Overcooked Rhubarb Rhetoric
Politicos have gone mad for it – so many of the election issues and debating points are about citizen engagement and involvement. We have characterised elections as the biggest citizen participation opportunity going although as we pointed out in our blog straight after the first TV debate with the audience silent and speaking only when spoken to, the politicians and their minders are playing to the old rules of participation. ‘I speak, you listen and thanks for filling the hall’ is the old discredited recipe for engagement filling the national house with the stale smells of overcooked rhubarb rhetoric. The twelve blog pieces MAC partners have put up on our site since early March offer fresher and more vitamin-rich fare.
Owners vs Users?
We started by tackling the themes of ownership – should public enterprises be run like John Lewis? We got a piece from a John Lewis lifer – Andrew MacMillan had 28 years there – to explore and welcome the possibilities. We followed this with a look at the crucial differences that have to be acknowledged by an organisation that seeks to involve consumers. Are they being asked in their role as owners or as users? Not sorting that out contributes to the bad press about participation not cutting it in the real world where tough decisions have to be made. Public discussion on the topic does little to clarify this with an editorial in the Guardian on 12 March getting confused about partnerships and mutuals. Caroline Oliver of Good to Govern makes the point that participation should not be something that swims into the political consciousness at election times but has to be a feature of all our taxpayer owned organisations – all the more relevant in a context of difficult choices about budgets. Love low taxes, hate poor services. Owner/ funder: user/ spender. Tough call illuminated by a comment from Colin Adamson who like other MAC partners is walking the talk as an engaged user and finds himself Chair of the Company that manages his block of flats. It is hard to create the balance between the job of keeping the place in reasonable nick and the wishes of leaseholders to keep the service charge as low as possible. (Scary stuff and the search is on for decent directors’ insurance – a definite downside to calls to be involved in modern Britain is a fear of the consequences of stepping up and being counted where ‘counted’ may actually mean ‘sued’?)
Practitioners Not Tribes
The phrase was Andrew Craig’s writing about how we can improve the quality of healthcare. To abandon the defining role allocated by the tribe – be it labelled patient, nurse, clinician, parent, teacher – and participate in the achievement of outcomes is to focus on the end not the means. Andrew made the point that the party leaders when talking about heath confused the means (healthcare) with the outcome (health itself). Andrew is a big fan of one way of working that will break down the walls around each tribe’s reservation – Total Place. This will begin to tackle the ‘unjoinedupness’ of local public bodies and offers a vision of all uniting around agreed outcomes. Can we get past the old adage that ‘culture eats strategy’? The Treasury thinks the pilots went well but a consultants report talked of the struggle to get things done. It certainly needs doing – a point discussed further in Andrew’s piece about individual care budgets and how that assumes healthcare and care services working together to a common end. How will that be put into practice after the election – will it work the way the manifestos say?
Educators’ Tribal Reservation – No entry for Parents?
Is this what is going on in schools? Caroline Millar points out how parents are at one moment excluded and the next supposed to be running their own schools. She went to the launch of the Progressive Education Network in February where the dread word ‘parent’ was not mentioned for the first 45 minutes. Now as she points out parents are being urged to exercise their choices by setting up and running new schools – a choice that only 5% of parents according to an Ipsos MORI survey want to exercise. The desired outcome as Caroline argues in her April piece is a good education and she worked hard with other parents and fellow governors to improve the one her children were already attending. What was depressing was how little parents’ voices were listened to at the time they first brought up the 15 key issues identified much later by an ‘official’ Ofsted report and only then acted upon. Caroline’s perspective encompasses both the teacher and the parent – she taught at Kilquhanty an early and real ‘Free School’ in Scotland set up in 1941. Caroline was not there right at the beginning but remembers the words of the founder and educational visionary John Aitkenhead about the consequences of choices. His view of Freedom was simple:
“You are free to jump into the water, but you are not free to stay dry.”
Jump into our blogs and enjoy getting wet.