What is the new relationship required between the state and our communities?
So often the two seem locked in a zero-sum game, a competition, in which the fate and popularity of one rises as the other falls? But could we instead re-imagine the relationship between the local state and communities in ways that allow both to develop a narrative of renewed common purpose, new ways of working together and with others to create the futures we are seeking. This is the question at the heart of a project I call theThe Radical Way.
We can see from history that at moments of paradigm shift a broad range of actors (business, civil society, intellectuals and the state) are called on to play new roles. We see breakthrough, the creation of something new, when these diverse groups are able to re-imagine their relationship to one another as part of a new, bigger story.
Earlier this year, funded by the Emerging Futures Fund (TNLCF) I had a series of conversations with leaders in Local Authorities about their desire to create deep change in the way they work. Open ended conversations covered long run changes and challenges in funding; the opportunities of the pandemic – many places have seized the emergency to work in new ways and they don’t want to go back – and the ways in which ‘innovation’ has become stuck: all too often de-coupled from wider questions of economy and ecology. One finding from these conversations is that there seems to be almost an inverse relationship between places who are large purchasers of ‘innovation projects’ and any real change.
I called this enquiry the The Radical Way in homage to Julian Cameron’s best seller the Artists Way. The Artists Way is a twelve-step guide to (re) finding creativity. The reader/participant – and there have been millions – follows a set of tasks that encourage inner reflection and practical change. From the first page of this book you are invited to be an artist, what follows are dynamics that build inner courage and exercises that stretch both the imagination and practical skills whilst potentially widening connections to others following a similar path.
I wanted to explore whether, through a social imagining of Cameron’s work, I might be able to produce something that would respond to those seeking ‘help’ with the implementation of Radical Help.
I had thought, based on the thousands of enquiries I have received for help with the implementation of the capability-based approaches that sit at the heart of Radical Help, that a similar form of guide might be helpful and that such a guide could be developed through conversations and workshops.
In fact, it rapidly became clear that this light touch approach would be insufficient. What is required for those who are genuinely committed to this path (a group who are still few in number as the enquiry also surfaced) – is nothing short of a new infrastructure for imagining a future story, for sharing a capability based philosophy, for barefoot practice in place (a practice that builds local skills rather than those of London based consultants) and for finance that re-capitalises a shared social infrastructure: one created, made and maintained through the new relationships in place.
I am immensely grateful to Cassie Robinson and the team at Emerging Futures for funding this work – a start in facing up boldly to what is needed. And to those who joined me in both the exploratory conversations and a later workshop that discussed emerging findings. You can read the story of this enquiry The Radical Way.