our vision

There is a better way. 

We are a network of social activists, from the voluntary sector and beyond, united in our conviction that society will be better served by liberating the untapped potential of people and places, rather than simply treating them as passive recipients of services, as problems to be solved, or as failing communities.

The status quo is no longer an option.

The promise of the welfare state is no longer being fulfilled. Despite valiant efforts Britain has threadbare public services, with demoralised staff and dissatisfied users. Far too many people feel powerless, and far too many communities have been left behind.

Yet the whole system continues to cost more than ever, and present trajectories are unsustainable. Attempts to reform public services through centralised managerial systems or through market privatisation have only made things worse, and efforts to regenerate communities through top-down interventions have failed.  

We can do better than this.

In the foreseeable future we are unlikely to see more public spending. This is the time to do things differently, with less reliance on the concept and traditional model of ‘public services’ itself. What matters is not services, but people – providers and users, professionals and the people they serve – and community - the relationships that bind them together.

A Better Way's propositions are therefore based on a common belief in the power of people acting together to bring about change:

  • Prevention is better than cure. Too many resources are wasted in tackling rising demand, when it would be more cost-effective and better for all to take early action to prevent problems arising in the first place.  To read more...
  • Building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses. Even in the most difficult circumstances people and communities have much to offer. They are well placed to come up with the solutions, and to take action accordingly. Defining people by their ‘needs’ or deficits, and doing things for or to rather than with them, creates dependency. Creating conditions where people can flourish on their own terms sets them free.  To read more...
  • Relationships are better than transactions. Deep value is generated through relationships between people and the commitments people make to each other. We find this first and foremost in families, communities and neighbourhoods. Moreover, public agencies, charities and businesses achieve most when they move away from command and control by the few and stimulate the resourcefulness of the many.  To read more...
  • Collaboration is better than competition. Price-based competitive tendering for public services is harming society and wasting taxpayers' money. Rather than a destructive, value-squeezing contest among a few big corporations in pursuit of shareholder profit, we need a collaborative method that brings together people with a shared interest in a common challenge. To read more...
  • Mass participation is better than centralised power. Power is concentrated in the hands of too few people. More decisions should be made by larger groups of people with a shared interest or expertise in the subject, starting with those whose voices have not been heard: ‘no decisions about us without us’. To read more...
  • Local is better than national. National blueprints don't work. This is because governments can set out national aspirations, but cannot dictate how their plans will be received and implemented locally. People need the power to shape the places they live and work in, and this will only happen when governments stop trying to organise community life from the centre.  To read more...
  • Principles are better than targets. All too often universal targets, standard setting and inspection regimes fail to encourage the best behaviours or prevent the worst. Quality is a continual process, emerging from principles of human dignity, best reinforced by citizen engagement, challenge and accountability.  To read more...
  • Changing ourselves is better than demanding change from others. The best starting point is what we ourselves can do, putting the common good first and our vested interests last. The more we achieve, the more others will follow.  To read more...

We know that there are many who share our convictions, and that there is plenty of excellent practice to draw inspiration from. But barriers to change are still considerable. There are powerful vested provider interests that wish to preserve the status quo.  The language used to describe change lacks clarity and is easily misappropriated. Some in the public sector are hungry for new ways of doing things, but are held back by a market-based culture, anxieties over accountability and risk, and institutional inertia. Even in the third sector, which pays the greatest lip service to these values, too much practice is provider-driven, and leadership is weakened by the struggle to survive.

So we need to bring about a radical shift in our thinking and practice.

It is time to build fresh purpose for our social institutions. To find ways to liberate all the resources available – public spending, private investment, civil action. To move beyond public services, as currently conceived. To rediscover what we mean by community. Above all, to build common cause for a better society. 

To find out how you can get involved...