Category Archives for "Partnerships"

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?

Partnership Online

This is the final post in my sequence about partnership. Partnership Online opens up opportunities that may not be so easy to realise in real life.

Today, four principles of partnership online :

  • Traditionally businesses have been very cautious about sharing information but perhaps openness can be an advantage. Cautious because if your competitors get hold of your information, they may gain an advantage. Perhaps there is a case for secrecy with some things, such as a secret recipe. However businesses making their research data available, find there can be advantages. For example, a prize for the best interpretation of data might draw the expertise of many people into working unpaid for the business. Small organisations with little valuable data can benefit from sharing their problems. Blogs that tell the story of an artist or an entrepreneur might build a group of followers who support their work.
  • Online systems such as Linus, WordPress or Wikis are all examples of where groups of people work together without formal hierarchy. Online work opens up possible collaborations between all sorts of people. This happens informally. Whilst someone might start a project and become the principal beneficiary, many others might help bring the project to fruition. In return the principle beneficiary may help others out with their projects. Such approaches build trusted relationships and sharing new opportunities.
  • Many organisations find sharing online is the best policy for their business. Sharing a project with several others may mean you earn less from that project but find you get more offers of work via your partners. You may find your unique niche, something you enjoy doing and can to do for your partners. Everyone therefore works more effectively, earning through doing what they most enjoy.  A small group who enjoys their work are more likely to find innovative approaches.
  • Collaboration can happen anywhere in the world; markets can be worldwide. This is not always an advantage. For many businesses, a local or national market makes sense. However, there are always opportunities for collaboration. Even if your market is local, you may benefit from being in touch with others doing similar work in other places.

Implications for Local Organisations

I suspect online collaboration is something third sector organisations have been slow to explore.  Networks of small organisations who share the same market could collaborate online.  They could share marketing on one site or promote each other on their own sites.  Shared sites might cut the costs of site design and ongoing maintenance.  A shared site might offer integrated services provided by a number of small organisations.  There may be complications, eg having contracts with more than one organisation, although this could be mitigated by subcontracting work through a single provider.  Integrated networks might also mentor new businesses, helping them become established.

Some businesses may find they can build networks with other businesses at remote locations.  For example, web design itself does not need partners to be in the same town or even the same country.

There is no need to enter into full partnerships on day one.  A few organisations might help one another out through guidance and support.  They could experiment with one-off collaborations and move to promoting and integrated service as patterns that work for them emerge.

That’s the theory but what’s happening in practice?  If you know of interesting examples, please let me know.

Partnership and Innovation

So, what is the alternative to competition?  Look again at natural systems and you will see partnership through innovation, problem-solving and collaboration.

Local marketplaces aim to pool resources and create opportunities so everyone can make a living. The solution to most problems is not so much technology as learning how to work together. No amount of technology can overcome destructive personal relationships. I’ve seen this time and again in community and church groups. Work unravels because we cannot overcome personal conflicts.

Where people successfully share expertise

  • There is little hierarchy or status – this is important because where there is genuine collaboration, people learn to listen. People perceive problems differently when they approach them from distinct perspectives. Hierarchy tends to isolate those at the top from those at the bottom. Airlines for example have found fewer accidents take place where there is less hierarchy. The NHS is learning the same lessons from the airlines’ experience. Surgeons who listen to their nurses are more likely to be successful.  (See Ian Leslie’s article “How mistakes can save lives” from the New Statesman, 4 June 2014.)
  • Mutually tends to flatten hierarchies.  The retail co-operatives were highly innovative and owned by their customers. At its best this type of co-operation has been immensely creative. Employee co-ops in other parts of the world have also been very successful. Ultimately, it is not ownership that matters so much as
  • Size – small is beautiful. I know as a sole worker that I need to work with others. At present, I work alongside my clients and help them develop their own sites. For small businesses there is potential to develop working partnerships with other small businesses  sharing a similar market. A recent trend has been mutuals between small businesses, where a co-op’s members are small businesses, which are sole traders or small partnerships.

Partnership does not need to be a full-on. I’m a member of a group of website designers based all over the world. They are a source of support, as we help solve each others problems. Being online is an opportunity to develop these types of partnership and next time I shall explore them further.

Have you experience of working collaboratively or in partnership?

Consequences of Competition

Last time I wrote about the myth that evolution is about competition. What might seem to be competition is often subtle forms of mutual benefit. It depends upon how we look at it.

Belief that competition is the norm has consequences. Here are some consequences based on a New Statesman article, “Fishing with Dynamite” by Margaret Heffernan, in the 20 -26 June 2014 edition:

  • Dysfunction – the idea that competition diversifies the marketplace is questionable. For example, gas providers copy each other and so reduce diversity in the marketplace. They have to do this because they are competing over an inherently non-diverse product. Another issue is where people hold back information to retain a competitive advantage and so it becomes harder to innovate.
  • Corruption – competition between sales people, can lead to, for example, mis-selling. It becomes harder to retain staff as competition becomes more toxic. People sabotage each other.
  • Waste – is competition between energy suppliers likely to help with reduction in carbon footprint? It seems unlikely.
  • Environmental degradation – maybe competition to reduce carbon would work but if it meant people withheld information, it would be counter-productive.
  • Inequality – competing on price drives down labour costs.
  • Unwinds social fabric – the most effective way to grow a company is by mergers and acquisitions. Companies get bigger and so need employ fewer staff, often relocating businesses. The customer experiences standardised services.

I haven’t proved the point here, my aim is to make the point and suggest we should question the mindset that sets competition above all other approaches. Is it true competition is more natural than collaboration?

Both competition and collaboration are mindsets. They are ways of seeing we project onto the world. The world is no more naturally competitive than it is collaborative. The consequences of which model we project are real though.

Last time I used the example of foxes and rabbits. I suggested that you can read it as either a competitive model or a collaborative model. But which is most helpful in understanding what happens in this admittedly simplified ecosystem?

Whilst we may deplore the violence of foxes and note the callous attitude of those who argue rabbits have to die for the good of the system, we also note the consequences when the system breaks down. The point is there are constraints on the foxes. The consequences for the fox of unrestrained violence are devastating.

What evolves is a system that supports both foxes and rabbits. We can look at it and decide this justifies violence because violence is a necessary part of the system. But how do we avoid that excuse being used to legitimate behaviour that is destructive of the system?

Actually, ecosystems constrain violence. When foxes become too powerful they destroy their own food source. The same applies in economic systems. Unconstrained competition is ultimately destructive.

So, what is the alternative?

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Partnership and Evolution

In this and the next three posts I shall explore some theoretical arguments about partnership.

In the very earliest written documents and the verbal traditions before them, the powerful have sought to justify their violence. Any argument will do to justify their violence.

Some people blame Darwin for this although I don’t think it was entirely his fault. I understand the term “survival of the fittest” did not appear in the first edition of “On The Origins of the Species”. Whenever it appeared, these words were misinterpreted and used in two ways that have had unfortunate consequences.

The problem is we understand the word “fittest” in two ways, the healthiest or the one who fits best. Darwin meant the latter, most people seem to think he meant the former. Foxes kill rabbits. The mistake is to think this makes foxes fitter than rabbits. Actually they kill weaker rabbits who can’t run away as fast as stronger rabbits. The mistake would be to think faster rabbits are fitter. Look at this way, if rabbits evolved machine guns and could kill every fox, this would not make them fitter. Indeed the rabbit population would die out as well as the foxes.

The problem is our fixation with conflict or competition blinds us to seeing what is actually going on. Foxes and rabbits are part of a much bigger system. That system also includes grass. Rabbits eat grass. What happens to the grass when the rabbit population increases?

This basic misunderstanding has led in two unfortunate directions.

First and obviously: fascism. The idea that the gene pool can be manipulated to breed a better population underlies much far right rhetoric. By being strong, we are told, we can solve all our problems.

One reaction to this on the left was creationism. By thinking Darwinism glorified violence, many Christians reacted by rejecting Darwinism. The 1925 Scopes trial in the States was not conducted by modern fundamentalists. Many had a left perspective and believed Darwinism justified violence.

Creationism evolved during the 1950s into a covert movement called creation science, claiming to be a science and not based upon theology.

When we approach partnership as a topic, we need to understand the entrenched views of many that partnership is somehow not natural. Ultimately human nature will win out and our competitive animal nature will show its real claws.

Obviously this can happen; there are plenty of stories of betrayals but betrayals work because there is trust. In a world without trust it is impossible to betray.

Fitness implies collaboration, innovation and problem solving.  Animals and plants do not evolve in splendid isolation.  It is actually ecosystems that evolve.  Nothing can survive without collaboration.

Next time I will discuss some of the consequences of the competitive world view, and after that I shall look at alternatives to it in real life and online.

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Mutuality: the Ecology of Third Sector Organisations

If we do not understand our organisations, how can we determine the purpose of their websites or structure their content?

Not all third sector organisations are mutuals but mutuality might help us understand nature of third sector organisations.

Typology

Third sector means various things to various people. Politically it has been re-named as the Big Society in recent years.  Sometimes the sector is called not-for-profit or the community or voluntary sector.  None of these are satisfactory but may be important for determining the purpose of websites.  The words we choose have implications for search engine optimisation, for example.

Various organisations may be part of the third sector.  How does each type, eg community groups, voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, mutuals, faith groups; relate to the sector and what is its socio-economic position? In time this will be a resource organisations can use to define their role and work out the purpose of their websites.

Position

Third sector implies there are at least two other sectors and their relationships need to be understood.  Their overlaps and boundaries are particularly interesting.  For example, is a self-employed web designer, specialising in the third sector, a part of the third sector or in the private sector?  What’s going on when a local authority applies for a grant to start a social enterprise?  These sectors are a model that helps us understand our society, the better we understand them, the better able we are to develop our websites.

Partnerships

For many third sector organisations, an up-to-date, relevant website is a big ask.  Is it possible for organisations to collaborate, especially where their vision for a local area is complementary?  Pooled resources might not only enhance online presence but also open up other opportunities for collaboration in real life.

Methods

Why mutuality? How is or could mutuality be expressed in various types of organisation?  What mutual methods might be possible online?  These will cover a range of activities including participative methodologies, community development and non-directive consultancy.