YES WE CAN…2017

This is the concluding blog in my third series of wordpress postings addressed to exploring how together we can bring about the radical changes we need, locally and globally, to meet the pressing environmental, economic and social challenges of the 21st Century, summarised in the Centre for Inclusive Futures’ mission as developing sustainable communities which include everyone as equal citizens.

In the first series, Networking for Social Change, we explored Margaret Mead’s famous aphorism:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing which ever has.

We sought to illustrate what this means in practice and to analyse how citizen networks can develop and sustain a shared purpose, work together effectively and create strategies to achieve positive change.        

In the second series, Building a better future through civic partnership, we continued to emphasise the importance of citizen networks as grass roots drivers of community development and considered further how local innovation can be scaled up to larger areas and populations through partnership between such networks and those charged with place-based leadership, for example in local public authorities.

This third series, beginning early in 2015, has sought to explore how we can Raise Our Game i.e. to make constructive and effective responses to the growing sense that contemporary challenges are growing in intensity as national leaders retreat into displacement activities rather than facing up to the real problems. The UK General Election that year brought the severe disappointment of results which seemed destined to take Britain further down the road of division and oppression. The two years since have brought further disappointment. The list is long but we can point for example to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK which has magnified national divisions and seems likely to damage the European cooperation that has been so important to securing the peace and promoting human rights in the 70+ years since the Second World War. Looking across the Atlantic to the USA, we see what is still the world’s most powerful country in rapid decline as big business takes over the government and seeks to destroy democratic institutions and the confidence in truth upon which democracy depends. Elsewhere, increasingly authoritarian governments also promote their versions of a selfish nationalism from which we will all be losers.

However in relation to all these challenges, there are local and global movements of resistance which know that a better world is possible. And in the U.K., writing shortly after our 2017 General Election failed to confirm these negative trends, the very uncertainly of these election results seems to have opened up a ‘space’, perhaps only a brief one, where a realignment of the forces required to change course feels very possible. It’s time to reassert hope over fear!

Hence the title of this posting. Yes We Can…2017.  ‘Yes we can’ was a slogan made famous by President Obama in his 2008 election campaign. But he borrowed this slogan from the Spanish version ‘Sí se puede’, the battle cry of the Californian farm workers’ movement from a half-Century earlier. Marshall Ganz has told the story of this well-organised grass roots struggle under the title Why David Sometimes Wins. He has of course in mind the biblical story of David vs Goliath. But we can embrace the same inspiration in this distillation of lessons from earlier postings in this series, designed to offer a framework for raising our game in the summer of 2017.

Thinking afresh

In Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katin Kaufer offer a succinct diagnosis of three major disconnections which are fundamental to our current ills: an ecological disconnect in which our economies seek to use more resources than we have; a social disconnect in which a small, self-serving elite dominate the rest of us and leave much of the world in poverty; and a spiritual disconnect in which many of us experience loss of meaning in our lives and work.

We can overcome these disconnections and enrich our understanding through fresh thinking about the natural world and our place within it. Three original perspectives seem especially helpful.

Starting with nature, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi draw on the range of modern sciences, especially ecology, to offer The Systems View of Life: a wonderful vision of our Earth as a self-organising, living system in which all life has co-evolved over our planet’s vast history. In this vision, mankind is an intrinsic part of nature, not its master and we can learn from its accumulated wisdom. (Picture: Mamani Mamani’s Pachamama)

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Translated practically, this wisdom suggests the need to create a new economic system which is both ecologically sustainable and socially just. Kate Raworth takes up this challenge in Doughnut Economics. At the heart of the new economics is the simple image of the doughnut i.e. a circular bun with a whole in the middle. The boundaries of the inner ring represent the social foundation of well-being that no-one should fall below; the boundaries of the outer ring represent the ecological ceiling of the planetary pressures that we should not go beyond. The goal is to provide a road map for staying within these boundaries so as to achieve prosperity for all within the means of our planet. The implications for public policy and personal behaviour are radically different to those of the conventional economics which has hitherto been so influential.

The third perspective we require is a theory of change: how can we embrace new thinking, act upon this and learn from experience? Of course, there are many possible theories here but Scharmer and Kaufer offer one highly productive approach in their formulation of Theory U. The ‘U’ refers to the shape of a process for social learning. This approach requires us to go on a journey together where we try to remove our own blinkers so as to better see the reality around us. We need to create the opportunities to observe what is currently happening and listen deeply to the experiences of others. We need to take the time to share and make sense of these observations and support each other in considering what might be better, looking inside ourselves to identify our most important values, our highest aspirations. And we need to take responsibility for acting so as to make a positive difference.

Practical applications

Earlier blogs in this series have offered a range of examples of change initiatives at different levels of aggregation. Starting small, my friends John O’Brien and Beth Mount in their book, Pathfinders, explore in detail what people at risk of serious disadvantage can achieve in their own lives – and in ours – when they set out to find something better; they are able to become part of lasting relationships with their closest allies; together these people and their allies are able to create the ‘space’ in existing arrangements to imagine and test new possibilities; and they are always asking the basic question ‘What more is possible?’. All this calls for new thinking and a process of social invention grounded in each person’s situation and guided by the positive aspiration to build communities which work better for everyone.

In similar vein our Spanish colleague, Ester Ortega, in her AIREA workshops brings together larger networks of inclusive community builders to engage in a process of individual and group reflection which facilitates looking with fresh eyes at the challenges in acting on this aspiration and taking action through their associations and organisations to achieve a better future. (Picture: Beth Mount’s Garden of Soul)

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Robin Hambleton’s book Leading The Inclusive City (sub-title, Placed-based innovation for a bounded planet), provides extensive examples of how we can raise our game at the level of the town or city. His main themes are all captured in this extended title.

Hambleton sees place-based democratic leadership as a counter-weight to the place-less power of corporate elites in a globalised world and suggests that progressive civic leadership should be concerned with building sustainable and inclusive cities, not one or the other. Typically this involves creating new spaces, ‘Innovation Zones’, for people with different interests and perspectives to come together to co-create new solutions to public problems which draw on the complementary strengths of civil society, the market and the state.  His European examples document the impressive progress in creating better lives for people and the environment in the redesigned cities of Copenhagen, Freiburg and Malmo.

Turning to action at the national and international level, there is no greater challenge, for the natural world upon which humanity depends for its own future, than our failure so far to tackle global warming. Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate examines this challenge in depth.

She argues that, organising as concerned citizens, there are many ways in which we can try to turn the tide towards sustainability. Local communities can resist damaging policies, as we see in the U.K. over efforts to advance fracking. We can campaign for disinvestment in fossil fuels (e.g. by pubic organisations and pension funds) and for reinvestment in the alternative economic strategies set out in Doughnut Economics. We can seek to curb the power of larger corporations not least by re-empowering local communities (for example to control energy production and distribution) as described in many of Hambleton’s examples. And recognising the scale and interconnections among different challenges, we can seek to join up different social movements into a global campaign in which all of us play our part. Here we can take heart from Pope Francisco’s thoughtful encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si. As citizens and as political leaders, we need to find moral solutions to contemporary challenges which locate our place in nature and understand that our own well-being is linked to that of others.

Strengthening our agency for positive change: 8 principles

The second posting in this series reported insights from a ‘World Café’ event hosted by the Centre for Inclusive Futures shortly after the 2015 General Election which brought 40 civil society leaders together to examine how we can best raise our game to meet contemporary challenges. Revisiting these ideas now, we can summarise eight key principles guiding the work all of us need to do to strengthen our agency (individually and collectively) for achieving positive change.

  1. We need to engage mindfully with ourselves and our world.

Effective agency will require both energy and passion, but mindfulness   practitioners like Thich Nhat Hanh teach us that this starts from the quality of our own being, our capacity to centre ourselves in an appreciation of nature and celebration of life and a readiness to look deeply inside and out. We can ‘be the change we want to see’ by demonstrating compassion and inclusion in our own lives. This is the starting point for linking personal experience, local action and our aspirations for a better future.

  1. We need to stay true to our values while open to better ways of realising them in changing times.

We want to see our society as one which values diversity, welcomes everyone as equal citizens and seeks to use all our contributions in building a better future – one whose goals can be simply expressed in terms of three harmonies: living in harmony with ourselves, each other and the natural world of which we are a part. These values provide the compass that directs our best efforts.

  1. We need to help each other to stay strong.

Effective action requires vision and courage. We are at our best when we find ways of inspiring each other through sharing experiences and supporting each other when the going gets tough.

  1. We need to ‘live in truth’.

This powerful phrase comes from Vaclav Havel, the distinguished campaigner against totalitarianism and former President of the Czech Republic. Much of current policy and business practice is ‘sold’ dishonestly. Many people are deprived of the opportunities to live their lives in ways which others take for granted. We need to open our eyes to these disjunctions and challenge the indefensible!

  1. We need to get involved wherever possible with fellow citizens taking action for a better life.

The stories of people seeking better lives in Pathfinders point to the importance of trusted allies and circles of support. We can add to the number of disadvantaged people finding better opportunities by ‘standing with’ them and and strengthen positive campaigns by ‘joining up’ ourselves.

  1. We need to find ways of coming together with people with different perspectives to co-create new solutions to public problems.

As the examples from Ester Ortega and Robin Hambleton show, we can promote fresh thinking and social innovation when we are able to establish safe spaces for people with different roles and interests to explore shared problems through a facilitated process which seeks common ground and opens up new possibilities.

  1. We need to demonstrate elements in an alternative vision through many practical examples.

Otto Scharmer, in his development of ‘Theory U’ calls this ‘prototyping’ – not only imagining a better world but trying out various ways of creating this and thus strengthening our capacity to share persuasive new stories about what more is possible.

  1. We need to build alliances with other groups, organisations and movements to achieve positive change on a larger scale.

From the local to the global, communities face interconnected challenges: working together to understand these connections, we can explore ‘win – win’ strategies and strengthen our capacity for radical change.

 

In sum, to quote a Hopi Nation message, ‘We are the people we have been waiting for’. We can try each day to take some action, often small, to make a positive difference – and link up these efforts to contribute to more substantial change. Understanding the reality of peoples’ lives and our dependence on the natural world, imagining a better future, building stronger networks, doing something about it.

YES WE CAN!

 

 

 

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Thinking differently about the economy and economics

In my last blog in this series on ‘Raising Our Game’, I write that ‘we need to create a new economic system which is both ecologically sustainable and socially just’. I have just read Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics (Random House, 2017) the best guide I have discovered to the radical alternative economics we require to navigate the critical and pressing challenges which confront us all in the 21st Century.

The core of this reframing is captured in the simple image of the book’s title, the (American) doughnut: i.e. a circular bun with a whole in the middle. The boundaries of the inner ring represent the social foundation of well-being that no-one should fall below. The boundaries of the outer ring represent the ecological ceiling of the planetary pressures that we should not go beyond. The task of the new economics is to provide a roadmap for staying within the doughnut defined by these boundaries so as to achieve prosperity for all within the means of our planet. At a time when big business and most governments are driving us fast down the road to high, and irreversible, environmental degradation and growing inequality, meaning desperate lives for so many global citizens, this is a simple image with profound practical implications.

Let’s start however with Raworth’s critique of conventional economics. In recent years, undergraduate students have taken to demonstrating against their economics professors and courses. Especially since the 2008 financial crisis, students have recognised that what they are being taught has little relevance to the real world, exactly the opposite of what they expected when choosing economics.

Raworth traces this disillusion to the 19th Century emergence of economics as a ‘scientific’ discipline. The originators were much impressed by the success of physics – with its illuminating graphs, mathematical equations and seemingly precise results – and aspired to create economics on a similar model. Economics is, of course, a social science but in order to make the mathematics doable, they introduced a number of simplifying assumptions: for example, people were assumed to be rational economic actors who always seek to maximise their personal benefit; the national economy was pictured as a closed system with various circular flows but energy and society were left out of this picture and environmental damage was regarded as no more than an ‘externality’. Economies are diverse but increasingly the equations focused only on the market and at the macroeconomic level, a single goal – maximising GDP – became pre-eminent.

Now physicists too make simplifying assumptions – ‘imagine a friction-less table’ – but when people e.g. snooker players (or indeed engineers) apply the science, they reintroduce friction into their calculations. They don’t expect that the balls, once propelled, will roll around the table forever! Unfortunately applied economists, especially those advising policy-makers, have not been so good at engaging with reality: indeed they have increasingly assumed that these simplifying assumptions are the reality and worse, started to make normative claims to the effect that everything should  work like their models predict.

Of course, economics is not like physics, certainly not the Newtonian kind. It might have done better in the 20th Century (for example in predicting and perhaps averting the 2008 global collapse) if it had followed modern physics which embraces uncertainty and complexity and explores the dynamics of open systems. Even better, it could still model itself on the life sciences, notably ecology, as I discussed in the preceding blog. These seek to learn from nature: a global open system which has a few million years of managing its economy successfully, at least until humanity gained the technical capacity to screw things up!

Why does this failed discipline continue to exert such influence over current thinking? It was Marx, a political economist, who postulated that ‘the ruling ideas are always the ideas of the ruling class’. The corporate elites and their corrupt political agents – as we currently see only too clearly in the USA – propagate ideas which serve their own interests, not ours.

What is the radical alternative? The book’s sub-title identifies seven keys to shaping a better future. Fundamental is the need to abandon GDP growth as a lodestar and instead use the doughnut as our compass, recognising that a thriving humanity depends on a thriving planet. In high-consuming countries like the U.K. this means getting off the growth escalator and learning to live without forever accumulating stuff. We shall be the better for it.

Changing the goals requires us to change the means. This starts from an alternative view of human nature: we are not always self-interested and motivated by money, in fact we are often cooperative and even altruistic. Economics needs to embrace our social adaptability. Equally, the new economics needs to address the big picture, an economy embedded in the interaction between environment and society and going well beyond the market to recognise that households, the commons we share and the state also need to play their part in meeting our needs.

In turn, this new perspective requires that we replace an over-simplified view of the economy as a stable mechanical system with the more dynamic model of a complex adaptive system in a living world, capable of self-organisation. To meet the doughnut goals, tomorrow’s economy needs to be both distributive and regenerative by design. It must be designed to tackle current massive inequalities in wealth as well as income and prepare for a future when robots are doing most of our routine jobs. Using living systems as a mentor, it must also be designed to use renewable energy, recycle materials rather than waste them and regenerate the gifts of nature.

This new thinking clearly has massive implications for both public policy and how we live our lives. Raworth’s analysis provides many elements in a manifesto for the transformation to a better future. This starts from a new philosophy, what progressive leaders in Latin America call buen vivir, aiming to live well as part of the natural world which we nurture rather than abuse. More technically it requires a new metrics which measures what we value, whether or not this has a market ‘price’.

The manifesto includes:

  • tackling climate change and biosphere degradation as an urgent priority;
  • focusing investment on all the sources of real wealth – natural, human, social, cultural and physical – while ensuring the contraction of many traditional industries which cause us harm;
  • planning our cities and other human settlements like natural ecosystems to rely on renewable energy, strengthen communities and eliminate waste;
  • redefining the business of business away from maximising shareholder value to contributing to a thriving world and redesigning money and banking so they help deliver long-term social and environmental benefits, not short-term profits;
  • ensuring that knowledge in an era of global communications is a public good, not private property;
  • sharing paid employment, reducing working hours and introducing basic income as well as appreciating the contributions of households to the core economy; and
  • turning economics into an ethical pursuit, promoting real human prosperity in a flourishing web of life.

Those of us living today have to be the turnaround generation, the people who shift humanity and our planet onto a new course. Doughnut Economics provides us with tools to do the job!

Taking a systemic perspective

This is the fifth in my latest series of blogs devoted to exploring how we can raise our game to address effectively the key challenges of our times, especially the need – locally and globally – to advance ecological sustainability and human dignity. Since the last blog I have been working mainly on two sets of issues: building the sustainable and inclusive city; and implementing inclusive education. On the former, discussed further in the June 2015 blog, I have been privileged to work with civic leaders in Puebla (Mexico) as they seek to mobilise multiple initiatives to advance their vision of Puebla para todos (Puebla for all). On the latter, I am just completing a new pamphlet with my Canadian colleague, Gordon Porter, addressed to the need for transformation in educational systems if inclusion is to be more than tokenistic.

In both cases, and even more in the global challenge of addressing climate change discussed further in the September 2015 blog, we clearly need a systemic perspective to understand the complex processes at work and to generate strategies for sustainable change. My own thinking on this has been greatly assisted by the overview of recent developments in modern science, provided by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi in their excellent book The Systems View of Life.

Capra and Luisi, both eminent scientists in their own fields with a strong commitment to interdisciplinary studies, pursue three ambitious and inter-related aims. First, they provide a succinct overview of emerging ideas, starting from the transformation of the Newtonian understanding of the world with relativity and quantum theory but going on to explore recent developments , especially in biology and ecology. Second, they integrate many of these ideas into a unifying vision, as in the book’s title. Third, they explore the implications of this new perspective for our efforts to find sustainable solutions to the major interconnected problems of our times, especially the global crises in economy and ecology.

Summarising the new science is perhaps beyond the scope of a short blog but they report the really exciting advances, for example, in biology and cybernetics which give new meaning to the idea that ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts’; in our understanding of life as the capacity of cells and larger structures to make themselves from within; in ecology which increasingly sees evolution as the result of cooperation and altruism among organisms living in close association; and in the application of these ideas at the global level in the notion that the Earth as a whole is a self-organising, living system in which all life has co-evolved over our planet’s vast history. Much of this is illustrated in ways which convey a deep sense of the beauty and harmony of the natural world.

Perhaps few of us will fully follow all the science but Capra and Luisi draw all this together to show clearly how modern science has transformed our understanding. They distinguish between the previous mechanistic view, dating from the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th Centuries (and still visible, for example in medicine and economics) in which nature is regarded as a perfect machine, governed by exact laws of cause and effect, and where we can understand the whole by reference to its parts. This world view has been, and continues to be associated with the illusion that mankind is the master of nature rather than an intrinsic part of it. This view is not only unfounded but dangerous given our technological capacity for destruction, whether through nuclear war or climate change.

They argue instead for a radical shift in perspective to the systems view of life which integrates across both disciplines (exploring the biological, cognitive, social and ecological dimensions of nature) and levels of activity (from the most simple living cells up to the planet as a whole). In this new world view, the perspective is shifted from the parts to the whole: throughout the living world we find systems nesting within larger systems and what we call a ‘part’ is just a pattern in an inseparable network of relationships. Moreover all living systems share common properties and principles of organisation. Thus in thinking holistically we need to focus not on ‘objects’ but on relationships, patterns and contexts. Here the new science converges with the wisdom of various spiritual traditions, especially Buddhism, and is grounded in a philosophy which acknowledges the inherent value of all life.

One obvious practical implication is that our survival depends on political, business and civil society leaders demonstrating ‘eco-literacy’ and therefore that education in the wisdom of nature should be central to the curriculum (both what we learn and how we learn it) for all of us, with a strong focus on experiential learning (for example, through developing and studying the school garden).

The most important application of the systems view of life is in addressing the global economic and ecological crises of our Century, systemic problems par excellence. The current version of global capitalism is driven by an eco-illiterate belief in unlimited growth on a finite planet, corporate domination and casino finance. We see the ecological impacts in resource depletion, environmental degradation and irreversible climate change as well as massive and growing inequalities between a small elite (‘the 1%’ or perhaps even ‘the 0.1%’) and the rest of us.

Instead we need to create a new economic system which is both ecologically sustainable and socially just. As participants in this system we need to find satisfaction not in excessive material consumption but rather in human relationships, community and enjoyment of nature.

Capra and Luigi identify key elements in these systemic solutions: reshaping the economic system and its regulating institutions; developing alternative energy strategies, for example based on wind power and hydrogen fuel cells; generating the food we need through a renaissance in organic farming; and designing our living arrangements in tune with the flows of the natural world as we already see in eco-cities with their car free city centres, re-emphasis on walking and cycling, green spaces and enhanced opportunities for building community.

With nature as our mentor, another world is possible.

Building community together

As this series of blogs seeks to illustrate, Raising our game requires action at many levels. Most basic are the actions we can all take to demonstrate an alternative vision of a better future through practical examples, typically achieved as we walk alongside disadvantaged people as they pursue the long and winding road to a better life.
Pathfinders, a recent book by my North American friends, John O’Brien and Beth Mount (sub-titled ‘People with Developmental Disabilities and Their Allies Building Communities That Work Better for Everybody’ Inclusion Press 2015) is an outstandingly useful resource for these efforts. (I use the U.K. term ‘people with learning disabilities’ in this commentary.)
Their collaboration with each other and support to networks in other countries (most recently in Europe, the multi-national New Paths to Inclusion programme) has continued thoughtfully and energetically through four decades. Like all of us, John and Beth bring their own values to this work but they function essentially as facilitators. They help to bring different people – disabled people, family members, other allies, paid supporters, system managers, etc. – together in ways which promote serious conversation. They enable participants to listen carefully to each other and think deeply about the situations they uncover. They try to promote better understanding of these situations and encourage people to invent new ways of doing things and take responsibility for actions, small and large, which make a positive difference. One aspect of this facilitation is reflecting back on what is emerging and capturing some of the learning in graphics or writing, for participants to use further. In turn these reflections provide a means of sharing some of the ideas and inspirations more widely.

In this book, John and Beth have lovingly brought together much of the learning from these many years of practice into a single text, expressed in the form of useful thinking tools, many illuminating individual stories and a series of helpful summaries on ways of addressing key challenges. However, the book does not seek to offer ‘solutions’, beyond reporting what some impressive people and their allies have achieved in different situations. Rather, this is a book designed to inspire us all to continue our own journeys with others towards what (borrowing from Martin Luther King) they call ‘creation of the beloved community’.
Let’s start from the stories. When Harry Met Sally is a classic Hollywood version of the joys and struggles of building relationships. Famously it includes a restaurant scene with the punch-line ‘I’ll have what she’s having!’. Unfortunately society has organised in ways which put multiple barriers in the way of many people, especially with more complex disabilities, getting anywhere close to what many others of us are having. But the stories of ‘When Gail Met Ken’, ‘When Marcie Met André’, ‘When Audrey Met Ian’ etc. provide powerful accounts of what pathfinders (the people with disabilities) like Ken, André and Ian can achieve in their lives (and in ours) when: 1) they set out to find something better; 2) they are able to become part of lasting relationships with allies; 3) together pathfinders and allies secure the space to co-create new possibilities; and 4) they are always asking ‘what more is possible?’.
John and Beth identify six elements in a simple and powerful logic which underpins these journeys of personal discovery:
 We can express our common purpose as citizens an being to play our part in building communities that work better for everyone. The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of PersonsWith Disabilities offers an authoritative and comprehensive set of standards for what this means in the lives of disabled people if they are to achieve equal citizenship.
 These communities will be places where citizens offer one another opportunities to create and share ‘real wealth’, not just money but the good relationships, valued networks, development opportunities, etc. which contribute towards a full life.
 For people with learning disabilities, social inclusion is typically the result of courageous pathfinding through a life-long journey.
 This journey is more likely to be successful when pathfinders recruit personally committed allies (typically, but not only, starting with family) and skilful partners, including personal assistants and public sector managers, able to mobilise different kinds of support.
 Good allies and partners in the journey to full inclusion learn how to assist people to have valued experiences (respect, self-direction, belonging and contributing) which other citizens enjoy.
 This calls for fresh thinking and a process of social invention grounded in each person and their relationships.
Simple logic but in practice a deeply creative process in which pathfinders and their allies are fully engaged in a joint endeavour to realise their highest purposes. However Pathfinders is not an easy read for the very best of reasons: many parts of the text, whether individual stories, particular graphics or detailed arguments, require intense reflection and the interrogation of how they relate to our own experiences, if we are to draw insights for better practice. Let me illustrate this with three  important examples.
The sense that we are expressing our own will in what we do and how we live is at the core of being human. Article 12 of the UN Convention provides a legal framework for self-determination in its prescription that disabled people enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others and should have access to the support they require to exercise this right. This proposition is a radical challenge to much current practice in relation to people with learning disabilities, especially those who do not communicate in typical ways. John and Beth offer a thoughtful commentary on what it means to be an ally in facilitating their self-determination.
For many people with learning disabilities, the key partners in this journey to self-determination and inclusion are direct support staff (sometimes described as ‘personal assistants’). Despite the growth in individualised funding, most such staff are still employed by large, service providing organisations. John and Beth offer a detailed analysis of the direct support practices which best enable pathfinders to create their personal journeys to a fuller life and how these practices can be cultivated organisationally.
These journeys require pathfinders and their allies to engage in social invention: together they are seeking to build communities which work better for everyone as we see, for example, in the European New Paths programme and in the ongoing work of the Harlem Urban Innovators which they describe. Both these initiatives have been informed by an approach to social change embodied in Otto Scharmer’s Theory U discussed in more detail in the first blog in this series, dated 7th February 2015. In perhaps the most original contribution of the book, John and Beth offer a detailed exploration of how Theory U can guide a process of individual and group reflection which enables us to look with fresh eyes at the challenges we face and take creative action towards a better future.
Pathfinders is a book full of practical wisdom. It is a call to all of us to do whatever we can to greatly multiply the number of pathfinders making their own self-directed journeys to inclusion. I would add that we must also look to make common cause with others, for example who appreciate our need to live in better harmony with nature, in order to push back the rising tide of disadvantage so that these journeys can be pursued along a more gentle gradient.

Tackling the pathologies of contemporary Capitalism

The central theme in this series of blogs is the need to Raise Our Game so as to address current global challenges. Naomi Klein is an outstanding investigative journalist who chooses the biggest issues and studies them in depth. There is no bigger issue than the ways in which collectively we are destroying the natural world on which humanity depends for its future, especially through our failure to tackle global warming. Her latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Allen Lane, 2014) is a 500 page blockbuster, examining this challenge in the style of the best crime stories, with the added dimension of what can – and must – we do about it. It’s a ‘must read’ for all of us concerned to create a better future in which we live in harmony with each other and the natural world. As its sub-title implies, we cannot win this struggle unless we achieve radical change in the prevailing economic model embodied in globalisation, deregulation and corporate domination, in short, in contemporary Capitalism. There is no time to lose!
This book started from Naomi’s investigation of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Shocked by what she saw there, she widened her canvass and, five years later, this is the product. Along the way she discovered that the lack of agreement on international action to turn round the growth in emissions means that the 2 degrees Celsius target for limiting global warming is almost unattainable and there is a clear and present danger that we might reach 4 or even 6 degrees this Century with catastrophic consequences, unless we commit now to something much more radical, nothing less than a ‘Marshall plan’ for the Earth.
Why this failure? Essentially, as she puts this, the action we require conflicts with the deeply entrenched ideological pillars of the neo-liberal age – ‘privatisation of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lowering of taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending’.
She shows in detail how ‘free-trade’ (e.g. as expressed through World Trade Organisation rules) is being allowed to trump ‘green’ policies which require, for example, giving preference to local production; she shows how various kinds of ‘magical thinking’, for example, relating to carbon trading schemes and Dr. Strangelove style geo-engineering are being used to put off the need for regulation; and she shows how outright deception (like fossil fuel companies funding an alternative climate ‘science’) is seeking to confuse the public. Big money is also perverting the democratic process.
We see all this in the U.K. Fracking provides a current example. Our government is proposing a ‘dash for gas’, using methods with well-documented risks (e.g. to the water supply) while reducing incentives for investment in renewables. We can wonder who will profit from this set of priorities? There has been strong public resistance (e.g. in the village of Balcombe) to this assault on the countryside, so the same government is seeking to take away local control over planning, while lobbying within the European Union to scrap relevant safety laws. And just to add insult to injury, the Tory peer, Lord Howell (father-in-law of the Chancellor leading the dash for gas) helpfully offered the suggestion that we should concentrate fracking in what he imagines to be the ‘desolate’ and ‘uninhabited’ North East of England, rather than, of course, the ‘beautiful natural areas’ in the Tory South. (This is just one stark example of the rich elite being comfortable about damaging distant people and places while believing they can protect themselves from the consequences of their policies. They are wrong: there is no hiding-place from climate change although undoubtedly poor people and places are being asked to pay the biggest price.)
So what is to be done? Naomi Klein identifies a cluster of strategies which already are taking us in the right direction, if not yet to scale and certainly not everywhere. We can resist. Local communities, not least indigenous communities (sometimes using legal rights to land established with the original colonialists) can say ‘no’, for example to the Keystone XL pipeline proposed as one export route from the Alberta tar sands. We can campaign for disinvestment in fossil fuels and reinvestment in alternative economic strategies (renewable energy, public transport, sustainable farming, eco-system renewal etc.) like those developed in more detail by the New Economics Foundation. We can press for ‘polluter pays’ policies to raise funds for alternatives and accept international frameworks which recognise that the first countries to industrialise are not only economically richer than others but have a duty to pay most towards the necessary transition towards sustainability – now requiring ‘de-growth’ in the developed countries to leave some space for growth in the others. We can seek to curb the power of huge corporations, not least by re-empowering local communities (as we see, for example, in Germany where success in moving towards renewable energy has been greatly helped by municipalities taking back control of the power grids).
The meaning of This Changes Everything is that in order to successfully meet the challenge of protecting ourselves and our planet, we have to bring together efforts to strengthen democracy, including local democracy; tackle growing inequality; end the fetish of economic growth; and reinvent our relationship with nature. Interconnected efforts on the necessary scale require an interconnected – and international – social movement in which all of us play our part.
As Pope Francisco’s recent encyclical on climate change Laudato Si helpfully expresses this, we need to find a moral solution to this challenge, one that discards the belief that we can control nature and seeks to understand instead our place in nature and recognises that our own well-being is linked to that of others.

A focus on positive change through civic leadership

I was still reflecting on how best to build on the previous posting in this Raising Our Game series of blogs – focusing that is how we can best develop constructive responses to current political, economic and social challenges in a spirit of hope – when I came across an excellent new book by Robin Hambleton (Policy Press 2015):
LEADING THE INCLUSIVE CITY: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet
Strongly analytical but also deeply practical, this book is a great resource to raising our game at the level of the town and city i.e. through bold civic leadership. Let me try to summarise some of the main arguments and most inspirational examples.
Hambleton is at pains to emphasise, first, that although this is an academic text (there are 30 pages of references to leading work in this field or rather, many relevant fields), it is also an example of engaged scholarship: Robin has been working and learning with city leaders around the world since we first met as colleagues at the University of Bristol’s School for Advanced Urban Studies nearly 40 years ago. Second, this is not a book supplying ‘answers’, still less ‘best practices’: rather the ideas and examples are offered as a guide to civic leaders in their search for innovative ways of meeting contemporary challenges in their own cities. By civic leaders here he certainly means elected politicians, but also those playing managerial and professional roles, community activists and people in local business and trade union organisations, with an interest in urban development at different levels from the grass roots upwards.
His aim then is to stimulate practical efforts to improve the quality of life in cities in the face of global trends towards rapid urbanisation, greater inequality, increasing diversity and environmental degradation.
But this is not a pessimistic analysis. On the contrary the book offers a grounded vision of a better future and an optimistic account of the role of civic leadership in achieving positive change. One highlight of the book is the inclusion of 17 of what Hambleton calls ‘Innovation Stories’, case studies of illuminating developments in a wide variety of cities around the world, including Ahmedabad in India, Chicago in the USA, Freiburg in Germany, Hamamatsu in Japan and Melbourne in Australia.
Hambleton’s main themes are all captured in the extended title for this book. He sees place-based and therefore democratic leadership as an essential counter-weight to the place-less power of corporate and unaccountable elites in a globalised world, pursuing short-term profit with little regard to its human and environmental consequences. (He stresses Michael Sandel’s argument that markets need to serve society and not the other way round.)
He suggests that progressive civic leadership should be concerned with building sustainable and inclusive cities, not one or the other. By sustainable here he means living within environmental limits and valuing our relationship with the rest of nature. (‘Nature needs a distinct seat at the urban governance tables if cities are to be ecologically resilient.’) By inclusive, he means enabling everyone to participate fully in the life of the city in a spirit of equal political, economic and social citizenship. (A whole chapter is devoted to ways of making increasing diversity – arising for example from urban migration – an advantage. Here the most impressive story is from Toronto, a rapidly growing city where more than half the population have been born elsewhere.)
Hambleton is currently the Professor of City Leadership at the University of the West of England. Naturally the nature of this progressive leadership is key to his argument and this receives extended discussion. He identifies what he calls the New Civic Leadership as involving ‘strong place-based leadership acting to co-create new solutions to public problems by drawing on the complementary strengths of civil society, the market and the state’. Typically this involves creating new spaces for people with different interests and perspectives to come together to develop a compelling vision of a sustainable and inclusive future and engage in a process of social discovery which tests better ways of doing things towards this goal.
More concretely this involves efforts to both strengthen democratic urban governance and promote public service innovation. The Innovation Stories offer more detail. In relation to the former, for example, the carefully considered reform of institutional structures in Auckland, New Zealand, created a unitary structure for governance capable of both developing and delivering a long term plan for the city. Nearer home, in Bristol, public support for an elected mayor has given the first incumbent in this role the opportunity to offer visible leadership for the city, not just the council. And in Sweden, a wide coalition of civic leaders in Malmo are transforming a declining industrial town into a modern ‘eco-city’, partly through strong decentralisation of services to the neighbourhood level and a focus on environmental sustainability.
In relation to the latter, service innovation, Guangzhou in China is one of a growing number of the world’s megacities which has invested in a Bus Rapid Transit system coupled with extensive bike use to provide cheap and sustainable public transport. Langrug, an informal settlement near Stellenbosch in South Africa, has employed a community development approach to both empowering local people and improving living conditions. And Copenhagen in Denmark is just one well-known European city which has changed the culture of city life, making it more ‘people friendly’, by recovering public space from motor vehicles to make it available to pedestrians, cyclists and street activities, while also ‘greening’ the environment.
Clearly this short summary cannot do justice to the richness of experience and analysis Leading The Inclusive City contains. There are many more lessons and inspirations here for civic leaders everywhere prepared to combine considered judgement with bold action to make a positive difference in our towns and cities and thus advance a better life for all.

Raising our game post the U.K. General Election

Each year in early May the Centre for Inclusive Futures hosts a networking reception informed by the ‘World Café’ method. People taking leadership roles at all levels from family life to national policy-making meet to celebrate work done in the preceding year, sustain and extend relationships and share their learning with other participants with the aim of enhancing our contributions in the coming year.

To structure conversation around the third of these aims we always have a ‘big question’. On the 12th May, around 40 of us met four days after the U.K. General Election results were declared. Our big question was an obvious one:

Looking forward after the General Election, what are the promising opportunities and strategies for building more sustainable and inclusive communities in the coming years?

In truth, many of us were still angry, disappointed or anxious about the outcome of the election and the prospects of another five years of Conservative government, given the huge damage done by the previous Coalition to the social fabric of our country and the lives of people at risk of disadvantage. And indeed the new government had already lost no time in confirming some of its worst intentions, for example, the abolition of the Human Rights Act. (Of course, we appreciated that our friends in Scotland may have reason to see things differently.)

So our initial thoughts following the Election probably focused more on concerns about further damage to vulnerable people and our communities likely to arise from dishonest, divisive and discriminatory policies. But I think we all understood that however justified our disappointment, we need to move on to explore how best to make constructive responses driven by hope, not fear. In short, to raising our game, the common thread of this new series of blogs.

We were helped here by a recent publication from the New Economics Foundation (nef), introduced to us by its co-author Sarah Lyall, Responding to austerity: How groups across the U.K. are adapting, challenging and imagining alternatives. We were inspired by a blog already published by another participant, Sally Warren, Let’s be fierce not furious! And Philippa Russell reminded us that 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The DDA did more than any legislation in the last century to improve the rights of disabled people but it was highly controversial at the time. Although some of those rights have been weakened in the last five years, the DDA still represents a landmark on the long road to civil rights for disabled people. We need to safeguard the DDA provisions and also remind ourselves that we have achieved much against considerable opposition at times!

In World Café style, we set out on an evening of rotating small group discussions to share ideas and experiences. Of course, I was only party to a small proportion of what were probably hundreds of different conversations but this method makes space for a plenary session in which participants share insights and examples which have impressed them. I have drawn on these ideas in the summary which follows. I have tried to identify 8 key principles to inform our thinking and action – and illustrate these more concretely with promising examples.

Eight Principles

  • Stay grounded in our values while always seeking to imagine better ways of meeting these in contemporary Britain

We want to see our society as one which values diversity, welcomes everyone as equal citizens and seeks to use all our contributions in building a better future – one in which we live in harmony with ourselves, each other and our natural world. Put more technically, we always need to be creating actions which recognise the connections between, and aspire to meet the ‘triple bottom line’ of environmental protection, sustainable economies and greater social justice.

I myself like the formulation of these aims from the economist Tim Jackson (‘Prosperity Without Growth’): Real prosperity ‘resides in the quality of our lives and the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.’

Jo Kidd shared with some of us ideas behind her latest community initiative – the Abbots Mill Project. This project is creating a centre for sustainability and social justice, using power from renewable resources, principally through re-instating a waterwheel into one of the mill races of the former Abbot’s Mill in the centre of Canterbury. The project teaches people about living in harmony with our natural environment, with non-human animals and with each other. It is a peaceful, welcoming and accessible place for all. Simultaneously it is fostering concern for the environment, recreating local economic assets (e.g. green energy production) and modelling social inclusion.

  • Help each other to stay strong

We need to be prepared for (continuing!) a long struggle. Effective action requires vision and courage. We are at our best when we find ways of supporting each other when things are difficult and inspiring each other through sharing experiences.

Sally’s blog, referred to above, commits her organisation,   Paradigm, to continue its investment in supporting networks which ‘connect people, ideas and action’. The World Café method itself is a powerful way of providing a ‘safe space’ for a diverse range of people to explore common challenges and seek to create a shared understanding of positive ways forward.

  • Challenge the indefensible! 

Much of current economic and social policy is ‘sold’ on the basis of misleading commentary (the false narrative on the requirement for public sector ‘austerity’, the myth of ‘shared sacrifice’, the rhetoric against ‘welfare’ and those who need public support). This context is easily exploited by the unscrupulous (the government itself in fostering prejudice against poor and disabled people, rogue landlords, extortionate loan companies, etc.) We need the courage and organisation to challenge negative ideas and actions.

Nef’s ‘Responding to austerity’ study details many examples of people fighting back, from the ‘Hardest Hit’ collective which exposes the disproportionate burdens imposed on disabled people to the campaign of ‘Psychologists Against Austerity’, which warns about the current increase in mental/emotional distress . We might add the recent emergence of the Learning Disability Alliance as a new campaigning organisation supporting the voice of people with learning disabilities at the national level.

  • ‘Be the change you want to see’

This quotation attributed (not entirely accurately) to Gandhi still captures an important principle. We have most control over what we do ourselves. We need to demonstrate inclusion and compassion in our own daily lives and especially reach out to people at particular risk of disadvantage. This is the starting point for linking personal experience, local action and our aspirations for a better future.

Paul Davies told some of us about his experience as an independent member of the panels undertaking care and treatment reviews for people in ‘Assessment and Treatment Units’ for return to their communities. For many the ‘system’ seems to have lost sight of their essential humanity. It lacks the capacity to really listen to people, hear their story and act with compassion and urgency. We need the courage to see people as they really are and stand alongside them in regaining their personhood. In a different context, Jackie Downer and Sheila Hollins told us about ‘Books Beyond Words’ and ways of using them (for example in book clubs) that enable people, who are often not heard, to grow in their own lives and find new ways of expressing themselves, but equally importantly help their supporters to understand the realities of people’s lives.

Philippa reminded us of the importance of enabling people to be creative and  recognise themselves as active citizens. She described her son’s and his friends’ involvement in ‘Partners in Art’ and the value to creating spaces where everyone can come and share talents, ideas, and new relationships. She commented that in some places, personalisation and personal budgets had ‘opened doors’ for people with learning disabilities and their families, but felt that we all had to be part of a social movement to protect and ‘grow’ our communities. She felt that the commemoration of VE Day the previous week was a useful reminder that (to quote Churchill) ‘great things can grow from disasters if it was the will of the people’.  

  • Get involved wherever possible with fellow citizens taking action for a better future

Austerity is having multiple local impacts like dependence on food banks, eviction from one’s home and increased exposure to ‘hate crime’. We have a rich tradition of community activism in the U.K. Building on Principal 4, we can strengthen local initiatives and campaigns by ‘joining up’ ourselves and seeking to ensure that this resistance is itself inclusive.

For example, food banks need volunteers and volunteers can demonstrate solidarity with all those facing food poverty. ‘Focus E15 Mothers’, the campaign defending housing rights in Newham has gained national attention by attracting wider participation. People facing prejudice and hate crime can gain from personal support and advocacy. And credit unions and time banks are valuable means of offering mutual aid.

  • Demonstrate elements in an alternative vision through many practical examples

Otto Scharmer, in his development of ‘Theory U’, calls this ‘prototyping’ – not just imagining a better world but trying out various ways of creating this and thus strengthening our capacity to share persuasive new stories. In turn, we can spread innovation by what Margaret Wheatley (in ‘Walk Out, Walk On’) calls ‘scaling across’.

This, of course, is how the ‘An Ordinary Life’ initiative built nation-wide support for closing institutions and enabling people with learning disabilities to return to their communities. Nic Crosby shared with some of us an important current demonstration of this vision in the work of In Control’s ‘Children’s Programme’, which is helping ‘looked after’ children placed ‘out of area’ to return to their families and engaging ‘upstream’ to prevent family break-down. This programme makes use of public policies which permit individuals and families to have personal (health and social care) budgets. Its success (e.g. in Middlesborough) relies on a common sense approach which focuses on the strengths of young people and their communities, emphasises the value of relationships and works with the young people, their families and others in their lives to discover ‘what would it take’ to enable them to succeed.

  • Listen to and seek to build relationships with people who are not yet ‘on our side’

Fellow citizens and people in different roles may, of course, have different perspectives and attitudes. But we can’t build a new society just with those who agree with us. We need to take a ‘mindfulness’ approach to understanding others (‘listening with quiet mind and open heart’) and in so doing, perhaps discover ways of creating common ground.

Noelle Blackman told us a positive story of how her therapeutic organisation, at risk of needing to rent new premises, had sought a dialogue with their commercial landlords and reached a new agreement based in mutual respect. Sue Carmichael talked to some people about the relationship building she has been doing to interest librarians in welcoming a new audience not usually seen in libraries (people with learning disabilities) to Books Beyond Words book clubs.

  • Build alliances with other groups and organisations to advance a wider agenda

This is an extension to Principal 7. As we have noted earlier, communities (and municipalities) face inter-connected challenges, for example in relation to delivering environmental protection, economic sustainability and social justice. Yet even in the field of disability, there has been a history of associations based on different impairments working separately for their particular interests. And not engaging with other associations concerned for example with responding to climate change or protecting employment rights. Yet by recognising inter-connections in these challenges and mapping local assets (thinking for example about the interests and contributions of local government, the NHS, universities, trade unions, churches and the wide variety of civil society associations) we may find ‘win – win’ strategies and strengthen our capacity for effective action.

There are many potential examples. Energy costs are a big factor in household poverty. Waste of energy is significant in the slow progress being made to address global warming. A big programme to promote local energy production and insulate houses would address both challenges and promote employment. To take another example, the NHS and its suppliers are typically the largest local employer. Many disabled people, including people with learning disabilities, have work skills and a reputation for reliability but are disproportionally excluded from the labour market. NHS efforts to boost employment of disabled people (e.g. following the ‘Project Search’ model) simultaneously contribute to stability in the workforce, improving the health and well-being of these people and strengthening a culture of inclusiveness in the NHS itself.

 

Taking Action 

In the words of Alice Walker ‘We are the people we have been waiting for!’ We can try each day to take some action, often small, to make a positive difference – and link up these efforts to achieve more substantial change. Understanding the reality of people’s lives, imagining a better future, building stronger networks, doing something about it. The box below summarises our eight principles. 

Raising Our Game: Eight Principles

  • Stay grounded in our values while always seeking to imagine better ways of meeting these in contemporary Britain
  • Help each other to stay strong
  • Challenge the indefensible!
  • ‘Be the change you want to see’
  • Get involved wherever possible with fellow citizens taking action for a better future
  • Demonstrate elements in an alternative vision through many practical examples
  •  Listen to and seek to build relationships with people who are not yet ‘on our side’
  •  Build alliances with other groups and organisations to advance a wider agenda