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. 

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!