Saturday, November 14, 2015

Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving

Together We Can is a set of practical resources drawn together from the national ‘Together We Can’ programme (carried out by the UK Government 2003-2010 as an action-learning exercise to empower citizens to cooperate with each other and with public bodies to solve problems); the international Cooperative Problem-Solving research (at the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge); and the ‘Working with Communities’ initiative (implemented for a local authority over a 4 year period to strengthen democratic participation, and subsequently recognised with a Best Practice Award from the Prime Minister in 1999). These resources have also informed the development of the Synetopia Protocol.

What are the key issues to reflect on
• How can we show that people are ready to engage in public decisions provided they are actually given a meaningful say?
• What are the key ingredients for effective cooperative problem-solving?
• What are the main lessons to learn from civic disengagement?
• How to build sustainable democratic action when those hostile to such action are in power?
• Why greater focus should be given to tried and tested techniques than reinventing short-term ‘innovative’ projects?

How to get hold of the resources
The following cover a range of ideas and findings on the value of adopting cooperative problem-solving, and they are all accessible for free online:
‘Cooperative Problem-Solving & Education': on the evidence for suggesting why cooperative problem-solving should be taught more widely (published by the Forum Journal, 2013).
• ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society’: on the key elements of successful cooperative problem-solving, as jointly agreed with a group of academics and practitioners (Question the Powerful, October 2012).
‘Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment’: on the lessons from the ‘Together We Can’ programme and ‘Working with Communities’ initiative (first published in Forum Journal, Vol 53, Number 3, 2011).
• ‘The Case for Cooperative Problem-Solving’: on why cooperative problem-solving is needed in tackling social, economic and environmental problems (Question the Powerful, May, 2012).
'The Cooperative Gestalt': on the role of lifelong learning in developing a cooperative mindset (Question the Powerful, November 2013).

For case study materials based on the ‘Together We Can’ programme, you can download the following from the national archives at no charge:
• ‘Together We Can’ action plan: the cross-government plan with commitments in the key public policy areas.
Annex to ‘Together We Can’ action plan: with details of the proposed initiatives.
‘Together We Can’ 2005/2006 review: reports from the Secretaries of State and Ministers on progress in 12 Government Departments.

Options for further engagement
• Contact Henry Tam with any question about his experience in devising and delivering these local and national programmes.
• Share the Together We Can resources with others to promote effective cooperative problem-solving between citizens, and between state and citizens.
• Set up a meeting to discuss evolving strategies for community empowerment citizen action.
• Draw on the resources to develop democratic campaign groups and cooperative alliances to strengthen community solidarity and challenge the irresponsible acts of the powerful.

Supplementary Materials
The following works provide more information on how the Together We Can approach has evolved to become key to the cultivation of the cooperative gestalt in citizen-state cooperation:
• 'The Importance of Being a Citizen’: in Active Learning for Active Citizenship, ed. by John Annette & Marjorie Mayo, (NIACE, 2010)
• ‘Civil Renewal: the agenda for empowering citizens’, in Re-energizing Citizenship: Strategies for Civil Renewal, ed. by Gerry Stoker, Tessa Brannan, and Peter John, (Macmillan Palgrave, 2007).
Serving the Public: customer management in local government (Longman: 1993)

The following links will take you to range of resources on how citizens can play a more influential part in shaping their communities and their state:
• ‘Take Part’: resources for ‘Active Learning for Active Citizenship’.
• ‘Guide Neighbourhoods’: how communities can learn cooperative problem-solving and civic activism from each other.
• ‘Civic Pioneers’ first report and second report: collaborative working between local authorities and citizens to improve local quality of life.
• ‘Quirk Review’: report on community management and ownership of public assets.
• ‘Asset Transfer Unit’: resources to support the transfer of assets to community-based organisations.
• ‘Participatory Budgeting’: resources to expand the use of participatory budgeting in deciding how to allocate public resources.
• ‘Councillors Commission’: report with recommendations on how to improve the democratic role of elected local councillors and facilitate citizen participation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Place called SYNETOPIA

Thomas More famously called his fictional society ‘utopia’ – which has the double Greek meaning of ‘ou-topos’ (i.e., no such place), and ‘eu-topos’ (i.e., the good place). Understandably, a society free from the kind of excessive wealth and poverty More so deplored is one that is for him both good and, sadly, nowhere to be found.

Since More’s Utopia was published in 1516, there have been many attempts to transform the world into a more perfect state. Some have raised hopes, made little sustained impact, and faded away as feeble utopian dreams. Others have pushed through completely new systems, brought sweeping changes, and created what turned out to be frightful dystopian nightmares. But in between the extremes, progressive reformists have been experimenting cautiously and over time their accumulative learning provides a substantial resource to guide us on how to improve human association and social structures.

In ‘Communitarian Governance: a 9-point guide’, we looked at how the three communitarian principles of mutual responsibility; cooperative enquiry; and citizen participation, can guide us towards better governance of groups from a local organisation, to a national state or a global institution. By applying those three principles to each of the three core dimensions of human association (namely, its culture for problem-solving, its power structure, and its system of accountability), we arrived at nine elements, the strengthening of which would continuously improve the wellbeing of the group and its members.

We can now build on these nine elements to develop a general model for any place or group where people can cooperate together on the basis of objective reasoning and mutual respect to work out how to better themselves individually and collectively. We call this model: SYNETOPIA.

Shared Mission
You-and-I Mutuality
Nimble Membership
Educative Collaboration
Testing of Claims and Assumptions
Open Access to Information
Participatory Decision-Making
Impartial Distribution of Power
Accountability for Action

In addition to being an acronym for the nine elements, it is a composite of the Greek words, ‘synergatiki’ and ‘topos’, denoting a cooperative place.

A brief description of the nine elements is given below. They have been drawn from the reform ideas in the development of small groups, businesses, and public institutions, so that the essence of each is identified and separated into the smallest number of categories. One of the key projects relating to the ‘Question the Powerful’ collection of resources will be to formulate more detailed exposition of each of these elements, so that they can be more closely examined and practically applied to different forms of organisation.

Summary of SYNETOPIA

Shared Mission
All members of the group should have a shared understanding of their common mission or purpose. The group should be effectively and visibly organised to enable its members to join forces for their respective wellbeing.

You-and-I Mutuality
Instead of ‘Me’-centred individualism or ‘We-subsume-all’ collectivism, there should be genuine mutuality in distributing the benefits and burden connected with the group, and none should amass what comes from the group’s joint endeavours to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

Nimble Membership
There should be a transparent and responsive membership system that underpins who is brought into the group or excluded from it, and sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the group and its members.

Educative Collaboration
All member of the group should be enabled to share ideas, learn through collaborative exchanges, and have lifelong opportunities to study, formulate and discuss interpretations of the world as well as ideas for change.

Testing of Claims and Assumptions
The group should make sure no claim or assumption is privileged as unquestionable. It should subject all doctrines and findings to continuous testing, and revise them in the light of the latest evidence.

Open Access to Information
There should be open access so nothing untoward is hidden and useful information is widely shared. Processes to detect and expose deception should be in place, and demands for secrecy must be independently scrutinised for their legitimacy.

Participatory Decision-Making
The group should enable and encourage all members to participate as equals in the making of decisions that affect them, and ensure everyone can contribute to those decisions on an informed and deliberative basis.

Impartial Distribution of Power
The distribution of power should be monitored and where necessary revised to minimise the likelihood that an individual or an alliance of them can come to possess so much power that they can intimidate or dictate terms to others.

Accountability for Action
All members, especially those entrusted with the authority to act on behalf of the group, must be held accountable for any action against individual members or the wider interest of the group. Disputes over charges should be resolved through independent mechanisms and judgements carried out in accordance with the rules.

More details on each of the nine elements that constitute synetopia can be found in the essays on those elements listed in the 'Guide to Synetopia'.