A Better Way: Bulletin number 4 (December 2017)

As some of you will already know, Jane Slowey, one of the founders of the Better Way network, finally lost her battle against cancer and passed away on 7th October. There have been many heartfelt tributes to Jane: ‘a mentor and role model for many’, ‘fearless and outspoken’, ‘an inspiration to many with a kind and generous spirit’, ‘a passionate believer in social justice’.

All of which reminds us that one person can touch many lives, and that change for the better depends ultimately on people like Jane, who never give up.

Jane led the Foyer Federation for 13 years, championing an ‘advantaged thinking’ philosophy and practice. This starts from the premise that ‘everyone has the talent and ability to create their own future and be someone in life’.  You can read more in this blog which Jane wrote earlier this year for the Better Way. 

Next year we will be publishing a compendium of essays designed to bring home the human stories behind a Better Way and inspire others to act and take up our ideas.  We have decided to dedicate this to Jane, who was such an inspiration to us all.

Please forward this bulletin to others who may be interested, and if you are not yet part of a Better Way group but would like to be, just let us know. 

About A Better Way

A Better Way is a network of social activists, from the voluntary sector and beyond, who want to challenge business as usual, improve services, and build strong communities. We have set out some simple propositions, which we believe, if pursued with courage and conviction, would bring about a radical shift in favour of the common good. The initiative is hosted by Civil Exchange, in partnership with Carnegie UK Trust and is also supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.  You can find out more here: http://www.betterway.network/

Some links you might like

  • Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter and Better Way member gave a hard-hitting speech recently where she called on larger charities to do more to share power, give up their privilege, and develop a common narrative.
  • The RSA has published a report Releasing Energy For Change in our Communities, exploring how to build social movements at community level and support a shift away from ‘confrontational energy for change’ towards constructive and collaborative approaches.
  • As the Carnegie UK Trust says, ‘kindness is at the very heart of our wellbeing’.  With support from Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Trust has been investigating what can be done to encourage kinder communities.
  • Ed Mayo, from Co-ops UK, has written a wonderful short history of co-operation, reminding us that models of co-operation existed long before 1844 and the Rochdale Pioneers, and have been found right across the world, and that we are indeed an essentially ‘co-operative species’.
  • Here is a speech and slide show by Gary Wallace from Plymouth City Council on ‘integrated commissioning’, which aims to incentivise local co-operation to improve services. Funds have been pooled and the council and other agencies across sectors have been working to create ‘a whole system of service created around the needs of people’. 
  • Asif Afridi, from equality and human rights charity brap, and a member of the inquiry panel into the future of civil society, has written a thought-provoking article on identity-based forms of organising.  Are they really helping us, or will they hold us back unless we adapt?
  • Tom O’Grady from University College London writes here about the way in which hostile political discourse has negatively influenced public perceptions of the welfare state. A powerful reminder that the narratives we create can generate a shift in thinking, for good or for bad. 

How can we build a Better Way organisation?

Our four Better Way cells in London met in September and October and all explored the same theme: what does a Better Way organisation look like, what gets in the way, and what tactics might help?  You can read their conclusions here.

And finally…

Better Way member David Robinson from Community Links is writing a series of ‘Connecting Well’ blogs, exploring devaluation in the currency of relationships, the unwelcome consequences of our changing behaviour, and what might be done:  

  • ‘We have hollowed out the heart of our businesses with call centres, our high streets with cash points and self-service checkouts, our neighbourhoods with design that strips out interaction and our public services with carers commissioned for seven minute visits, retendered every three months. Fake relationships are as ubiquitous in 2017, and just as insidious, as fake news.’

You can see his first blog here, and once you have read that I am sure you will want to sign up for the others.

A Better Way: Bulletin number 3 (August 2017)

The Grenfell Tower fire continues to dominate our debates, and rightly so. It seems that almost every discussion about community life and public service is now and forever haunted by the image of the blackened tower, this terrible monument to suffering, injustice, and institutional failure. 

Yes, we can find solace in the bravery of the emergency services, and in the generosity of strangers, people from all walks of life, who dropped everything and came to help. And yet, we allowed it to happen. As our members have pointed out, the threat to safety in tower blocks has been known about for decades. We shamefully ignored the voices of residents, not just in Grenfell, but across the country, continued to place poor and vulnerable people in everyday danger, and turned our backs.  And in the days and weeks following the fire we, in all sectors, were found wanting.

Whether or not this event will lead to change for the better hangs in the balance. We cannot simply rely on the public inquiry. Much will depend on the stories we tell and the actions we take, our collective ability to confront institutional inertia within our own agencies as well as that of others, and the extent to which we can build solidarity with those we have ignored and left behind. 

You can read a summary of recent Better Way discussions about this here and here. We would very much welcome further views and insights from colleagues across out network. 

Please forward this bulletin to others who may be interested, and if you are not yet part of a Better Way group but would like to be, just let us know. 

About A Better Way

A Better Way is a network of social activists, from the voluntary sector and beyond, who want to challenge business as usual, improve services, and build strong communities. We have set out some simple propositions, which we believe, if pursued with courage and conviction, would bring about a radical shift in favour of the common good. The initiative is hosted by Civil Exchange, in partnership with Carnegie UK Trust and is also supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.  You can find out more here: http://www.betterway.network/

Our national gathering

In June we held a Better Way national gathering with cell members from Manchester, Hastings, Taunton, Coventry and London, and were joined by Julia Unwin, who chairs the Inquiry into the future of civil society.  We heard how cell members are applying the Better Way propositions to local action, explored public narrative techniques to produce a contagious story of change, and concluded that we need to unlearn almost everything we are conventionally taught about leadership!  As a result of the gathering we have produced a Call to Action in 2017.

Recent blogs from our members

Lessons from Grenfell Tower, by Sue Tibballs: the terrible event has revealed shortcomings in all sectors – what is the potential for change?

Mainstreaming or specialism? by Andy Gregg: ‘nothing about us without us’ has been the rallying call of specialist self-help groups – what is their future and how could mainstream agencies respond?

 And finally…

Here are two contrasting and provocative articles about Grenfell Tower:

  • Frances Clarke from Community Links argues in the Guardian that history shows that residents must lead the campaign for change.
  • Better Way member Danny Kruger argues in the Spectator that ‘change happens when a subset of the elite wins an argument with the rest of their class.’

A Better Way: Bulletin number 2 (April 2017)

As the Better Way initiative continues to expand across the country, we are discovering a wealth of radical and positive thinking and indeed practice. Despite much that is negative and dispiriting around us, there is also a spirit abroad which is on-the-front-foot, defiant in the face of obstacles, eager to shake things up, and essentially hopeful.
 
You will see this spirit much in evidence in blogs and articles written by our members, and in insights about our Better Way proposition which we have been collecting, which we are sharing below and which we hope you will enjoy reading.
 
Do keep sending us your ideas, provocations, connections - and if you are not yet part of a Better Way group but would like to be, just let us know.
 
About A Better Way
 
A Better Way is a network of social activists, from the voluntary sector and beyond, who want to challenge business as usual, improve services, and build strong communities. We have set out some simple propositions, which we believe, if pursued with courage and conviction, would bring about a radical shift in favour of the common good. The initiative is hosted by Civil Exchange, in partnership with Carnegie UK Trust and is also supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. 
 
We already have three Better Way groups in London, with others underway or in formation in Manchester, Sheffield, Hastings, Newcastle, Northumberland, and Taunton, and we continue to builda wider network of people interested in Better Way thinking and practice. On 7th and 8th June we will be holding a nationwide gathering of cell members to bring together insights and plan our next steps.
 
Recent blogs from our members
 
Change that lasts, by Polly Neate: how Women’s Aid is piloting a new, strengths-based, needs-led and trauma-informed response to domestic abuse.
Advantaged Thinking, by Jane Slowey: how foyers across the country have ditched a deficit model of working with young people and the difference this has made.
Yes, it is time to take back control, by Peter Holbrook: in the face of global centralisation of economic power and ownership we need to take back control and put people first.
We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for, by Caroline Slocock: leadership is innate in everyone and is all the better for being shared.
 
Insights into our Better Way propositions
 
With the help of our members and with support from the Carnegie UK Trust we have been gathering insights into our propositions. We have found an impressive range of academic and scientific evidence as well as plenty of examples from this country and overseas which support our thinking. And it is evident that our propositions are interconnected and that a real strength lies in their combination.
 
As we’ve always known, while our propositions may appear simple and familiar they are also controversial, open to challenge, and subject to immense institutional resistance.  Through the discussions in cells we are starting to identify the barriers and also to distinguish between real change and lip service.  These are propositions not prescriptions, and we are discovering that the best way to stimulate a shift in favour of a Better Way is not through the laying down of dogma, but through debate and creativity and disruptive practice.
 
You can follow the links below to find out more:
 
Prevention is better than cure
Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses
Human relationships are better than impersonal transactions
Collaboration is better than competition
Mass participation is better than centralised power
Local is better than national
Principles are better than targets
Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others
 

We are always looking out for articles and material to share with each other which illustrate or shed light on our propositions, so please do send any to us that you come across or write yourself.
 
Self-efficacy – a call for examples
 
One of our Better Way members, Richard Wilson, is collecting evidence of activities which build people’s self-confidence, self-belief or self-efficacy with a view to improving service outcomes. Examples of this could be health services where people are supported to tackle their health conditions, education services where students are supported to have the confidence to learn for themselves; or activities where staff are given exceptional levels of autonomy, because that helps improve service outcomes. If you know of good examples please let Richard know by responding to his survey here.
 
And finally…
 
‘Kittens are evil’ is the title of a recent collection of articles, some written by members of the Better Way network, which challenge many of the prevailing presumptions that shape our services and our communities.
 
To give you a flavour, one article claims that family intervention doesn’t work: ‘far from addressing the root causes of society’s problems family intervention approaches serve to paper over the cracks’.  Another points out that payment by results makes things worse: ‘measuring outcomes cannot be used to performance manage the delivery of social interventions without distorting or corrupting the practices it intends to manage’.  A third claims that government cannot innovate: ‘it is generally good at keeping things the same, but generally very bad at making things better’. And a fourth that public service markets aren’t working for the public good: ‘continued reliance on open competition in the supply of public services will lead to market collapse and/or new monopolies’.
 
There is much more – a stimulating read!
 

A Better Way: Bulletin number 1 (November 2016)

We have had an amazing response to the Better Way initiative, with groups already in formation right across the country. “Disruptive social activism at its best!” as someone said.

Below you can see our recent blogs, and a selection of links which bring our propositions to life, all of which we hope you will enjoy. Do keep sending your ideas and insights, and if you are not yet part of a Better Way group but would like to be, just let us know. 

About A Better Way

A Better Way is a new initiative, to build a network of social activists, from the voluntary sector and beyond, in order to challenge business as usual, improve services, and build strong communities. We have set out some simple propositions, which we believe, if pursued with courage and conviction, would bring about a radical shift in favour of the common good. The initiative is hosted by Civil Exchange, in partnership with Carnegie UK Trust and is also supported by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.  You can find out more here: http://www.betterway.network/

We already have a group going in London, and further affiliated groups are in formation in London, Coventry, Manchester, Sheffield, and hopefully Hastings, Newcastle, and many other places, and we are also building a wider network of people interested in Better Way thinking and practice. 

Our recent blogs

A better way for business, by James Perry: can the ‘homo erectus’ of shareholder capitalism be replaced by the ‘homo sapiens’ of stakeholder capitalism?

Enabling people to take more control of their lives, by Steve Wyler: are charities maintaining people within the system, rather than helping them move out of it?

Love, trust and the teachable moment, by David Robinson: what if love was the guiding principle at the heart of public life, public services and public discourse?

Our Better Way propositions

We are always looking out for articles and material to share with each other which illustrate or shed light on our propositions, so please do send any to us that you come across or write yourself. Here’s some material that we’ve recently found that may be of interest to you:

Prevention is better than cure: the Rough Guide to Early Action published earlier this year is very persuasive: seven compelling examples, illustrating that early action can be measured, can have rapid effects, and can stimulate unlikely alliances.

Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses: the Foyer Federation’s ‘advantaged thinking’ philosophy has profoundly changed the way foyers across the country work with young people, and their ideas are beginning to take hold elsewhere.

Human relationships are better than impersonal transactions: for many years Newham-based charity Community Links has promoted the simple but often-neglected idea that ‘deep value relationships’ should be at the heart of public services.

 Collaboration is better than competition. Do have a look at these articles Apocalypse NAO! and Children in Charge by Kathy Evans from Children England, which highlight a systemic crisis in children’s services, explain why it cannot be addressed by ‘outsourcing to Deloittes, KPMG or the marketplace’, and propose a national ‘Care Bank’.

Mass participation is better than centralised power.  A recent article by Duncan Green explores how change happens, and we really like his insights that social activists need to be able to dance with uncertainty and seek out ‘positive deviance’, rather than expecting a linear plan to work in a complex world.

Local is better than national: a report by Locality and Vanguard promoted a ‘local by default approach’ and has led to a Keep it Local campaign. But Chris Whitwell from Friends Families and Travellers has reminded us that localism can have an ugly side: for example, devolving decision-making to local councils has resulted in a severe shortfall in authorised sites for Travellers and Gypsies, leaving thousands of families with no legal right of abode anywhere. This is important debate, and we hope Better Way can make a useful contribution to it.

Principles are better than targets: this report described how over-prescriptive regulation undermined the culture of the Camphill movement and highlights the ‘dangers of treating care as if it were just another industrialised product’.

Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others: here is a provocative blog by Simon Duffy, from the Centre for Welfare Reform, suggesting it is time to rethink charity.

And finally…

This was written by William Hutchison Murray, a Scottish mountaineer, back in 1951:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’

I think this is true of the best social action. Once action is underway, provided there is an open and creative spirit, possibilities and opportunities arise which can never be predetermined.