Friday, May 27, 2016

Together We Can: the practice of community empowerment

As the UK Government’s Head of Civil Renewal, I devised the national ‘Together We Can’ programme (2003-2010) as an action-learning exercise to empower citizens to cooperate with each other and with public bodies to solve shared problems, and improve their quality of life. Listed below are resources that will inform you of what the programme covered and the practices it promoted on the basis of their effectiveness in advancing community empowerment.

A selection of resources
These are all available to download for free from the given links:
• ‘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.
• ‘Guide Neighbourhoods’: how communities can learn cooperative problem-solving and civic activism from each other.
• ‘Take Part’: resources for ‘Active Learning for Active Citizenship’.
• ‘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.

Supplementary Materials
‘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 Importance of Being a Citizen’ (Henry Tam): in Active Learning for Active Citizenship, ed. by John Annette & Marjorie Mayo, (NIACE, 2010)
• ‘Civil Renewal: the agenda for empowering citizens’ (Henry Tam), in Re-energizing Citizenship: Strategies for Civil Renewal, ed. by Gerry Stoker, Tessa Brannan, and Peter John, (Macmillan Palgrave, 2007).
• ‘Together We Can - tackle the power gap’, The Frontiers of Innovation Conference: 20 Years of Innovation in Government, the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, University of Harvard, USA: 1/4/08: 'Innovations in Participation: Citizen Engagement in Deliberative Democracy’ (Henry Tam’s presentation begins at 33.40 minutes into the video)

For a full listing of related resources, go to: Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cooperative Gestalt: the practice of cooperative problem-solving

The cooperative gestalt is the mindset required to promote shared understanding and mutually supportive behaviour. During my time as Director of the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy (Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 2011-2015), I met with leading practitioners to establish the key ingredients that would enable the cooperative gestalt to flourish and cooperative problem-solving to spread. These include personal dispositions that need to be cultivated and organisational arrangements that should be put in place.

A selection of resources
'The Cooperative Gestalt': on the role of lifelong learning in developing a cooperative mindset (Question the Powerful, November 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).
• ‘The Case for Cooperative Problem-Solving’: how cooperative problem-solving can help to tackle social, economic and environmental problems (Question the Powerful, May, 2012).
‘Cooperative Problem-Solving & Education': on the evidence for suggesting why cooperative problem-solving should be taught more widely (published by the Forum Journal, 2013).
Synetopia Protocol: a protocol for assessing how well any group or organisation is run to enhance the common wellbeing of its members through cooperation (2015).
’Guide to Synetopia’: a listing of short essays relating to the concept of synetopia and its applications to reforming society and institutions (2016).
'The Cooperative Gestalt Approach to CSR': practical implications for corporate social responsibility (2015).

Supplementary Materials
’Learning more about Cooperative Gestalt’: Notes from keynote speech, ‘Power of Adult Learning’ conference (University of Edinburgh, 23 October 2013).
'Niccolo Machiavelli’: an interview with Henry Tam on Machiavelli’s advice on civic republican leadership (2014).

For a full listing of related resources, go to: Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving

Monday, May 23, 2016

Serving the Public: the practice of democratic engagement

Except in cases where the capacity for decision-making and effective action can only be taken on a broader scale – national or even transnational, political issues should be addressed as close as possible to people at the local level. Based on my experience in charge of citizen engagement in local authorities (one, Braintree, selected as the best local authority in England in 1993; and the other, St Edmundsbury, where the ‘Working with Communities’ strategy I developed won a Best Practice Award from the Prime Minister in 1999) and, later as Deputy Director in the national Department for Communities & Local Government, I have written/commissioned a range of materials that may assist others in strengthening democratic engagement.

A selection of resources
These are freely available on the internet:
’Civic Pioneers Case Study Review’: case studies of collaborative working between local authorities and citizens to improve local quality of life. (2008)
'The S Word’: on what subsidiarity should mean in practice (2008).
• ‘Councillors Commission’: report with recommendations on how to improve the democratic role of elected local councillors and facilitate citizen participation (2007)
Civic Pioneers (report for the Civil Renewal Unit): an introduction to how a group of local authorities set about enhancing their democratic engagement with local people (2005).

Supplementary Materials
Putting Citizens First, with John Stewart (Municipal Journal/SOLACE – Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, 1997)
Marketing, Competition & the Public Sector (Longman 1994)
Citizenship Development: Towards an Organisational Model (LGMB – Local Government Management Board, 1994)
Serving the Public: customer management in local government (Longman: 1993)

For a full listing of related resources, go to: Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guide to Synetopia

Instead of relying on a blueprint for a utopia wherein unjust behaviour and prejudiced dispositions can be designed out, progressive thinkers have put forward suggestions for the practical development of inclusive communities, participatory democracy, deliberative cooperation, and other related arrangements that enable people to attain on-going improvement to their governance. There is no final, perfect form that can guarantee pervasive fairness and prosperity; but there are mutually reinforcing elements that can together raise the likelihood that better outcomes will prevail for all. When these elements are actively cultivated in any form of human association – a school, a community group, a business, a state – they constitute what is called ‘synetopia’.

For an overview of the concept, see ‘Synetopia: progress through cooperation’.
For an outline of communitarian and cooperative ideas, and further resources that provide more detailed exposition, see 'Communitarianism and Synetopia'.
For an illustration of how synetopia can be applied as a checklist for organisational reviews, see Synetopia Protocol.

The 9 Key Elements of Synetopia

Each of the essays below covers the corresponding element in the synetopia model. To find out more, click on the selected title:
1: Shared Mission
2: You-and-I Mutuality
3: Nimble Membership
4: Educative Collaboration
5: Testing of Claims & Assumptions
6: Open Access to Information
7: Participatory Decision-Making
8: Impartial Distribution of Power
9: Accountability for Actions

Other related essays that may be of interest to you:

Six Degrees of Cooperation
Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving
'Democracy at the Workplace'
A Place called Synetopia
'‘Synetopia Quest’'
Synetopia: why, what & how
Goodbye Utopia, Hello Synetopia

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Vocation of a Philosophe

Not long ago a group of students at the University of Cambridge invited me to give a talk at the ‘Career Expo’ event about my eclectic vocational journey, which zigzagged through academic research and lecturing; policy work for local authorities; support for activist organisations; publications on politics, management practice, and global history; leading government strategies on matters ranging from crime reduction to civil renewal; and writing dystopian novels.

Afterwards, someone asked if there was a central thread to the path I had taken and if so, whether or not I would recommend it for others to follow.

On the question concerning a central thread, what may appear as an unconventional mix of activities is in essence the vocation of a philosophe. While it is common to think of ‘philosophes’ (as distinct from ‘philosophers’) as referring exclusively to the anti-establishment writers/intellectuals active in 18th century France, the characteristics that actually mark them out as philosophes, can be found in the careers of many others outside as well inside France, extending into the 19th century and beyond (e.g., Joseph Priestley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Owen, George Eliot, William Morris, H. G. Wells, Albert Camus, to name but a few).

And I would certainly encourage anyone possessing the attitudes and aptitudes outlined below to embark on the vocation of a philosophe:

[1] Critical Empirical Reasoning
You are quick to spot dogmatic claims and good at debunking fallacious arguments. You reject assertions that rely on mere traditions or unverifiable revelations. Instead, you are systematic in applying empirical evidence to differentiate what warrants people’s belief from attempts to deceive the public with misleading pronouncements.

[2] Empathic Promotion of Reciprocity
You have a universal sense of empathy that is not bound by prejudices against any group of people. You recognise that reciprocity is fair and effective in enhancing the common good, and you are disposed to oppose discrimination and exploitation by reminding people of our shared humanity.

[3] Targeting Obstacles to Democratic Equality
You appreciate how the biased distribution of power can widen social divisions, and trap many in ignorance and oppression. You are driven by a concern to expose attempts to con people into surrendering control to a manipulative elite, and you are drawn to practical ways to empower all to shape the decisions that affect them.

[4] Spreading Educative Influence
You acknowledge the necessity of using force as a last resort if there is no other way to protect innocent lives. But in general you prefer to rely on education, in the broadest sense, to change people’s attitudes, help them learn to reason effectively, enlighten them of better options, and advise them of new approaches to try and test.

[5] Utilising Genre Flexibility
You are skilled at switching between means of educating minds – lecturing, informal talks, detailed exposition, popular polemics, dramatic fiction, reports and commentary, guidance on public policies, training, mentoring. You make use of a variety of genres and outlets to engage people rather than devoting yourself to a single discipline or craft.

As contemporary plutocracy is reviving the arrogance and excesses of the Ancien Régime, we need philosophes more than ever to detoxify the oppressive atmosphere that deifies the superrich and and demonises vulnerable scapegoats. With indefatigable philosophes dispelling ignorance and prejudice, and showing how a better future is possible, we may yet see the changes we desperately need without having to endure the madness of a violent revolution.