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...]

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...]

Some thoughts on Collaboration and Innovation

Don't do it unless you have to! If you know what it is that you want to achieve, and you have the power to do it without collaborating then JFDI.  Collaboration is a tool best left in toolbox. unless you have the right job for it. What are you collaborating for? Be really clear on what you want the collaboration to achieve, both for you, your preferred, chosen collaborator (more on this later) and your service users or customers.  What impact do you want the collaboration to make? Develop the vision and rationale for the collaboration - but leave the detailed planning till later Finding the right collaborators depends on having a vision that is credible, compelling and achievable.  But leave plenty of room for your collaborators to get on board with you in refining the vision and getting down and dirty with shaping goals, projects and plans.  You want them to be collaborators remember - not just hired hands... Choose your collaborators with care Make sure that your collaborators being resources, abilities, skills, something to the party that you don't have but that you need to achieve what it is that matters most to you.  Collaborations that bring to the game more of what you already have tend not to … [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...]

Some thoughts on Best City outcomes

The only test of 'best city' is not a position in a league table, but some very personal answers to a complex set of questions, which may include.... Is this the 'best city' for me and my loved ones? Is this the best place for me to make a life of fulfilment, dignity and pride? Will I find people that are willing to challenge and support me with compassion? Will I find opportunities to be stimulated, provoked and changed? Will I find it possible to connect with others with whom I share a common cause? Will I find the space and support to do my best work? Will I find myself in a political, social and cultural system that accepts my values and beliefs? Will it encourage the production of goods and services necessary for a becoming existence or will it do almost anything in pursuit of growth? Will it respect and nurture micro-enterprise, sole traders, makers, community groups and individual activists as much as it 'establishes proactive relationships' with 'large corporate employers'? Is this a place where I can help to shape a better future for my children and theirs? What kind of 'city development' processes would be necessary to allow the majority of us to be able to answer most of these … [Read more...]

To mentor…

http://vimeo.com/43735416 If you want to find yourself a great mentor, then in my experience best avoid those mentor matching services... … [Read more...]

Making Progress Through Austerity

There can be little doubt that these are relatively tough times in the UK, and the minds of many are focussed on how best to make progress when it feels like everything is being cut. But most of those who are thinking about it are the professionals, who control budgets for the delivery of services or front-line service providers trying to figure out how to stop things getting dangerous as they are stretched further and further.  The assumption is that the job remains to be done, that they are the ones to do it, and they need to figure what they are going to do to make the best adjustments that they can. But supposing they took a different tack?  Suppose they invited citizens in to explore the challenges that they face and how they might be met, how ordinary citizens might be able to use their resources, time, knowledge, skills and sometimes perhaps cash, to help? So, for example, we might invite citizens to explore issues around poverty in an area, and what they might be able to do about it.  And we might end up with something like Disrupting Poverty in Leeds ask people to think about what they can do about empty properties in Leeds and end up with something  like Empty Homes ask residents to explore how … [Read more...]

Smile or Die – Why I don’t subscribe blindly to the school of positive thinking

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5um8QWWRvo … [Read more...]

Shaking Up Education in Leeds

I trained as a teacher in Leeds back in the 1980s.  And ever since there has been nothing but 'shake-ups in education'.  Nine years as a School Governor in the city was characterised by a succession of initiatives, mostly from Whitehall, to be dealt with. But inspite of all of this change, very little real progress.  You don't believe that rise in examination results every year for the last 29 do you? So what happens when you float a radical idea related to education in the city?  A senior public sector manager snorts loudly and says 'That'll never happen'. Nice.  Way to go.  Innovation Central.  Thank you! The idea?  Not a manifesto.  Not even a proposal.  Just an idea.... What if every school in the city carried the same proportion of pupils from poor homes?  Instead of some schools having no 'poor kids' and others having a majority, why not find ways to ensure that every school has a very similar profile of wealth in its population? What might the impact be on the quality of education right across the city? Or how about this? Why not take the money that we currently spend on inward investment and tourism in the city and instead use it to reduce class sizes across Leeds?  We might then attract … [Read more...]

The Age of Stupid

http://vimeo.com/2992103 … [Read more...]

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