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...]

Some Barriers to Engagement

What are the things that make 'engaging' harder than it need be?  Here is my personal starter for 10... Cost Location/Access Methods and practices that are culturally biassed Corporatism (I have become increasingly disengaged with the Olympics as it more becomes just a platform for Coca Cola, McDonalds and co.) Obfuscation ( the hiding of intended meaning) Procedural issues - closed meetings, delayed agendas, delayed minutes Fear - will I look a fool? Fear - will I make enemies? It will be a waste of time - engage or not - it makes no odds Emphasis on events over process (we consult or hold a focus group rather than engage in a dialogue over time) Language - use of jargon Language that is highly gendered or stereotyped Culture - lack of capacity to bring people in, to help them learn Any more...? Interested in how we can dismantle some of these barriers? … [Read more...]

Getting to Grips with Social Finance – FREE TRAINING

Urban Forum has FREE places available on the following half-day seminar on Getting to Grips with Social Finance. 21st June 2012 in Wakefield Social Investment? Community Finance? Charity Bonds? Crowdfunding? What does it all mean and what does it have to do with us? In these times of austerity, public service transformation and changes to voluntary and community sector funding, there is a greater emphasis on new forms of financing social action through social investment. In a nutshell it's about using money to achieve both social outcomes or ‘returns', as well as financial ones. These seminars, organised with local and national partners, will: Provide an overview of social investment and community finance Share some practical examples of how new funding models can be used Discuss practical implications for community organisations Enable participants to explore how to assess whether social finance can work for them Signpost to available sources of support CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK YOUR FREE PLACE The Getting to Grips with Social Finance workshop programme is being supported by the Santander … [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...]

How Should We Recognise a Successful Economy?

Seems to me that everyone thinks a 'successful economy' is critical to our future, but what characteristics would a 'successful economy' exhibit? The Ideal? It would exhibit private sector led growth Environmentally sustainable Reducing levels of relative poverty Reducing levels of health inequalities Increasing levels of health and well-being Increasing levels of employment with jobs that are doing 'good work' or as Cllr Walshaw suggests 'dignity of endeavour' Providing opportunities to work based on the culture, skills and passions of people as well as the commercial goals and employability demands of employers It would serve all people - rather than distort them to serve its demands It would provide access to services necessary for all to live a becoming existence The Current Reality? It would exhibit private sector led growth That's it. The wealth created may then be used to build a better society.     … [Read more...]

Jane Jacobs on Neighbourhoods in Action Pay attention to what local people want?  Now THERE is an idea. … [Read more...]

Inward Investment – What’s the problem?

Inward investment - the short cut to a prosperous and fair city where all of our communities can flourish? But, what exactly is it? It is the process where an investor believes that this is the best place to put their money to get a secure and sufficient return.  They may invest by setting up a factory or, more likely these days, an office or call centre.  And most cities employ specialist teams to attract inward investment - to present the best case for their city or region as an investment proposition. But it can go further than this. We may be able to offer specific incentives to investors to bring their money and their jobs to our city.  We may provide them with low or no-cost infrastructure, or other benefits such as an enterprise zone where they may enjoy high speed broadband, simplified planning requirements  and reduced business rates. So inward investment becomes a highly competitive, and sometimes very expensive process to get those scarce investors to being their money to our city.  Inward investment teams are under pressure to deliver, and the dynamic gets interesting as sassy 'investors' play country off against country, region against region, city against city and even neighbourhood against … [Read more...]

Big society was never a government initiative

It was a label to put on the self-sufficient work that communities have always done, and the capacity for which, over many decades a series of governments have effectively eroded. As McKnight says 'competent communities have been invaded, captured, and colonized by professionalized services' and I would say seriously weakened as a consequence. Now that some debt needs paying off, and the 'professional services' are being withdrawn, the ask is that we pick up where we left off, as if all that capacity and capability could just be turned on and off like a tap. And, that instead of focussing on real needs, we focus instead on how we can help these professionalised service providers to maintain their empires through 'volunteering'. Sadly many of us have been complicit in the professionalisation of services as we convert civic endeavours into social enterprises and re focus community development on state funded policy objectives - instead of having confidence to work on the priorities that we find at our own kitchen tables and at the places where, increasingly rarely, our neighbours meet. So for me it is about re-discovering self-sufficiency, self-interest and association as the means through which we can build … [Read more...]

Bonsai People in a Bonsai Culture?

Bonsai = An ornamental tree or shrub grown in a pot and artificially prevented from reaching its normal size The bonsai is not a genetic variant but has within it the potential to become a fully grown tree.  However it is carefully cultivated to meet the demanding requirements of the gardener.  It is fed few nutrients, kept in shallow soil, not allowed to form deep roots, continually pruned and kept 'in proportion'; shaped to the precise requirements of the gardener and the specifications of their profession. Bonsai People Bonsai people have had their development limited, distorted and shaped by the influence of their environment rather more than it has been driven by their own potential and aspirations.  To an extent we are all Bonsai People.  But some people have been more bonsaid than others. And some seem to be very content with their bonsai nature.  While others are frustrated at the sensation that there must be something more in them than this. Yesterday I was on the phone with Rich Huxley and we were talking about developing musicians. I told him of a mentor in Leeds who had boasted to me about how they had worked with a 14 year old boy whose ambition was 'to be the best bass guitarist in the world' … [Read more...]


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