Category Archives for "Mutuality"

Ebook cover: Community Development is Dead! (Long Live Community Development!) by Chris Sissons.

A Few Reflections on Community Development

I received an email from Paul King, who had downloaded my ebook, “Community Development is Dead: Long Live Community Development”.  See below if you would like to download the ebook.  In his email he offers a few reflections on community development in his experience.  I reproduce it here with his permission.

Paul King’s E-mail

I downloaded your ebook out of curiosity, because I am engaged both politically and ecclesiastically in forms of community development – though not necessarily along your lines.

 

When training in 1960/61 to be an education officer in the Colonial Civil Service I was introduced to TR Batten (see the comments), whom you refer to a little.  The context then was encouragement and facilitating community development both in rural life based on subsistence farming and in urban areas made up of people who had come to town in search of a better life – sometimes finding it, sometimes not.  A grotesque feature of the urban areas was that social welfare was financed in part through profits from ‘beer halls- crude sheds for the dispensing of ‘cibuku’.

 

Because I was actually appointed to teach French in the country’s leading high school for African men and boys, I did not refer again to Batten.

 

My second brush with community development was in Stoke on Trent 1970-75 when, as a Methodist minister, I found myself collaborating to some degree with the post-Seebohm social workers and with an over-elaborate good neighbour scheme. This was at the end of the pits and pots culture which has now largely evaporated, I think.

 

Now, In Chesterfield in retirement I am both Secretary of Christians Together for Chesterfield and Membership officer of the local Liberal Democrats, where the sustaining and fostering of community relations comes under both my hats.   Chesterfield is a fairly neighbourly place, dating from the same pits and pots culture of 1970 Stoke, but its bourgeois estates are not strong on community except where a fellow I know in the Libdems is running a Facebook for his estate and has 90 members.

 

So I am not much use to you, I fear, with your interest more in community development in economic terms.  But have you met the Sheffield Local Renewable Energy people?  They sound to be barking up the same tree as  you.

Why Not Share Your Story?

It’s great to receive emails like this and if you have similar stories to share, please comment on this post.  Or if you would like to publish a guest post, to share your story, please let me know.

Are Community Development Workers Consultants?

This blog connects a unique range of topics from website design to marketing to consultancy to community development. This feedback appeared in my inbox this week, asking: are community development workers consultants?

I know your blogs have included ruminations on the subject of consultants and consultancy. I suspect that the research being carried out by IVAR (Institute for Voluntary Action Research) will raise – if only by implication – the issue of the relationship between consultancy and community development. It might be interesting and helpful to look at this relationship; to look at the relationship between the role of consultants (your definition and others’ definitions) and the role of community development workers.

My suspicion is that there are some people, formerly CD workers, who are now consultants for organisations such as Big Local, who would claim to be still doing CD but in fact are no longer doing CD. Consultancy can be helpful, and so can CD, but claiming to do CD when you are not doing CD is probably not helpful.

The following thoughts are from my definition of consultancy. I don’t follow IVAR/Big Local. Do they employ their workers as consultants or community development workers?  Either way the question may be: are they doing community development?  My post about imbricated roles may help.

Expert and Non-Directive Consultancy

I have occasionally mentioned two types of consultancy, expert and non-directive (or coaching).  Organisations hire expert consultants to contribute specific skills.  So, a website designer or accountant are in effect expert consultants.  They offer a Done-for-You service and so usually save time and money.

Non-directive consultants help organisations by thinking through solutions to problems with them.  They in effect add brain power.  Their aim is to help at least one member of the organisation to learn new skills.

Of these two approaches (both have their strengths), the second is most compatible with community development.  Development workers used to say they are appointed to work themselves out of their job.  A claim I suspect most often honoured in its breach.

There is no doubt coaching is an appropriate approach to community development.  It benefits local activists because it equips them to do the work they need to do to further their aims.  It is certainly superior to training, a skillset that usually prioritises accreditation of activists.

Are Development Workers Coaches?

Is there more to community development than coaching?  With a degree of caution I incline to the view activities beyond coaching are not essential.  Why?  Most other skills are more like expert consultancy, doing things for others.  If you are good at and enjoy organising meetings, the chances are your aptitude for that task may prevent you from coaching.

But I am not saying coaching and community development are the same.  Good development workers are coaches.  But not all coaches are development workers.  Experience in the field is important.  Many coaches might cope and do well in a community development project but experience of working with the unique pressures of development work also counts for something.

Has this post been helpful?  Leave a comment if you would like me to write more about this topic.

Personal Branding

I’m not sure I know what to make of Personal Branding.  We’re all familiar with branded products and retailers.  If we think about it, we can see their point.  A familiar brand is trusted, memorable.  You pay your money and know almost exactly what you’ll get in return.

But personal branding?  I am not a product or a business of any description.  Why should I be branded and what does it mean?

I’ve based the following thoughts on a new book, “Branded You: How to Stand Out in Business and Achieve Greater Profitability and Success” by Adele McLay.  (The book will be published soon, follow the link and scroll down to register your interest.)  The book brings together all the ideas you need to build your personal brand.  It is really helpful to find them all in one place.  It is an easy read and short enough to return to for deeper reflection, as you work through each part.

I’ve had the following thoughts in response to the book.

Outer Branding

Don’t make the mistake of thinking outer branding is somehow superficial.  If your branding is superficial, then you haven’t done the work.  Integrity is a core principle here.  There needs to be coherence between you and what you sell.

Your story, your appearance, your public persona are all elements of your personal brand. These need to be consistent with each other and coherent with your offer and your market.

The challenge is to make the right choices.  If you help people overcome their problems through outdoor activities, do you approach your market dressed for outdoor activities or in regulation business clothes?

There is no correct answer because the question is a challenge.  Your brand is to accept neither option but to seek something that works for you.  Find a creative solution to build your brand.

Your Brand as a Mask

Stylised drawing of comic and tragic masks from Greek Theatre

The masks in ancient Greek theatre communicated the character through sound (Latin: per sonar) Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

The paradox is the outer brand is a mask.  But the mask you wear is you!  It may be a heightened version of you but it must be genuine.  The Latin word persona goes back to Greek and Roman theatre and refers to the masks Classical actors used to wear.

Their masks concealed the actor’s identity and amplified their voice.  The paradox is the character depicted through the mask was always more real than the actor behind the mask.  The personal brand similarly amplifies the person behind the mask but with coherence between the brand and the actor.

 

Inner Branding

You can see there is an inner discipline to personal branding.  You need to work on congruence between how you present yourself and what you promote.

This always feels awkward to me.  I am naturally disposed to being a grumpy old man.  When I was a teenager, someone referred to my husky exterior.  So, I’ve been a grumpy old man for many years.  I am sceptical that I can present myself as relentlessly positive.

On the other hand I know I can be engaging.  I can inspire people through spoken words. I speak with humour, energy and passion.  And I love doing it!  Is this really me?  I surprise myself sometimes.

My problem is I naturally present myself in grumpy mode and can in the twinkling of an eye transform myself into my other persona.  I couldn’t be energetic and engaging if it were not for my grumpy demeanour.

My problem is bringing the two together, so my brand has coherence.  And the truth is, this is something everyone in business struggles with.  Your natural and public dispositions need not be at odds and your brand is how you find a creative solution to presenting both.

McLay’s book describes the necessary practical approaches to working on your brand in both its outer and inner aspects.  If you work through her 7-step programme, you will build a personal brand and hopefully a successful business as a result.

Outward Branding

Here is something I don’t think McLay or other writers are aware of.  How does your brand reach outwards?  This is not about how you appear to the world but the impact your personal brand has on the world.

We are not isolated individuals.  We are all part of various communities and our brand is a measure of our influence in those communities.  To some degree, my brand represents all the communities to which I belong, not just my business.

I live in a part of Sheffield that has had a poor reputation in the city for many decades.  If people know I come from Pitsmoor, this could devalue my personal brand.  But I want to advocate Pitsmoor as a positive place.  I need to find creative ways to do that.  It is perhaps not an easy call but it is something all businesses should consider.

Roots and Branches

If you have a global market, the street in which you park your business may not seem that important.  You probably chose it for all sorts of reasons, not least costs.  If you’re selling to someone even a few streets away, your place may seem irrelevant.

But we devalue our neighbourhoods as we leave them for town or shopping centres.  Maybe businesses need to advocate their place, grow the roots that support their many branches?

When we do this, we support other businesses and grow the communities we need to support enterprise in general.

Again this type of personal branding requires time to develop ideas and grow solutions.  It’s not about ramming the delights of Pitsmoor down the throats of my customers; it is being rooted in a place and committed to it.  Open to ways to build sustainable community there.

Have you encountered examples of outer, inner and outward personal branding?

Investment: an Ethical Revolution?

Cartoon woman with smiling angel and devil on her shoulders.

Perhaps this image is too polarised – Rich Dad, Poor Dad is more nuanced. OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

You can read Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” as a morality tale.  Remember the cartoon angel and devil sat on the hero’s shoulders?  Poor Dad works hard for money and spends it all on things like mortgages and food.  Rich Dad invests and builds income sources to fund his lifestyle and his family’s.  So, what are the ethics of investment?

We’re left in no doubt which is on the side of the angels and yet, the author repeatedly alludes to his Poor Dad and how his moral approach to money was important too.  I part company with Kiyosaki to the extent he implies the wealthy are somehow superior to the rest of us.

Revolting Against the System

I suspect many people contemplate revolting against the system that expects us to work from 9-5 most days of our lives.  If not, we can languish on the dole, excoriated for being welfare scroungers.

There is a degree of common ground between right and left, where right means support for those who build their own sources of income.  The right in UK politics looks after the interests of  investors; the left cares for those in employment.

Many people on the left make a similar break from the system.  I did way back in the early eighties, when I left research science and took up community development.  Whilst I was in employment for most of my working life, I believed I’d made a radical break with the system.

There’s more than one path

Many people break away from the road they start out on and find their own path.  Others don’t and perhaps suffer for it as they find life is not rewarding, even though they put everything into their chosen career.

But others find great satisfaction in their careers.  They may be artists or creatives, scientists, carers of various types, even teachers!  Many remain in the system, as I did but that does not mean their choice was futile.

I can see why Kiyosaki’s approach is attractive.  It combines learning to play an exciting game and the security at the end of it.  His approach is actually based on his privileged education, with his Rich Dad.  That gave him an advantage and has led him through many cherished experiences.

But this does not make him better than all the others who have found ways to accommodate with the system, some more successful than others.  What inadvertently undermines his argument is his relationship with Donald Trump.  Trump is an unfortunate standard-bearer for the right.  He comes over as a blustering toddler with an overweening sense of entitlement.  His contempt for anyone he disapproves of, such as women, is well-known and he makes no secret of it during his current political campaign.

Should Investors be Taxed?

The right do not like being taxed because they have worked hard for their money and don’t see why they should pay it to governments who do not spend it as wisely as they would.

Even the Conservative Prime Minister in the UK, in her speech to the Tory Conference this week, was highly sceptical of their arguments against taxes.  She pointed out taxes pay for the infrastructure everyone uses to support their businesses and investments.  Someone who makes a lot of money does so through investments many people have made before them.

OK it may be clever and brave to spot a potential bargain, eg a house that might sell for below its real value.  It may be a risk to buy it outright (not always how they do it), put in tenants and wait for the price to go up.

Is the Prime Minister Right?

Let’s say you buy a house for £10K and its price goes up to £100K.  It may have been under-priced when you bought it and it may be overpriced now but you’ve made £90K.

I don’t have much of a problem with this but I do believe the transaction should be taxed.  The house didn’t pop up out of nowhere.  Someone built it, perhaps several decades ago; there would be nothing to invest in without their work.  It will be on a road and receive the usual services.  The fact is this sort of investment exists because of  the work of hosts of other people, perhaps over decades.

The investor speculates on its value.  I don’t object to them doing this but I do not agree their profit is solely the result of their enterprise.  Of course, it is impossible to estimate the contributions made by others that enable someone to make a large profit.  But the state is entitled to tax such transactions.

A Game of Cat and Mouse

I can see it is something of a game of cat and mouse.  There are many ways to protect funds from  tax authorities, by reinvesting them in various ways.  If we plan to maintain the freedoms we all take advantage of as we choose our life paths, we do to some degree need to compromise.

However, the world I want to see is one where entrepreneurs see their role as primarily their contribution to building their local economies.  Stable businesses, supported by investment may be ideally how we can build sustainable communities.

If an entrepreneur cannot point to how the world benefits from their success, perhaps there is something wrong?  Paying taxes is only one way they can do this but why not expect investors to contribute to the general good?  Remember many others make their contribution from within the system. For one reason or another they do not build up personal assets but that is no reason to treat them with contempt for not being clever enough.

It is worth reading Kiyosaki’s book because it will transform the way you hear news bulletins.  This sense of entitlement pervades modern politics and it helps to understand what politicians actually mean.  We need desperately a left or Green take on investment.  I’m sure some have tried.

Let me know what you think.

Wealth and Riches? What’s the Difference?

Last Friday, I explored the implications of Pareto for the local economy.  This principle suggests inequalities between neighbourhoods are inevitable.  What are the implications for a thriving marketplace in every neighbourhood?  In this post, I want to question this from a different angle by exploring differences between wealth and riches.

To do this I shall review the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money – that the poor and middle class do not!” by Robert T Kiyosaki.  This week I shall explore some positive insights from the book.  Next week I’ll explain where I disagree with it.

The author tells the story of what he learned about wealth from his own father and the father of a friend. The story is well-told and I have found since reading it, I hear what the wealthy say in a different way.  This worldview is new to me although not entirely unfamiliar.

Here are two important insights from the book; I encourage you to read it because there are many more.

The Importance of Learning

One welcome and not unfamiliar insight is learning is important.  The author suggests working to learn is far more important than working to earn.  The wealthy understand learning about how the world actually operates is important.  The more they know, the more likely they are to recognise financial opportunities when they encounter them.  And of course they know what to do to invest in them.

This immediately resonates with the observation marketing is essentially educational.  Most business people seek investment in their businesses, most often through their customers.  This may be particularly true for B2B customers, although I can think of non-business transactions that are also investments.

The point is most of us do not learn how money works at school or in our families.  Even accountants don’t understand it the same way as the wealthy do.  Once you understand the strategies wealthy people use, you can hear them talking about them in radio and TV interviews.

They see themselves as free spirits who do not subscribe to the rules the poor and middle classes follow.  There is a lot in this and I can empathise because I made a similar decision to abandon the rat race 30 years ago when I left my work as a research scientist for community development.

The problem for people who make similar decisions to mine is we do not usually buy into building our wealth.  Most are altruistic and then find later they have to abandon community development and opt back into the mainstream to fund their family.

There is a good deal of common ground between the radicals who opt for alternative employment and the wealthy who opt to build financial independence.  I’ll highlight where we part company in my next post.

Wealth or Riches?

We all know stories of people who win the lottery and in a few years have nothing left.  They were rich but not wealthy.  The wealthy person may not have a lot of money in their current account but can pay their bills.  The rich pay their bills but every time they do so, make themselves poorer.

Of course, the wealthy do this by building their investment portfolio.  They understand and trade in things like shares, real estate or intellectual property.  The wealthy spend time building and maintaining that portfolio.  They may not have a lot of ready cash but once their income from investments pays their bills, they are financially independent and therefore wealthy.

This is an important insight because it gives the lie to those who promise massive riches through some marketing scheme.  It is not the volume of income you receive from work so much as what you do with it.  The people who make large sums of money from their business may be rich but are they wealthy?  What would happen if their business failed?

But note it also means wise investment of funds means you actually don’t need to turn over vast sums of money.

This is what I meant last week when I suggested perhaps we’re asking the wrong question when we discuss inequality between neighbourhoods.  Of course some neighbourhoods will do very well and others less well.  But investment in our neighbourhoods is also important.

Wealth in the Local Economy

But how do we build investments for our neighbourhoods?  Do we rely on wealthy people to increase their own wealth and use it to invest locally?  Or do we create organisations that build assets, they can invest in their neighbourhood?

The last was the original purpose of development trusts, now often called social enterprises.  Their problem is they are not usually run by entrepreneurs and so fall back on what they know, namely dependence on grants.  When they own assets, it is usually a building in which they’re based.  Usually that building is a liability.

This suggests business people are crucial to local regeneration.  It is a pity they have been and continue to be marginalised.  Next time I’ll explain why I think that is, when I look at where I part company from Kiyosaki.

So, this is my question: is it possible to build an asset base in support of our neighbourhoods and the local economy?  If so, how?

Pareto in the Local Economy

Last Friday, I introduced the Pareto Principle and today here are some problems it throws up.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the principle that 20% of inputs result in 80% of outputs. However, Pareto raises issues for regeneration of communities.  So, what can we learn from Pareto in the Local Economy?

Inequality is Inevitable

Graph showing the typical Pareto curve.

Typical Pareto curve, showing how the top 20% will make 80% outputs.

First, consider the Pareto curve.  If we accept the Pareto principle, we do not need to measure everything to make predictions about the economy.  If we took every self-employed person, ranked them from the lowest income to the highest, we know we would get the Pareto curve.

Twenty percent of the self-employed (the same would apply to other groups in the local economy, eg traders or businesses) would make 80% of the money generated by their businesses.  Remember the curve is fractal and so 4% of the original number will make 64% of the available money.  This is statistical and so the real figures will not be exactly the same but the principle will hold.

We can see there will be a long tail of low paid self-employed and most of these will sooner or later go out of business.

What Pareto tells us is inequality is a statistical inevitability.  We all know most businesses do not survive and a few do very well indeed.

One feature of the modern business world is the guru, who has found success and shares their advice, often with generosity and usually offering support at a price.  They have a winning formula, it works for them and they can point to others who have learned the trade at their feet.

But if everyone learns their methods and applies them we will still have the Pareto curve.  Some people will do much better than everyone else.

Neighbourhood Inequality

Now, let’s consider neighbourhoods.  There is a problem here because it is hard to define a neighbourhood; where does this one end and the next begin?  Also, do we define neighbourhoods by area or number of businesses?  By money in circulation or the wealth of the businesses based there?

Whether this is research that would be worth doing and possible to do is a matter for conjecture but we can say if it were possible to rank neighbourhoods according to their wealth, we would expect the Pareto curve.

This is intuitively true, we would expect some neighbourhoods to be far wealthier than others.  City centres for example will have much more footfall than out-of-town estates.

I think we can be fairly confident this is true and inequality is inevitable between communities.  Some will always do better than others.  There are many complicating factors and reasons why some places fare better than others but statistically we would expect that to happen.

So, does this mean my vision of a thriving marketplace in every neighbourhood is an impossible dream?  Well, it was never going to be easy.  But Pareto suggests it is impossible.

But to leave it like that is to allow injustice to continue and for many that is intolerable and increasingly unsustainable for society.  The evidence suggests our world is becoming more unequal and the Pareto curve tells us why, because more wealth is accumulating in fewer hands.

It may be statistically inevitable but if it is, it means so is bloody revolution.  The rise of populist movements worldwide is clear evidence of malcontent, unlikely to be mollified by stories of the statistical inevitability of their misfortune.

I suspect the problem is we’re asking the wrong question.  I’ll return to this issue over the next few weeks.

What alternative questions would you ask?

The Power of Fascination

Everyone in business wants to draw their market’s attention and hold it.  For the small business person, stories are a powerful way of doing this.  They’re not the only way but perhaps the most accessible approach to promoting a distinctive offer.  But perhaps stories are not enough.  To draw attention is a start but you want to hold attention and turn it into action.  This is the power of fascination.

There are some ethical considerations here.  The world of marketing is full of attempts to manipulate markets.  The goal is sales and where sales are the sole aim, manipulation appears to be the only option.  This may seem to be a harmless irritant but actually a powerful story can become dangerous.  History is full of brilliant rhetoricians who became tyrants.

However, sales are a small part of marketing.  It is legitimate to have a good product or service, find your market and draw their attention to it.  We’ve all experienced the pushy salesperson who we have repeatedly to tell “No”.  Good marketing should avoid that by making a genuine offer that will really help  with some problem the prospect cannot solve on their own.

With a complex offer you need to draw and hold your prospect’s attention .  This allows for a conversation that will sometimes lead to a sale.  I have recently found public speaking can be a powerful way of doing this.  I’ll report back on how I followed up on this experience and the results at a later date but I’m hoping to build some good working relationships from this experience.  My aim is to have the marketing conversations and arrive at a decision to work together or else a positive “No”.

Fascination

Anyway, my aim today is to focus on fascination by reviewing a book by Sally Hogshead, “Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist“.  This is a revised edition of a book that has been around for a few years.  The revision is significant and took about 3 years.

The book is a good read and the real power in the writing comes from the way it deploys stories, dozens and dozens of them!  These stories alone are worth the price of the book.  They are not just entertaining but show many tactics businesses use to place their offers in the minds of the public.

As a result this is a book that will repay re-reading a few times to not only understand Hogshead’s principles of fascination but also to get a feel for how they might work for your business or cause.

Seven Advantages

Hogshead suggests there are seven advantages available to businesses.  These are strategies you can use to market your offers.  Some are approaches that immediately capture your market’s attention.  You can be innovative or passionate about your offer.  Here you, as it were, make a lot of noise and make sure everyone hears about you and your offer.

Alternatively, you may be more interested in a quiet, apparently unassuming approach.  You may have an old trusted brand or believe attention to detail.  Most people seeking insurance are not really that interested in razzmatazz – they want to trust you or believe you will exercise due diligence.

And quiet brands can be alluring; a little mystery can actually draw in customers who like that sort of thing.  Mystery can add prestige to a product or service.

You will note some things work better for established businesses, such as trust or prestige, while others might work better for new businesses.

Seven Tactics

The power of this approach lies in the ways you can combine the seven advantages.  So, if you are innovative you might use tactics inspired by trust to show how your innovations do not mean you will be here today and gone tomorrow.

Now, if you have seven advantages and they can each be combined with tactics inspired by the other six, you have 42 different approaches to branding your business.  This may be good news if you are looking for an approach that’s right for you, the chances are you might find one.  However, they can be somewhat daunting.

I recommend this book because it opens up a distinctive dimension to marketing, written by someone with significant experience in brand promotion.  However, it will leave you wondering where to go from here.  There is a supporting website and the option, I suppose, of contacting the author.  For my part I plan to read it again and work out how to digest it and apply it in my business.

What are the positive reasons for using fascination in marketing?  How can fascination help business owners enjoy their marketing?

Full Co-production Means Planning and Delivery

Last Friday, I posted about co-production.   The post shows how the core economy is fundamental to the marketplace but not always recognised as it is essentially non-financial.  Today I shall explore full co-production and its alternatives.

Co-Production
PLANNING
Professionals Co-Planning Community
D
E Professionals Traditional Services Community Planning
L
I Co-Delivery Full co-production
V
E Community Outsourcing Self-help groups
R
Y

The table contrasts planning and delivery.  Professional and community organisations working together can carry out both activities.  Full co-production is where professional and community organisations plan and deliver together.

I’ll work through the table, defining terms as I go.

Planning

Planning is an activity integral to community development.  Whilst local residents may not be able to deliver services, they can always have a stake in planning them.

Professional Planning

When professionals make decisions, they can consult with residents either before they make a plan, eg using a questionnaire, or afterwards by consulting on their proposals.  Many people will be familiar with Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation and where professionals totally control planning, they’re working in the manipulation and tokenism parts of the ladder.

Traditional services assume professionals do the planning, perhaps with some consultation.  This is  legitimate where community organisations do not wish to be involved in all aspects of planning.  The work can be tedious and so long as the planning covers what it needs to cover, people are happy for the professionals to get on with it.  However, when things go wrong, professionals need to listen.  Professionals can resolve some issues by listening to complaints and responding, others may need a more systematic approach to planning together.

One essential, where planning is primarily led by professionals is a good complaints procedure.  Professionals need to be clear what a complaint is and how to manage them.  If the numbers or seriousness of complaints increase it may be worth considering co-planning.

Co-Planning

Community Planning is primarily a community activity, whilst co-planning or planning includes professionals.

Co-planning should be in the top section of Arnstein’s ladder, Citizen Power.  Partnership may be  most appropriate, when considering Co-Planning, as delegated power and citizen control implies some form of co-delivery.

Whilst a move towards Co-Planning may be the result of complaints, it is not always so.  The initiative might equally come from local residents who identify an issue and want to have a say in it.

Community Planning

The big advantage of community planning, is it enables neighbourhoods to work out their own priorities, independent of professional agendas.  Community planning has limitations.  A community plan may allow representatives of a community a place at the table with professionals but it is at that stage it is important to move the debate into the Co-Planning column.  To insist a community plan, has more validity than everyone else’s is likely to get short shrift.

Professionals will come to the table with their own plans, often responding to the needs of several neighbourhoods.  The challenge for local residents is finding they are competing for resources and services with other neighbourhoods.

Think of community plans as means to move a community organisation towards full co-production.  There are times when it is right for community organisations to take on delivery.  However, where collaboration with professional services is essential, the aim is collaboration in the central square in the table.

Delivery

Broadly professionals or professionalised community organisations, sometimes called social enterprises, achieve delivery.  There are advantages to delivery of mainstream services centrally.  They have the resources and skilled staff.  Voluntary organisations usually identify and fill gaps.  To what extent is it possible for professional organisations and community organisations to collaborate in delivery of services?

This was the 2000 Local Government Act’s vision.  Community plans were to result in collaboration between professionals and residents, planning and delivering services.  Local assemblies, based on local authority wards in the UK, were to be the platform where the council could make decisions relevant to local neighbourhoods.

Whilst this activity has declined, with changes to national government, the principles still exist, despite their political steer.

Professional Delivery

It still makes sense for local authorities to deliver services.  Their role has been eroded in recent years, not through collaboration with residents but through private companies.  Council services such as refuse collection or road maintenance have been outsourced, increasingly using Private Finance Initiatives that tie councils into long-term contracts, often with terms and conditions kept out of the sight of the electorate.

The real issue here is transparency and accountability to local residents.  When councils deliver services, if the problems become intractable, residents can vote them out or at least threaten to.  With a PFI, the same delivery arrangement persists whoever controls the council.

Co-Delivery

Whilst it is not too difficult to imagine circumstances where co-planning is helpful to all parties, it is harder to think of examples of co-delivery.  Perhaps one is Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  If you read these blog posts, you will get some idea of the difficulties of this type of collaborative approach.

It’s not just that local authorities and other professional bodies are juggernauts, likely to crush community organisations, it is also the changing political complexion of local authorities.  Adverse political change Good can rapidly wreck good working relationships.

Community Delivery

Social enterprises are one example of a professionalised community organisation that can plan and deliver services in a neighbourhood.  Social enterprises may be engaged in co-production but retain some independence from the big players.

Perhaps neighbourhoods with their own development trust or similar are better equipped to contribution to co-production, whilst building alternative or independent sources of funding.

Conclusion

It seems the main weakness of co-production, likely to undermine any full co-production arrangements is changing political fortunes.  A change in council leadership can undermine co-production.  Similarly, national government decisions can favour alternatives such as PFIs.

To work with professionals, community organisations need to professionalise to bring their independent contribution to the table.  As such they need to work out how they as professionals co-plan and co-deliver with their residents.

So, what do you think?  Can full co-production work?  I’ve filled in some of the squares on the table, can you think of practices that fill the remaining squares (or indeed better ideas than mine!)?

What is Co-Production?

Co-production is an idea new to this blog that relates to many of its themes, such as the local economy, mutuality and community assets.  I’m grateful to Mark Woodhead for introducing me to co-production.  The New Economics Foundation has published a free ebook “Co-production: A Manifesto for growing the core economy“.  If you want to know more about co-production, this paper is a good place to start.

My aim is to explore co-production’s relationship with some of my key themes and particularly the local economy.  You will note the term “core economy” in the subtitle to the NEF paper and this is a good place to start.  Edgar Cahn, in the forward to the ebook, writes:

Alvin Tofler reminds us of the obvious in his question to Fortune 500 executives: “How productive would your work force be if they were not toilet trained?”

Although all other economies are founded upon the core economy, it is often taken for granted.  The relationships between people and families in a locality generate the assets underpinning other economies.  The core economy is essentially mutual.  In an ideal world, people find a role where they can offer and receive support to and from others.

The non-toilet trained workforce may be an amusing picture but it effectively illustrates the value of contributions to the economy we don’t value because we don’t see them.  When we meet someone in the marketplace we don’t have to ask ourselves whether they have been toilet trained.

It clearly has a feminist dimension because women providr much of the core economy.  However, it is certainly not restricted to women because everyone contributes in some way to this core economy.  Older people, particularly after retirement, make significant contributions.

The problem is the core economy, the primary source of economic value, is undervalued in comparison with the local marketplace where financial transactions take place and even more so when compared with the activities of the corporate executives we hear so much about; those captains of industry to whom we owe so much.

The core economy is the source of many community assets but these assets are infrequently measured in financial terms and usually not at all.  Where the core economy is weak, communities might experience higher crime rates, for example.  They will have a weaker local marketplace because a thriving neighbourhood marketplace is founded upon the core economy.

Page 12 of the NEF document mentions three central factors that account for the failure of the delivery of public services.  These perhaps illustrate how a strong core economy supports local economic activity, including but not restricted to financial transactions.

Relationships Deliver Public Services

Relationships deliver just about everything.  They are fundamental to the marketplace but the market cannot do everything.  Neither can centralised bureaucracies.  The more people know like and trust one another, the greater the chances are they will look out for one another.  The marketplace can deliver goods and services but these do not include the core goods and services delivered by the core economy.

We used to be told the public sector provided the welfare safety net; the voluntary sector identifying holes in the net and filling them.  Co-production suggests the core economy provides the safety net and public services make a massive mistake when they attempt to replace local relationships with bureaucratic solutions.

Relationships Between Professionals and Their Clients are Mutual

Of course, too often professional-client relationships become dependency relationships. The teacher needs her pupils as much as they need her.  When her pupils are autonomous learners, she benefits from being a part of a dynamic learning environment.

When my doctor told me I needed to lose weight, he depended on me to collaborate with the health service for my benefit.  The next step might be for me to share my experience of losing weight with others, so that they too can lose weight.  I’ve never been asked to do that!  But think of the benefits to the health service if patients were asked to share in support for other patients.  The NEF document provides several examples of exactly this type of thing.

Social Networks Make Change Possible

Centralised bureaucratic models of service provision, where professionals plan and deliver services, erode relationships within communities.  The same social change that has led to the loss of local marketplaces have also eroded essential social networks.

The aim is not withdrawal of public services so much as remodelling them on mutual lines.  Just as the retail co-operative movement transformed local economies between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, so mutual approaches can transform health and social services, policing, education and just about everything.

So, that’s a brief introduction to co-production.  What do you think?  How can we learn to make best use of the core economy to support local people and build a marketplace?

Resources for the Local Economy: Local Currencies

In this final post before the Easter break (back in a fortnight), I’m visiting perhaps one of the most common resources for the local economy, local currencies.  Perhaps the two best known examples are the Brixton Pound (perhaps the first) and the Bristol Pound, which is the first city-wide local currency in the UK.

It is worth looking at both sites as they are good examples of how to convey a complex idea; inspiring the visitor with the vision for the scheme as well as the practical information they need to take part.  There’s always room for improvement but both sites get most things right.

Under the next four headings, I shall explore local currencies and the contribution they make to local economies.

Equivalent to Pounds Sterling

This may seem an odd starting point but it is important to understand local currencies.  They are not the same as Local Economic Trading Schemes (LETS).  A LETS creates a new currency that is completely self-contained.  It is not possible to value it in pounds sterling or any other currency.  I suppose bureaucrats might attempt to assign a value to LETS, eg to enforce benefit rules, but essentially LETS are ways of tracking transactions between people; they form self-contained economies independent of the mainstream.  This is not a criticism of LETS, it merely distinguishes them from local currencies.

One Local Pound (usually designated by preceding the word pound with the name of a place), is equal to one pound sterling.  It is essentially a voucher system.  You buy them with sterling and can sell them, receiving sterling in exchange.

So, I could pay with a five-pound note and receive Bristol pounds in my change.  I can refuse them if I choose.  I might refuse them as I don’t live in Bristol and so might not be able to spend them.

Usually these schemes work in units of £1 equivalent.  So if I purchased something worth fifty pence with a Bristol pound, there’s no reason I shouldn’t receive 50p sterling change.  It works so long as the trader and the customer are happy to do this.

Some of the schemes use local pounds to pay for council tax or include them in employees’ wages.  This is possible where all parties agree.  Shops can easily declare them in tax returns, simply add them to the total income or expenditure in pounds sterling.

I understand some schemes have a more complex system where they sell local pounds at the rate of £11 local for £10 sterling.  The £11 local received are still equal to £11 sterling.  The exchange rate the other way is £9 sterling for £10 local.  If you do the maths you will see this balances the books.  The person who loses would be someone who ended up with more local pounds than they first purchased.  This is an incentive to stay in the scheme.

Retains Money in the Local Economy

So, why bother?  The aim of the scheme is to keep money in the local economy.  They are designed to enable businesses and customers to keep money circulating locally whilst still participating in the wider economy.  Over time, businesses can collaborate to make sure more of their trade remains local.  Businesses can for example, offer local pounds to their local suppliers.

It does not benefit local economies to be cut off entirely from the rest of the world.  After all, local economies grow as new money enters it.  The problem for many localities is the flow of money out of their economy is greater than the inward flow.  Money leaving the economy largely goes to global corporations who salt it away in offshore accounts, avoid taxes and in effect take money out of circulation.

This means local businesses use local currencies and not local branches of multi-national corporations.  Local businesses are likely to use local suppliers and collaborate with other local businesses.  They are dependent on the flow of currency locally and so many can see the advantages of developing a local system that increases the flow of currency through their businesses.

This means customers may need some incentive to use local pounds.  Why should they bother?  After all, it restricts what they can spend their money on to local businesses.  But this is an opportunity to educate everyone about the economy and how it works.  Just as the first retail co-operatives usually included a library and meeting room because they needed to educate their customers, so local currencies need to see their scheme as to some degree educational.

Helps Traders Identify Local Customers

One big advantage, easy to overlook, is it helps businesses find local customers.  Anyone using their local currency is likely to be local and so has the potential to become a regular customer.  One thing few people realise is the role of friendship in business.  Where a business owner can befriend their local customers, they are likely to build long-term business relationships with them.

This can be as simple as the trader, knowing their regular customers’ habits and being able to prepare their usual in advance.  Brief conversations accumulate over the years and a network of friendships, can support the core activity of a business.

This can be supported with special offers for customers paying in the local currency.  Examples can be found on both the Bristol and Brixton sites.

Use of Mobile Phones

Banknotes are a simple way of promoting a local currency and can be an opportunity to promote the area.  The Bristol notes for example include hidden away an image of the dreaded Bristol crocodile that apparently inhabits its waterways, eating who knows who.

However, most schemes have a means of banking their currency, using a local credit union for example, thus allows some interesting schemes using texting.  Note this is not an app, you simply pay by texting.  Both Bristol pounds and Brixton pounds use this payment method.

If you know what you owe, you can set up the text whilst queueing at the till.  The text goes to a special account that returns a confirmation text to the customer and to the retailer.  This is a good example of how online methods can support local trading.

Can you think of other advantages or indeed disadvantages of local currencies?  Do you use them?  If so, what difference have they made to your life?

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