Think-Tanks Anonymous

Appropriately, for a day that will be looking at the concept of community, it was today in 1935 that Bob Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith formed the first ever meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Together with other members, Wilson and Smith developed the group’s Twelve Traditions to help members give up drinking, introduced in 1946. These Traditions included ensuring members remain anonymous in the media, altruistically help other alcoholics and include all who wish to stop drinking. It also recommended that the group guard against governing hierarchies. The first female member joined in 1936 and the first non-Protestant member joined in 1939. The group has had various spin-offs (a concept discussed in our Tuesday session) such as Narcotics Anonymous and what is interesting is how, despite the endless parodying, the movement met with such acceptance from many people and societies who were traditionally hostile to grass-roots movements.

This led me on to thinking about altruism and its role in community. This term was developed from the French Philosopher Auguste Comte who said that individuals had a moral obligagtion to renounce self-interest and live for others. This attracted some criticism included from Mr Nietzche – who’d have thought it – although he eventually conceded that one did have a ‘duty’ to help those weaker than oneself. It is also worth noting the similarities between AA and the Free Masons, despite the fact that the Free Masons thrive on hierarchy. The Free Masons centre is in fact down the road from POPse!, Old Sessions House and in 2009 the Evening Standard exclaimed ‘It takes some doing to unite London’s Marxists with its Freemasons but Islington council has done just that’ in response to the council’s hopes to commercialise (or perhaps ‘Starbucksualise’) Clerkenwell Green. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to have happened.

So I believe community is nebulous is some ways and can be a strength but can also lead to alienation within the wider community (which helps to explain the parody. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and if you don’t want to join ’em just take the piss instead.) So come down to POPse! tonight for further discussion of community but be warned – there will be drinking.

Heloise Wood

Heloise Wood is a freelance journalist, social policy expert, and general all round fabulous POPse! contributor.

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Day 4 Poll: What is a community anyway?

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Civility and Community

A community (at its best) represents a group of people who may vehemently disagree about almost anything yet despite this are still prepared to give opposing viewpoints a fair hearing.

To me, this tension is best represented in the rather old fashioned word of “civility”.  While its roots are old, I feel it has increasing relevance today.

The word’s origins lie in the salons of c16/ 17 France- where ideas, insurrection and intrigue ruled.  Often run by daring and colourful characters, these beta-test networking sessions used the supposedly genteel concept of civility as a veil for discourse, discussion and debate.

In the absence of social media, salon dwellers realised that the best way of spreading revolutionary ideas was face to face, using polite society gatherings as the vector.

Being civil is a prerequisite for a community, but so is the ability to disagree and argue, without recourse to violence.  Civility encompasses both politeness and passion.  In essence civility is about the rational and emotional response in one.  Good manners, yes but also a robustness, as needed.

Perhaps now as communities across the UK face unprecedented challenges, maybe civility is due a relaunch?

Author info
Patrick is a human rights campaigner who thinks civility is a rather good concept.

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Here comes the science bit: Aniston meets SROI

We have a provocation piece up today about social impact on Social Enterprise Live…Here it is in full:

Social impact measurement. Words to send a chill down the spine of many, and a shiver of excitement down some (you know who you are). For some, an utter turn-off, for others a near-impossibility, and for even more something to ignore or fear.

And yet, absolutely crucial. Whether you look at business guru Michael Porter’s recent writing on Shared Value, the growth of impact investing, the Social Value Bill, venture philanthropy, social impact bonds and more, the ability to measure social value and the impact of an organisation is absolutely central.

And, for the social entrepreneurs and social enterprises, not only crucial for communicating and proving their worth to those external agencies and investors, but also for improving their work, learning from their activity, motivating themselves and their team, and mobilising support.

But (and there are quite a few buts… ):
– there are more tools to choose from than in an over-excited DIY enthusiast’s garage;
– there is as much agreement on approaches as on when the Big Society Bank might open;
– there are those who think attribution is vital, and those who think it just doesn’t make sense;
– simply not enough impact measurement is going on at a grassroots, practitioner level;
– government says it’s important but has often summarily ignored it when making decisions about which organisations it should back (or save).

The debates have become stuck as well: SROI is critiqued for its cost and its ‘boiling down’ to a ratio, but its broad principles and international partnerships overlooked; multiple agencies work with individuals (as they should) but all claim the outcomes; individual sectors can’t agree standards or shared approaches; reporting and monitoring is mistaken for transparency and accountability; the different ‘camps’ have become entrenched; practitioners don’t have the necessary resources. And so on…

And the large grey, big-eared pachyderm in the lounge is the growing view that such impact and evaluation reports are just glorified marketing: solely aimed at an external audience and at arming the communications department with a handful of key statistics. There are those who point to the fact that evaluation is located in the marketing department, not in research. This means that an increasing number consider them the social enterprise equivalent of Jennifer Aniston saying, “Here comes the science bit” on the L’Oréal adverts: figures that give a veneer of credibility to the marketing of a product.

It’s time to shift the debate on, work out what’s next, untrench the entrenched (or something like that), work together (cue shocked gasps), take this stuff seriously (and implement improvements internally), and, most importantly, avoid the superficial attractions of glossy hair and prove that we are really, genuinely worth it.

Should be fairly simple.

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Day 4: Big Society + Small Communities…

How is it Thursday already? Slightly jaded, with a 50/50 alcohol + caffeine mix in the bloodstream, POPse! marches on to Day 4. Today is all about Big Society…and small communities. What is it? How do we make it real? What does it mean for the world of social enterprise + charity? How much bunting will it take?

There will also be photos, more blog posts on other themes, the next 20 of the 100 social enterprise truths on Twitter and much, much more….

Follow proceedings here on the website, or drop in and see us!

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POPse! Day Three


POPse! Day Three, a set on Flickr.

A few photos from Day 3: Social Investment

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Now That’s What I Call Social Enterprise vol. 1

It’s the moment the sector’s been waiting for. As anticipated as the launch of the Big Society Bank; as diverse as a School for Social Entrepreneurs cohort; as thought through as a social enterprise business plan….yes, it’s the social enterprise playlist. The soundtrack to your dreams and nightmares.

Side A: Don’t Stop Believin’
Don’t Stop Believin’ – Glee Cast
Keep the Faith – Michael Jackson
Stand and Deliver – Adam and the Ants
Talkin’ About A Revolution – Tracy Chapman
I’m Still Standing – Elton John
Opportunities – Pet Shop Boys
Dynamo of Volition – Jason Mraz
A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours – The Smiths
Heroes – David Bowie
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ – Michael Jackson
We’re All In This Together – High School Musical feat. George Osborne
The Times They Are A-Changin – Bob Dylan
The Only Way Is Up – Yazz
Mr Blue Sky – ELO
By The Mark – Gillian Welch

SIDE B: Negative about social enterprise
Another One Bites the Dust – Queen
Hard to Explain – The Strokes
Money For Nothing – Dire Straits
Dead in the Water – David Gray
What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
Elusive – Scott Matthews
Under Pressure – Queen & David Bowie
Mess – Ben Folds Five
Fake Empire – The National
Unemployed in Summertime – Emiliana Torrini
Road to Nowhere – Talking Heads
Time to Pretend – MGMT
The Price You Pay – Bruce Springsteen
Stuck In the Middle – Stealers Wheel
Everybody Hurts – REM

Feel free to enjoy these as Spotify playlists here:

A: Positive Social Enterprise Playlist

B: Negative Social Enterprise Playlist

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The New Efficiency: four ways forward

For most of this year, the publication of the Treasury’s Public Service Reform white paper has been horribly imminent.David Cameron even gave a speech raising the curtain on it. But nothing happened. It is still imminent.

Of course we know that, behind the scenes, there are struggles to shift the emphasis from mass privatisation to gentle mutualisation. It is far from clear yet whether the Treasury realise that the tools you need for one – big, industrial strength, shared commissioning – is very different from what you need for the other. We shall see.

But the real problem is that the coalition are only half way through a revolution in service thinking. They have got rid of targets, chucked out the Audit Commission, yet commissioning units get bigger and bigger, the disastrous shared back office systems continue to grow, and McKinsey consultants are still at large in the corridors of Whitehall.. The result? Sclerosis.

Will the white paper address this? It doesn’t seem very hopeful, really. Luckily, POPse is here and I have been able to pull together some urgent advice for the government. There is one way (well, four ways, actually) they can both increase the effectiveness and lower the cost of public services in the long term:

  1. Make services more flexible
  2. Build services which also reduce demand
  3. Co-produce services to reach out and rebuild community.
  4. Make services human scale

How are they going to do that? Well, you will have to read the POPse report The New Efficiency: Four ways forward to find out…

David Boyle –

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Health reforms – beyond black and white

Really thoughtful, considered post from Craig DP. Click on Health, wealth and stealth to view.

As you point out – if it was easy (and it was possible for one person or organisation or even sector) to get our arms around the scale and scope of what we’ve got and what we need, we might have a better chance of getting more out of how Lansley’s reforms are changing the debates – even as support from across the political spectrum slides (or landslides) away from  him.

The thing that most frightens me is that the political fall out from these intensely unpopular proposals means no one touches these questions for decades – much, much too late to get us ready for the changing needs that are coming. If we think the AV/Proportional representation debate has been kicked in to the long grass for a good 20 years by last week’s debacle, how long might the war wounds of this round of debate on the NHS last; stymieing action and preventing anyone raising any kind of critique or radical ideas for change?

So, some observations from the debates this week at POPse! on the role of social investment and social enterprise.

Yes, the long term issues are the hardest. It’s easy to confirm in general terms that we want and need a shift from a sick care system towards services, access and support to make us and keep us healthy. But working out how to shift a service that was designed and developed in a different age is really, really, really tough. We are hampered by political cycles, vested interests, fragmented leadership and an overwhelming sense that why pay today to prevent something that is going to occur on some else watch. Except it’s going to occur to so many of us and ultimately we will all pay for it – personally and collectively. Concerted and honest investment in long term solutions which understand how housing, employment and health are tied are needed. Like:

  1. Care, education and employment opportunities for people with learning difficulties, 
  2. Incentives for support for smoking cessation, weight loss and medicines management
  3. Much, much more effective and sustained set of services for mental health.

The way to pay for these kinds of services are likely to remain firmly in the public purse.

Blended return might be available from a range of other services that show clearer savings in the shorter term. We’ve heard a range of examples this week – expansion of residential services for children with autism, an independent childcare introductory service that recruits, screens and trains care-workers and a rapid response ambulance car for older people have all received funding or investment in recognition of the improved service and savings they are making. But there’s a big proviso – full cost recovery and retaining quality services may be mutually exclusive. The unfettered “market” cannot deliver all the resources here.

Finally, the calls for “social enterprise” probably hides a more sophisticated desire/assertion which include:

  1. A greater desire (and need) for more patient and carer participation in delivery of and control of services.
  2. More assurance that the health service is responsive to and aware of service users.
  3. A greater realism that what we want, what we need and what we can afford creates a tension between choices and delivery.
  4. That the health service should have rights and responsibilities to staff and patients built in.
  5. That public services mutuals and spin outs should be good for everyone and avoid a second class/two tier service, but senior management in the NHS and running a social enterprise are different roles, which it takes time to learn.
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Day 3 Poll: When will the Big Society Bank make its first investment?

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