Strand V: 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?

In discussing earlier strands in this series, we have explored the importance of working across agency, professional and other boundaries in order to achieve a ‘whole systems’ approach to addressing local challenges (Strand II) and actively engaging local people so as to co-produce a better future (Strand III). Experience, for example in the Transition Towns movement suggests that ‘ensuring that initiatives reflect the greatest range of voices and experiences….is vital to their success’ (Rob Hopkins The Transition Companion Green Books, 2011. My review of this excellent guide is at: )

But we know that achieving this wide and meaningful participation through traditional means isn’t easy. There is a classic training film, starring one of Britain’s best comic actors, John Cleese, Meetings, Bloody Meetings which captures in its title what is a common experience of group working. Borrowing from the movie Casablanca, another phrase, the usual suspects is often used to describe who turns up in citizen engagement exercises. What we are exploring in Strand V is how to get beyond these characterisations so as to create processes for working together – both in shaping the agenda and taking action – which genuinely welcome diversity and make a positive space for everyone’s participation.

In facing complex challenges, we need ways of relating to each other which improve shared understanding across this diversity, promote adaptive learning and encourage the will to act. Fortunately there has been a flowering of methods (‘social technologies’) which help with these objectives. Margaret Wheatley identifies the essence of many of these methods in her thoughtful book Turning to one another: simple conversations to restore hope to the future (Berrett-Koehler, 2002).

In our Conversations about sustainable and inclusive communities: Six practices for creative engagement (available at: ) John O’Brien and I have tried to illustrate how a variety of these methods might be drawn upon to assist partnership between citizens and their local authority in shaping a more desirable future. This pamphlet describes each of these six practices (I have added another to make it seven) and where to find further information. I summarise here some of the different issues arising in the effort to work inclusively and identify an inclusive practice which is useful in addressing each:

1.    People bring different interests, perspectives and experiences to the table in any exploration of community problems. A lack of mutual understanding can make progress difficult. It is helpful sometimes to make a little time for participants to try to see things through the eyes of others by the simple practice of carefully listening to each other, perhaps using the mindfulness discipline of ‘quiet mind and open heart’.

2.    On a larger scale it is often important to bring a variety of people together to generate a richer shared picture, for example, of what is good about the local neighbourhood and what could be better. The ‘World Café’ offers a structured approach to hosting conversations that matter and drawing out common themes in a style (i.e. like table discussion in a café) which seems quite natural.

3.    Participants may need opportunities to make sense of complex and perhaps disruptive information before they can join in with commitment and imagination. It can be useful therefore to take some time to map these sense-making opportunities and consider how they can be extended and involve more people.

4.    Where lots of things are going on, or being planned (perhaps by different groups or agencies), it may be important to check – and indeed improve – the contribution each is making to achieving locally-agreed strategic outcomes. The practice here requires plotting current activities against agreed outcomes and critically reviewing where there is scope for greater impact.

5.    Similarly, it may be useful to involve a wide range of people in identifying ‘assets’ potentially available in the locality (e.g. in existing local associations and the skills people bring to these, in the businesses which make up the local economy, in the natural environment, etc.) so as to examine whether these assets might have more to offer in advancing the strategic priorities.

6.    Most fundamentally, working inclusively in diverse communities requires that we ask the question ‘Who’s not here’ (or more precisely, whose voice and contribution is not being fully recognised) and how could we better engage them? The relevant practices focus on how we invite people to participate, express hospitality, make adjustments which enhance accessibility, identify what each person has to offer, encourage contributions and show appreciation.

7.    The one we missed in the pamphlet is a continuation of this last point: to sustain ourselves in this challenging work we need to invest in celebrating what we are doing and meeting our common human need to have fun!  Stories from the Transition Towns experience (referenced above) include lots of examples of local initiatives using food, music, art, theatre, story-telling…and carnival to share a positive sense of place and enjoy each other.

A core task of civic leadership involves the judicious selection and use of practices like these so as to ensure the widest possible mobilisation of local people and agencies in making a positive difference.

Strand IV: 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?

Complementing and cross-cutting the first three strands discussed in this series of blogs is the importance of strengthening local resilience as part of building sustainable and inclusive communities. I am writing this blog as six weeks of more-or-less continuous storms have left large areas of the Thames valley and South West England with serious flooding. How we future-proof our communities seems very topical!

Most simply, the Stockholm Resilience Centre ( ) defines resilience as ‘the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop’. Or in relation to communities, ‘resilient communities intentionally develop personal and collective capacity to respond to and influence change, to sustain and renew the community, and to develop new trajectories for the community’s future’ (Magis, quoted in Wilding, referenced below).

My own initial understanding of this idea – and the notion that resilience can be designed into and developed in large systems – originated in the work of another group of my colleagues at the Tavistock Institute studying manufacturing organisation. Most famously, they worked with the newly nationalised coal industry after the Second World War to replace the ‘assembly line’ methods of production with an approach based on relatively autonomous small groups of miners managing their own work as teams. Working underground is difficult and dangerous. Rock formations often throw up new challenges. Factory style mechanisation was ill-suited to these uncertainties and damaged the miners’ traditional sense of being in control of their work. Self-organising teams restored this identity and were much more adaptive to these changing conditions.

Resilience is even more important in contemporary communities. The extent of current risks varies in different parts of the world but we all face ‘acute’ challenges, for example, from runaway climate change and associated extreme weather events, global shortages of food and water and rapidly fluctuating energy prices, turbulence in the financial markets, pandemic illnesses and violent conflict. Each of these can produce major ‘shocks’ to our current ways of life. Our capacity to deal with these challenges is weakened by what we might think of as ‘chronic’ problems including the growing inequalities which divide people and communities, the lack of local control over big decisions (e.g. on the economy) made elsewhere (e.g. sometimes in very distant boardrooms), the ways in which we have become dependent on professional and bureaucratic interventions in human concerns we once felt capable of addressing with the help of our family and neighbours, and the distorted understanding of all these issues we derive from the centralised organs of mass communication which increasingly define unreality as ‘reality’ (as in ‘reality T.V.’).

For all these reasons, strengthening resilience has become central to the discussion of sustainable development as most fully articulated in The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative transitions to a steady-state economy (M. Lewis and P. Conaty, New Society Publishers, 2012) My review of this excellent book is on line at:

In thinking about both what constitutes resilience and how it can be strengthened, I have found most helpful Nick Wilding’s Exploring Community Resilience in times of rapid change (Carnegie UK Trust, 2011). He identifies and copiously illustrates four dimensions of community resilience to which I have added a fifth (and first in this list):

1.    Emphasising place-based governance and local democracy. We are in control of how we respond to local challenges.

Localisation is key to achieving a sustainable future. This requires both decentralisation from the national state so that municipalities can develop appropriate responses to local priorities (as discussed in Strand I and II) through civic leadership and devolution within local authorities so as to engage communities in co-producing this better future (as discussed in Strand III).

2.    Reweaving the economy closer to home. We exercise ecologically responsible stewardship over our land, water, food, energy production, construction and employment.

This democratic control needs increasingly to extend to the ways in which we reshape the local economy to increase self-reliance, meet local needs fairly and reclaim where possible local assets for the common good, while protecting the environment. This is the major focus of the Transition Towns initiative.

3.    Fostering an inclusive culture. We celebrate our diversity and are confident in our capacity to tackle problems together.

Local people and social capital (‘the social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness which arise from them’ as Robert Putnam defines this) are the most important assets in strengthening resilience. These assets are enriched where there are opportunities for people to make sense of local challenges, find cooperative solutions (e.g. credit unions which support people in austere times) and celebrate local life (e.g. from shared music, art and other creative activities to street parties).

4.    Encouraging individual wellbeing and mutual engagement. We are fit in body and mind and involved in our neighbourhoods.

This local culture needs to help people develop their personal resilience, for example through the Five ways to well-being identified by the new economics foundation (nef, 2009); ‘connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give’. In doing so, it will also underline the importance for all of us of being part of social networks which accept our strengths and fallibilities and offer mutual support.

5.    Making links to other places and communities. We know we can learn from others travelling similar journeys.

Localities are not alone in these efforts and many challenges are similar, inter-connected or indeed require joint action, for example to bring about policy change on a larger scale. A pre-eminent example of such networking, because it now links localities across the globe is the Transition Network ( ).

In sum, these dimensions of resilience provide civic partnerships with five useful ‘design tests’ for local action: how likely is it that what is being planned will enhance local democracy, increase economic self-reliance, build social capital, improve personal well-being and strengthen links with other communities?

Strand III: 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?

In the preceding blog (Strand II), we explored the importance of ‘whole systems’ working as a means to deliver concerted action to achieve locally-valued outcomes. Clearly, local people as citizens, taxpayers, consumers and users of public services need to be part of this whole. This process has come to be described as ‘co-production’.

I trace this concept back to the work of medical practitioners like Julian Tudor Hart (Feasible Socialism SHA 1994) who has long discussed the idea of patients and their general practitioners ‘co-producing health’: each bringing their experience and expertise to the consultation in order to create a health improvement plan, especially in relation to long term conditions which are increasingly the main focus of health services.

Others identify the North American routes to this idea, especially the contribution of Edgar Cahn, the originator of ‘time banking’, who drew attention to the assets which already exist in the capabilities, reciprocity and social networks which make up ‘community’ and the importance of working with and seeking to strengthen these assets in local efforts to improve well-being.

These ideas have been given fresh momentum through the work of nef, the new economics foundation, (notably Co-production: A manifesto for growing the core economy 2008) and are now in good currency. Indeed this week, the British Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, made co-production central to his radical proposals for the reform of public services.

Nef defines co-production as ‘delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours’. As the examples above imply, this partnership may be at the level of the individual (as in the health consultation), involve a particular group (e.g. older people) or be about challenges facing the whole community (e.g. to reduce its carbon foot-print). I would add therefore that the scope of co-production goes beyond public services to embrace the wider community strategies i.e. for sustainable and inclusive development, discussed in Strand I.

Miliband’s overarching purpose is to reduce inequalities, including inequalities of power. In relation to public service reform his chosen strategy is to put more power in the hands of people using services, both individually and collectively. He identifies (the Hugo Young Lecture, 10th February) four main ways of doing this. (Not entirely by coincidence, IPPR also published this week a more detailed agenda Many-to-many: How the relational state will transform public services from which I draw some illustrations of these four methods.)

Ø  Devolution of power to the local level, so that public services can work as inter-connected systems in responding holistically to complex challenges (e.g. to tackle long term unemployment).

Ø  Increasing citizen access to information so, for example, they can better judge the quality of local services (e.g. education).

Ø  Co-production as defined here (e.g. in putting disabled people in control of their own publicly funded support).

Ø  Strengthening horizontal links among citizens so that, for example, individuals get peer network assistqnce (e.g. in the preceding example, disabled people getting information and advice from a local Disabled Persons Organisation).

Of course, there is a lot more to this. Holistic approaches may benefit from new structures (e.g. multi-professional team work) and new processes (e.g. participatory budgeting at the neighbourhood level). Co-production, especially at the individual level may require intensive and personalised engagement between lead professionals and service users (‘relational rather than transactional’ in the language of the IPPR paper). And not just users but also front line staff may need more autonomy, more time, and different attitudes and skills.

At the municipal level, Miliband gives the London Borough of Lambeth (self-described as a ’cooperative council’) as one example of a public authority which is trying to make co-production with local people key to every aspect of its work. For a more developed example, we might look to the experience of the U.S. city of Seattle (well described in J. Diers Neighbor Power: Building community the Seattle way University of Washington, 2004) where over several years all of these things were tried and more – and particular emphasis given to the kind of ‘community organising’ (famously associated with Saul Alinsky) which builds the strength in associations of citizens to be empowered partners.

The question which starts this blog refers to shaping the future and implicitly raises the further question of how future generations can be represented in these partnerships. Strand I provides one answer here: commitment to an outcomes framework which prioritises sustainability and thus invites attention to longer term issues. At the national level, some countries (e.g. Canada and Hungary) have legislated to establish ‘future guardians’ (e.g. in the shape of a futures Ombudsman). Perhaps at the local level this is a job for a commission of young people, including some with young children?

Strand II: Engaging whole systems

What is involved in working across agency and other boundaries to address the complex system of challenges involved in building sustainable and inclusive communities?

Of course, simple things should be done simply, but to recap on the two earlier blogs in this series, civic leaderships seeking to build more sustainable and inclusive communities which promote everyone’s well-being need to address a complex set of interconnected local challenges and deliver concerted action across a wide range of local agencies (i.e. in the public, private and third sectors) in ways which use the assets and gain the support of local people.

In Strand I we suggested that building commitment across this variety of stakeholders to a limited number of widely valued outcomes should provide strategic direction to these efforts. However both building this commitment and delivering the necessary concerted action require new ways of working locally which are a long way from the ‘top down’ command and control through separate bureaucracies which might perhaps have served their purpose in more stable times. Put most succinctly, we need alternative approaches which effectively engage whole systems. It has taken me a 1000 words in this blog  to sketch out fairly simply key features of these alternatives and the ideas on which they are based.

The prospects for success here can be influenced by procedural and structural arrangements.  In U.K. local government for example, we have tried increasing the geographical coterminosity of different public agencies, establishing joint governance arrangements – sometimes on a statutory basis (e.g. Health and Wellbeing Boards), investing in joint posts and creating shared budgets (e.g. as in ‘total place’ and ‘community budgeting’). We have also sometimes made things more difficult, for example, by introducing market arrangements which foster competition rather than collaboration among different local service delivery agencies.

Whatever these arrangements, we still need ways of working which respond to local complexity. One useful contribution I think of as essentially analytic. For example, recently, public authorities like Birmingham have been using cause-and-effect mapping (developing a ‘theory of change’) to try to model how the interventions of different agencies might together impact on desired strategic outcomes. (See for example, T. Bovaird and R. Kenny Modelling Birmingham: Using strategy maps to compare outcome pathways University of Birmingham, 2013).

Perhaps most interesting in work of this genre is the innovative contribution of a group of my former colleagues at the Tavistock Institute, originally expressed in their 1970s study Public Planning: The Inter-corporate Dimension (J.K. Friend et al, Tavistock Publications, 1974). This was the first major study to apply what operational researchers call the ‘strategic choice approach’ to inter-organisational planning in the public sector. The methods tested here, including AIDA (analysis of inter-connected decision areas), have been developed into a tool-kit for collaborative decision-making in uncertain conditions, skilfully presented in Planning Under Pressure (J. Friend and A. Hickling, Butterworth Heinemann, 1997).

These analytic methods have their uses but in complex local systems, there are limits to our capacity for reliable cause-and-effect mapping – important though it is to inquire about the likely consequences of proposed policies and actions – and the whole idea of rational planning in rapidly changing environments has been critically appraised, notably in the work of Henry Mintzberg (Strategy Safari H. Mintzberg, et al, Pearson Education, 1998). I think it is most useful to regard these analytic tools as offering an informational resource to significant conversation among local stakeholders working together to change the future.

For this we need more developmental approaches based on ‘systems thinking’. We can take our lead here from Donald Schon’s classic work (Beyond the Stable State Temple Smith, 1971) which originally articulated the need for organisations, including governments, to become ‘learning systems’ in order to adapt successfully to the increasingly rapid rate of societal change. Subsequently, Peter Senge identified systems thinking as The Fifth Discipline (Century Business, 1992) in his treatise sub-titled The Art and Practice of The Learning Organisation. And these ideas have been reflected in a growing range of what B. Bunker and B.T. Alban call Large Group Interventions (Jossey-Bass, 1997) which have in common the aspiration of Engaging the Whole System for Rapid Change.

Most recently, these approaches have been informed and shaped by the emergence of ‘complexity theory’ in the natural sciences as perhaps most helpfully summarised in Leading Change: A guide to whole systems working (M. Attwood et al, Policy Press, 2003).

Drawing on this latter work, we can identify five overlapping keys to ‘working whole systems’:

1.    Enabling leadership. Both those in formal leadership positions (e.g. elected mayors) and others who emerge (e.g. as ‘civic entrepreneurs’ willing to try new ways of doing things) need to understand their role in terms of helping to keep the ‘big picture’ in view, shaping critical questions for exploration and creating spaces in which relevant stakeholders can make sense of the challenges together and establish the direction of positive responses.

2.    A listening culture. An important asset in this work is the willingness to listen carefully to others and learn. Influenced in part by the Buddhist philosophy of ‘mindfulness’, we can aspire to listen with an ‘open mind’ (so as to understand more fully), an ‘open heart’ (so as to empathise with others’ experience) and an ‘open will’(so as to allow new possibilities to emerge) so that we are Leading from the Emerging Future (the title of a recent book by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, Berrett-Koehler, 2013).

3.    A welcome to diverse participation. This way of working requires enthusiasm for processes which aspire to ‘get the whole system into the room’ (to borrow a phrase from the large group methods, referenced above) and value the diversity of perspectives and distinctive local knowledge which such participation brings. Whether meeting in large gatherings or small groups, this means in turn that equality, honesty and respectful listening characterise the interactions.

4.    Public learning. A strong interest in making information from analysis (like that described above) widely accessible and using the diversity of experience across agency and other boundaries as a resource to collectively shaping and delivering local action.

5.    A commitment to follow-through. Of course, delivering progress towards a better future in not ‘an event’ but rather a continuing process of building relationships, exploring opportunities, taking action and learning from experience. It requires working together over time, growing wider participation and stronger networks, and creating the arrangements required for effective implementation of emerging proposals.

What some of this means more concretely is illustrated in two reports I have written with John O’Brien about our work with an English County, Wiltshire: Conversations about Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities and Six Practices (both available in the on-line library at ).