The Challenges of ‘Engaging Community Leaders’

I attended Leaders for Leeds this morning - a breakfast meeting that connects a group of people who are trying to work on achieving 'best city' outcomes, aka make Leeds a better place to live.  I jotted down a few notes, some taken from our conversations and some capturing thoughts that I didn't have time to express, and these form the basis of what I have written here. The theme of the session was 'Engaging Community Leaders' exploring the premise that Leaders for Leeds needs to get more and different people and perspectives into its network.  We were invited to explore what might need to happen for more community leaders to show up.  This raised a number of interesting issues in our conversation and the thoughts it prompted in me: What do we mean by community?  Geography? Interest group? Ethnic group? Faith based group? Age group?  Community is a weasel word.  We can utter it with gravity and credibility while conferring on it no specific meaning.  It is a broad signaller of intent, with no specific commitment or rationale attached.  I reckon what we actually mean by 'community' is often 'target population'.  Except Leaders for Leeds has no 'targets'.  We are not clear on whose voice we want in the room and why. … [Read more...]

Wendell Berry’s Plan to Save the World

http://vimeo.com/76120469 … [Read more...]

Strengthening Bottom Up

Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society', people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done. The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development.  To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in. But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy…. Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as: Progress Schools Community Conversations Local Community Enterprise Accelerators (‘Elsies’) Innovation Labs and Results Factories These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks … [Read more...]

Top Down: Bottom Up

Top Down Development Top down development is characterised by usually a small number of people recruited or elected to develop a ‘strategy’ that will lead to progress. The ‘strategy’ is usually accompanied by a ‘plan’, where costed elements are prioritised and scheduled for delivery in the full expectation that things will, as a result, get better. The strategy and its associated plans are usually supported with evidence and feasibility studies showing just why this is the right course of action and how benefits will accrue and to whom.  In recent years it seems we have stopped worrying about 'to whom the benefits will accrue' and accepting that the trickle down fairy will ensure that any wealth and wellbeing created by the plan will be enjoyed by all. Top down development is also characterised by: delegation down a chain of command to manage implementation - this is not always well managed fierce discussions about the correct allocation of scarce resources - this can divert us from real issues and burn millions disputes about chosen methodologies and the viability of alternatives - as everyone tries to get a piece of the planning budget piloting and subsequent rolling out of schemes and plans - a … [Read more...]

City of Dreams

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASakZcC0w8Q I'm a street sweeper in your city of dreams Yeah, I'm a street sweeper in your city of dreams Sweepin up the paper cups between the limousines Street sweeper in your city of dreams Thousands of windows, I'm scared of what I see Thousands of windows, I'm so scared of what I see People wired up to telephones, plugged into tv screens Thousands of windows, I'm so scared of what I see Lookin at the sky above, higher than these neon names I'm lookin at the sky above, higher than these neon names You can't buy and sell the clouds, they aint among the commodities we trade Lookin at the sky above, higher than these neon names I'm waitin for the city of god Yeah, I'm waitin for the city of god When what is will be what was Waitin for the city of god I'm a street sweeper in your city of dreams Yeah, I'm a street sweeper in your city of dreams Sweepin up the paper cups between the limousines Street sweeper in your city of dreams … [Read more...]

Company Town?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MqLAxlYGn0 … [Read more...]

Enterprise, community and complexity….

Enterprise, community and complexity.  Slippery words.  But behind the slippery words are concepts that offer the possibility of progress. Lets start with 'enterprise'.  First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about 'business starts', 'cash flow forecasts', 'profits' and 'Dragons'. I am not. I am talking about enterprise as a measure of 'agency' in one's own life.  The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what 'progress' (another slippery word) means for them and to take action in its pursuit.  This is what I mean by enterprise.  It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit).  An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it.  An enterprising community is one which has many such people - because they are valued and supported. Being enterprising does not make you a good person.  It just makes you someone who is acting in, what you believe to be, your own self-interest.  If self-interest is 'enlightened' then it is likely that the resulting 'enterprise' will make a positive contribution to … [Read more...]

Visions of the Anointed or Civic Enterprise?

Vision of the Anointed is the title of a book by Thomas Sowell, an American historian, economist and social commentator.   The anointed are usually a small group of 'professionals' and 'political leaders', or 'campaigners' and their work frequently follows a well trodden path: They identify a crisis - a situation that, if not addressed, will lead to disaster They propose policies and interventions to 'solve' the crisis that they believe will lead to a positive set of results The policies are implemented and the results are usually (always) mixed.  There will be both benefits and detriments associated with the implementation of policy The anointed defend the success of their vision and the policies and impacts that sprung from it. We can see this dynamic playing out now with climate change, peak oil, low carbon economics, the benefits culture, anti social behaviour, drug misuse and so on. This archetype for social change is based on an assumption that the problems of society can be identified by the anointed and can be resolved by their vision.  Where does this leave the 'unanointed'.  Those of us who aren't involved in the process of identification of problems and development of vision?  Well we can adopt … [Read more...]

The Specious Notion That Everybody Has to Earn a Living…

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” Buckminster Fuller … [Read more...]

An imaginary open letter: To those who would ‘engage’ us…

To those who would 'engage' us... We are already engaged. We may not be engaged with you, or in what you think we should be engaged with, but none the less we ARE engaged. The things that we are engaged with offer us what we are looking for, perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Our chosen 'engagements' give us some combination of love, power and money. There is a fourth thing that some of us get from our preferred engagement, and that is freedom from pain. Freedom from the pain of hope denied. Freedom from the pain of optimism dashed. Freedom from the humiliation of yet another 'failure'. This pursuit of freedom from pain is what you label 'apathy'. We may choose to engage with you, and your agendas, if you offer us what we want. Unless we see possibilities for this our engagement with you is likely to be short lived and will change nothing. It might be enough for you to tick the box called 'community engagement', but little more.  Love and fun might attract us for a while, but it is making us powerful that keeps us engaged. Many of us who you find 'hard to reach' or 'difficult to engage' have 'been engaged' with people like you before. We have been sold false hope and have suffered the pain of having that … [Read more...]

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