All too human: the need for coalitions across different motivations and organisations

mirror mazeHere’s a post I’ve written on the need for coalition building across a range of motivations and organisations if successful change is to happen in social care. This is part of the #socialcarefuture series that @mroutled has been bringing together, designed to create a space to get past just thinking about stabilising the current social care system which isn’t fit for the future. Here is the rest of the #socialcarefuture blog series.


Much debate in public policy focuses on the “why” and the “what”. Why is this issue important? Why should it be prioritised over something else? What should be in place that isn’t? What needs to change for this to happen?

Comparatively little focus is placed on “how” – the practicalities of putting the why and what into action. The “how” follows once the “why” and the “what” have been largely agreed, and is important because it’s in this space that all of people’s experiences are generated. It’s also where good ideas can turn into bad delivery.

But below the “how” is a question even less attention is given to: “who?” Rarely is it considered: who is asking for this change? Who is the change being asked of? What are the motivations of these respective groups?

It is too easy to lament how poor commissioning and commissioners are; or how it would be so much better if only senior leaders recognised the radical difference that x or y would make. But this is to fall into the trap of “what’s the matter with these people?” rather than thinking, familiarly enough, “what matters to these people?”

This thought came home to me when, for around three years, I was simultaneously on both “sides” of a policy argument. For around half of my time I was working in a disabled people’s user-led organisation (DPULO), advocating for disabled people’s equality and rights, delivering user-led services and promoting choice and control through personalisation in social care. The other half of my time was in, of all places, the Office for Disability issues within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP_.

What was fascinating about this was, even though I would say exactly the same things when wearing my DPULO or DWP hat, people would receive a message considerably differently depending on how they perceived me in that moment. Disability rights campaigners would broadly be ok with my thoughts when shared from a DPULO perspective. But the exact same thoughts wouldn’t be acceptable if I expressed them from a DWP platform.

In neither situation was the idea that disabled people’s equality and rights mattered to me. Nor was it recognised I was consciously choosing different means to others by which to achieve what was, in fact, a common goal.

This leads to two connected conclusions relevant for #socialcarefuture.

The first is to understand that what matters to people, matters. Motivations for engaging in an issue will differ. There will be a junior minister who wants to be promoted; there will be lifelong advocates who have dedicated themselves for 25 years to a certain change; there will be civil servants who want a pragmatic solution to a pressing problem they are facing. But all of these different motivations are as present as each other, and can be skilfully aligned to achieve a common change that works for all.

The second is to recognise that such a broad coalition of people with different motivations will be located across a wide range of organisations. Indeed, the coalition has to be widely distributed if it has any chance of succeeding: each participant will have access to something others don’t, and that is needed for the overall change. As a result, some coalition members will be “inside” the system. Some will be outside (possibly literally, chained to railings or waving placards). Some will be in the grey area that is neither inside nor outside (the voluntary sector is most often found in this space). Some may not even know they’re in the coalition.

What leads to change is consciously acknowledging and valuing the existence of such a broad coalition across motivations and organisations. Each participant – each “who”, with their all too human motivations and positions – makes a needed contribution, and it is only through this coalition that successful change will come about.

(For those interested in the public policy theory that underpins such coalitions, this primer on Advocacy Coalition Frameworks https://paulcairney.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/policy-concepts-in-1000-words-the-advocacy-coalition-framework/ is excellent.)

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“The horror! The horror!” – Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could for the sake of what was to be got.

I read Heart of Darkness for the first time during the Christmas break. I was struck by such a sense of how current it seemed that, without wishing to appear ridiculous, I think it’s a very good allegory of the current government and their approach (captured by the quote above).

At the level of the individual, the following descriptions by Marlow, Conrad’s explorer making his way up the Congo River to find a key person in a British Company’s empire-based operations, of the role of administrators within that Company put me in mind of most Ministers:

This papier-mâché Mephistopheles[;] it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe.

and

‘The groans of this sick person’, he said, ‘distract my attention. And without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical error in this climate’.

It’s not a cheery note, but I found a lot in Heart of Darkness and modestly suggest you add it to any reading you list you might have. Incidentally, it also means I shall be watching Apocalypse Now again in the near future.

Man walks into a column, no.28: Ideology

When launching Monday’s Open Public Services White Paper, Mr Cameron said ‘It is not about ideology. It is about the best way of getting things done’. This left me wondering whether the White Paper had too much ideology or too little, and either way why ‘ideology’ has become something politicians want to distance themselves from as much as humanly possible.

First, let’s clear up some terminology. Dictionary definitions of ‘ideology’ include ‘a system of ideas and ideals, esp. one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy’, a ‘set of ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations and actions’, and ‘the ideas and manner of thinking of a group, social class or individual’.

Should this kind of White Paper be ideological, then, based on these definitions of the term, irrespective of whether it actually is? The Coalition makes clear that this is a ‘comprehensive policy framework’ but also, essentially, an agenda: because of the need to engage, consult and, y’know, listen the paper also outlines a range of ‘wider ambitions’ where the Government will consult over the next few months.

Policy frameworks and ambitions… sounds pretty ideological to me. Then there’s the joint Cameron/Clegg foreword, which is not so much ideological as fervent: ‘the forces which restrict opportunity for some inflict an injury on all’ and ‘every pair of idle hands, every mind left uncultivated, is a burden on all society as well as a weight on our conscience’. The overriding tone of the whole document could be summed up with the distinctly ideological phrase ‘power to the people’.

And actually I think this kind of agenda setting is an entirely appropriate focus for a White Paper of this nature. It’s not a White Paper about a specific sector or policy issue, it articulates the values, principles and underpinnings for the whole of the public service system.

So what’s the problem with ‘ideology’, then? Why when this clearly is and indeed should be an ‘ideological’ document is Cameron making such a point of saying it isn’t? When did ideology become such a tainted term, synonymous – it seems from the PM – with the dreaded ‘dogma’ (‘The old dogma that said Whitehall knows best – it’s gone’ he said)?

In this context specifically what Cameron means when he says this is ‘not about ideology’ is ‘this is not about us having an ideological preference for private sector companies taking over public services’ – in response to problems with Southern Cross and other companies messing up. They do, however, have an ‘ideological preference’ that provision of public services should be opened up to providers from more than one sector, principally in order to boost citizen choice.

More broadly what Cameron means is that Whitehall should not be dogmatically telling local areas what’s best for them. That’s fine in principle, but in order to make this work in practice the Government will need to do at least two things. First it will need to fulfil its side of the bargain, and resist the urge to squish local solutions that run contrary to its preferences (and there are plenty of examples, especially in local government, of this not holding true – the so-called ‘Pickles effect’).

Second, the Coalition needs to provide or at least facilitate support and capacity building for key local actors to step up. Commissioners need help in incorporating choice, diversity and a fuller appreciation of ‘value’ into their procurement decisions. Local politicians need support in order to become the ‘community champions’ the White Paper envisages. And local staff and residents need substantive reassurance that if they take a risk and try to take over running a public service, local and national government will be on their side. As far as I’m concerned, being ideological is not the same as being dogmatic: it’s about knowing where you stand.

If #Dilnot isn’t taken forward then politics will have failed

If the report in tomorrow’s Observer newspaper is to be believed, there are Cabinet divisions over Andrew Dilnot’s report on the future funding of adult social care.

If we’re in a position where the Lib Dems – and particularly Nick Clegg – are in support of Dilnot’s proposals, and the Cameron/Osborne axis are against them and want to shelve the report, then it’s potentially a disaster.

Politics will have failed to address one of the major social policy issues of our time.

We’ve been down the road of trying to “solve” the adult social care funding issue so many times, starting with the Royal Commission back in 1999. In the last 18 months alone a national debate on social care, a Green and White paper, plus a Health Select Committee report have all been published, along with countless analyses by key organisations like Age UK and Carers UK.

A consensus was reached prior to the 2010 General Election, only for it to disappear as the election campaign started. Dilnot’s Commission appeared to be a serious way for the issue of social care funding to be considered and addressed, and I was hopeful for its outcomes.

If, then, Dilnot’s recommendations are to be rejected, I hope there’s a substantial  and serious proposal waiting in the wings to address this most pressing of issues.

Our politicians have a moral imperative to ensure the future of social care funding is known, sustainable and fair.

Quotation of the week, coalition edition

My apologies for not blogging much over the last few weeks. The most ridiculous combination of events has conspired to prevent much else other than work. There are no signs that this will change soon, but fortunately my esteemed and brilliant fellow blogger Phil is keeping us going.

In the meantime, how about this quote from a Lib Dem Minister, when asked what he would do about taking messages he was getting from party members to his Tory counterpart (who happens to Andrew Lansley):

We cannot operate by negotiation, but I will take the messages back.

I know we’ve not historically had many coalition governments is the country, but isn’t that exactly what coalition government is?

Together in the National Interest

Following the election, I blogged that the “national interest” depends on what you think is in the interest of the nation, noting that politics is that offer of competing visions for achieving what a party thinks is best for the country.

The Tory party conference takes as its slogan an extension of the national interest argument:

Together in the National Interest

I’ll merely repeat what I said before: this national interest is one that the Tories have defined.

And when they say “together”, though they’re hinting at the coalition, they are more explicitly targeting the “hard-working, family-minded, common sensical” voting public and placing themselves on the opposite side to those who “don’t” share the national interest (e.g. disabled people, benefits scroungers etc.).

I don’t buy it. And it’s in the national interest that everyone else who doesn’t buy it says so.

Government #cuts language: irony alert!

This from David Cameron:

We will be challenging lobby groups that are making inflammatory arguments. We will take their claims on. We will highlight when it is irresponsible to make statements like that.

This from the coalition government who gave you:

People who think it is a lifestyle to sit on out-of-work benefits… that lifestyle choice is going to come to an end. The money will not be there for that lifestyle choice. (George Osborne)

and

Massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy (Michael Gove)

and

I am staggered by the scale of the expenditure on management consultants in the NHS. Even at a time when it became clear that the nation’s borrowing was out of control, Labour allowed wasteful spending to blossom (Andrew Lansley)

and

I have implemented a ban on all new IT spend so we are not incontinently just procuring more and more IT. There has been a moratorium on advertising and marketing which means the Whitehall communications directorate has been able to get a grip of this relentless, reckless spending, often in quangos (Francis Maude)

and

In Britain now we have workforces that are locked to areas and the result of that is we have over five-and-a-half million people of working age who simply don’t do a job… Sometimes you just need to be able to move to the work (Iain Duncan Smith)

Good to see that the coalition government still has a sense of humour whilst they’re busy with the work of gutting Britain’s long-term future.