Archive for May, 2011

An odd event

Last year, I heard a number of very interesting speakers in Liverpool.  Oliver James on a sane city (see earlier blog), Laurie Taylor on auto-didacts and Gary Younge on Obama.  All were thoughtful, stimulating and offered interesting perspectives.

Yesterday, I heard Matthew Taylor speaking on the Big Society.  He offered a brief review of the state of the world.  We live in an aging society.  Young people go through a more prolonged transition from school to settled life than in the past.  We are not crudely self-interested but profoundly social animals.  This is all well understood and the evidence is widely referenced.

So what?  And this is where the disappointment comes in.  He suggested then that we need to engage more actively and reflectively in debates about the society in which we live.  And yet we heard nothing about how this might happen.  Instead, we heard that institutions need to change, adapt, turn themselves inside out…  And he could offer individual examples of how new ways of working/thinking have emerged in some instances.  This is all rather disconnected from the evidence he started with.  And he misses one key problem.  While we are deeply social animals, the evidence suggests that, as such, we make poor decisions, are easily influenced etc.  In fact, we are social animals and we are very bad at it.  We are scarcely conscious of how we behave, interact, respond.  And, in organisations, we introduce distorting and artificial frameworks that only make that behaviour worse.  Whether it be BP in the Gulf of Mexico or Mid-Staffs NHS Trust, organisations do things that no one individual would decide to do.

What is missing from analysis like Matthew Taylor’s is a little humility.  We do not know the answers and should stop trying to offer them.  Instead, we should focus on the first part of the challenge – engaging more people actively in reflecting on the world we live in and searching for the answers.  The process is, I would suggest, more important than the answer.

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New directions?

Following last week’s elections, it appears that Suffolk County Council will be curtailing some of its ambitious plans for a ‘virtual’ council.  The Tory vote seems to have suffered there, much more than in other shires, and the issue of radical reform seems to have been significant.  Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats (those that are left) have rediscovered their voice and have joined the many voices openly hostile to the NHS reforms.

None of this is particularly about ideas, practicalities etc.  Nobody seems to be suggesting that the Suffiolk plans can’t work.  Very few argue that there should be no competition and private involvement in the NHS.  It appears to be purely a response to electoral pressures.  Have the Tories blinked?  It wouldn’t have happened 30 years ago …