Araque and I have published in Spanish.) In the light of discussion with red members two weeks ago, we are now producing a slightly revised version of this new pamphlet in Spanish to form the basis for a workshop next Spring where we aim to work with the red and some of their allies to use these reflections on the past as a vehicle for strategising about the future.

We had three goals in mind in offering this pamphlet and the workshop to our friends. Heidy comes from Bucaramanga and I have been visiting there twice a year since late 2007. First, it seemed timely to try to capture in pamphlet form some of this experience as a testimony to what the red has done, not least in sustaining and growing itself as an effective ‘agency’ for social change. Second, as I say above, the pamphlet and the workshop are designed to help the red learn from its own experience in order to shape their future contributions to valued social change. Third, we hope this public recording and reflection will be a positive stimulus to many other groups and networks in Spanish-speaking countries who are also organising at the grass roots to build a sustainable and inclusive future for their communities.