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...]

Spock Logic or McCoy Compassion – where should we start?

What should we do when we are asked to help someone develop their project, and we really don't like what we see? Top to bottom, wall to wall the project just seems to be full of problems.  To our eye it seem poorly conceived, badly executed and almost pre-destined to fail. Where should we start? Well the classic 'expert' approach is to diagnose the problems and put them on the table.  We confront them with the reality of the situation as WE see it.  If our relationship is strong enough and our credibility is robust they might just take it on board.  But more often than not what we get is denial, and shown the door. Because this is a person who has taken their very best shot, using the resources they have available to make something happen. It is as if they had shown us a photo of their children and we respond by rattling through a list of their obvious deficiencies 'bad skin', 'overweight', 'terrible dress sense' and 'awful smile'.  We might be trying to help, but.... ...this IS their baby.... So, when someone shows us their idea and asks us to help, and we see it as full of flaws where should we start? By pointing out 'the obvious' or rolling up our sleeves and helping? What will really … [Read more...]

Leadership – mass participation or elite sport?

How does a community get the leadership that it needs to thrive? Is it a question of finding an elite cadre of movers and shakers, networking them, hot-housing them and amplifying their power? Or is it about offering the opportunity for anyone to 'lead' on whatever matters most to them, their loved ones and their neighbours? Can we design leadership development processes that: support and reward mass participation? are inclusive rather than exclusive? respect local starting conditions (values, cultures and issues)? Certainly this kind of leadership development is possible. By giving people space to talk about what matters to them and encouraging them to think through what they can do about it and whether they want to move from words to actions we can find 'leaders'.  But they rarely see themselves as such.  They don't see their agenda as being 'leadership'.  They may see it as developing a 'local community website', or 'starting an urban gardening project' or 'finding opportunities for young people to learn and earn in our community'.  There are plenty of people looking to do plenty of good things and the truth is that what we usually describe as 'Leadership Development'  is unlikely to help them … [Read more...]

The Purpose of a City: economic development or something more?

Why do we choose to live cities?  What are they for? Well, for many of us they are 'Where the jobs are'.  We don't choose to live in or near them.  We do so because that is how our economy is configured.  We are drawn into they city and 'enslaved' by it and the economy is exists to serve.  But many of us are, on the whole, happy slaves as the city fathers and their investor friends ensure we are regularly supplied with both  'bread and circuses', superficial means of appeasement, from which they too can often make a handsome profit. And, on one level, this is a purpose of the city. To organise a modern population effectively and efficiently for the benefit of employers and those who bankroll and tax them.  They are above all else economic entities, where 'culture' and 'community' play secondary roles as part of the mechanisms for appeasement while the primary narrative is about the economy, productivity, profitability and gross domestic product. As Margaret Thatcher put it "Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul." But, we can look at a city differently. We could choose to believe that "Head, heart and soul are the method; the object is to change the economy" We can choose to see the … [Read more...]

Disrupting Poverty in Leeds – The Results Factory

Leeds aspires to be The Best City in the UK. But to the 23% of Leeds’ children who live in poverty, rising to almost 50% in some communities, this must seem a very distant goal. What can we do about it? The Results Factory is about generating ideas and making them happen. In under 3 hours, we will come together, develop ideas and leave with action plans. Whether you need people to help get a project up and running, or whether you have time you want to use, we’ll find practical ways to start disrupting poverty in our city. Our aim is to leave with clear actions that will make a difference.  You don’t need to be a professional in the field or have particular expertise.  All we need from you is an open mind and a desire to change things. So, join us on Friday 27th April to help us to Disrupt Poverty in Leeds. http://dispov.eventbrite.co.uk/ … [Read more...]

‘The Impotence of All Governments…’

A provocative phrase used by Jeremy Paxman last night to describe the inability of any government to effectively manage an effective path through the current economic crisis. But we could extend it to many other areas of our lives.  The impotence of governments to: build the affordable houses that we need provide the stable macro-economic climate in which trade can thrive keep significant numbers of our citizens, young and old, out of poverty equip people with the skills and attitudes required to thrive in the 21st century reduce carbon emissions to a level that mitigates the risk of significant environmental trauma provide affordable, sustainable and efficient mass transit systems Here in Leeds we have got to the point where all political parties see the construction of a new station at Kirkstall as some kind of triumph.  Building one station that will serve a few thousand people in a city of nearly 800 000.  A new station that will provide the key infrastructure link to enable further private sector development in that area of the city.  I just hope that any future planning application gets the balance of affordable housing right, otherwise I suspect we will see the poor once again displaced in the … [Read more...]

From Words to Actions…

...has been a theme that has taken up a lot of my thought and practice for the last few years.  Seeding conversations on 'things that matter' seems to be quite a straightforward and affordable task. But helping to get from words to actions proves to be a much more challenging.  And, when all is said and done, perhaps it is what is done that really counts. More conversations leading to more actions... In part it is just a numbers game.  If 1 in a 100 conversations spawns some planned action than perhaps we just need to have more conversations.  But so often when we try to have more conversations we just repeat the same old conversations.  Groundhog day. Different conversations leading to more actions... So it is not just more conversations that we need. But different conversations too.  Conversations that will help us to play with new ideas and new possibilities.  And we can learn how to have such conversations and get better at them.  But we can also encourage them just by talking with different people with different perspectives.  And the challenge of finding different people welcoming them into a convivial conversation, helping them to find their voice and really hearing them should not be under-estimated! But … [Read more...]

What Is Leeds Like?

This is the title of a new photography competition being run by Leeds City Council.  The public are invited to submit their snaps that capture for them what Leeds is like in 2011. And the prize for What Is Leeds Like?  The council and its partners may use your images in a report and in any other publication they wish, to portray the city. On the one hand I admire the enterprise.  No doubt, strapped for cash, they can't afford to commission a professional, or even to buy some of the existing great product of the Leeds photography community.  A quick search on flickr for Leeds 2011 produces over 28 000 images. But  it feels a little one sided... Is there a qualitative difference between professionally commissioned and briefed city portraiture and the chocolate box approach of a 'send us your snaps' competition?  Is there a danger of de-professionalising photography?  Or is it just another creative industry that needs to wake up to the fact that we are all creatives now? So what could the council do that would meet its requirements for low/no cost but high quality photography and provide a meaningful and powerful platform for Leeds photographers? So, Leeds photographers, what would you value as a prize in such a … [Read more...]

Time to declare our interdependence?

This looks interesting! … [Read more...]

Community, Cultural and Economic Development – On a Shoestring…

This is the modest challenge I have set myself. A challenge for several reasons.  Firstly these phenomena are usually divided up and tackled by different teams, using different professional jargon, working to different policy objectives in different departments and sectors (for profit, public and third). Tackling community, cultural and economic development as a kind of holy trinity vitally important.  Yet we usually separate them and often end up with economic development that breaks community or ignores culture and vice versa... Another challenge is the fixation that many policy makers and leaders have with 'big ticket' solutions.  Want to stimulate culture?  Let's build an Arena or a Gallery?  Need to stimulate economic development?  How about an Enterprise Zone or a Technology Park?  Or, anyone for high speed trains?  Multi-million pound projects that rely on politicians, bureaucrats and professionals working together to invest millions.  In these austere times there are economic development consultancies that will write you papers on how to finance these projects using tax increment finances and other such stuff! But let's get back to basics on this. Community, Culture and Economy are like ying and yang, except … [Read more...]

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