The infographic above is based on both observations and aspirations.
We observed that during the pandemic collaborative networks formed to achieved outcomes such as supporting people who were “shielding” and mutual support between neighbours. Such networks were characterised by less rigid boundaries within and between organisations. Internal hierarchies became less important as the need for rapid decision-making rendered lengthy chains of command inefficient – thus frontline staff were entrusted to do what they saw to be necessary. There was a palpable sense of a collective, co-operative spirit in the face of adversity. Boundaries between organisations became more porous as the need to work together became a higher priority than organisational self-interest.
Given the achievements of collaborative networking, might it be possible to preserve the benefits described above? What if every organisation – statutory & voluntary – contributed collaboratively to achieve certain outcomes? Specifically, how might the local authority, the NHS, the town’s voluntary & community sector and other important local institutions such as Hartlepool College of Further Education, Hartlepool United Football Club and Hartlepool’s schools work together? Is such an aspiration possible?
Each of the four inner overlapping circles represent one or, more collaborative networks of organisations working collectively towards specific shared outcomes – the outcomes being labelled within each circle.
Organisations working together in any collaborative network – which might include any combination of CIOs, CICs, unincorporated VCS organisations, social enterprises, private sector & statutory organisations – remain autonomous bodies, separately pursuing their legitimate organisational interests. But network membership implies commitment to share information and effort in respect of the shared outcome. Organisations become motivated to join networks upon the recognition that they are most effective when working collaboratively rather than alone. Collective working generates synergy – the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts. Collaboration becomes possible only when there is a shared purpose – such as providing food aid, housing, digital connectivity, relief of emotional distress – when information is shared, when trust-based relationships form and when differences are resolved with civility.
The four inner circles are shown as overlapping to illustrate that outcomes are inter-related – e.g. a healthy mind is in part an outcome of having meaningful occupation in one’s life. Physical activity depends to large degree on the availability of safe, green space. And so on. The implication of the inter-relatedness of outcomes is the need for co-ordination between collaborative networks. Which raises the question of leadership, or, stewardship.
It might be helpful to imagine a system stewardship role as akin to the role played by a gardener. Gardeners shape the various organic components of an environment according to certain design considerations – ornamental, landscape, productive of fruit & vegetables and so on. Good gardeners understand and care about all the plants, trees, creatures and micro-organisms within the garden for which they have responsibility – whether these be large or small, living above or below the surface. Each contributes in its own unique way to the health of the whole eco-system. Gardeners also understand the complex relationships that exist between these organic entities. Thus, not much will grow in the shade of a beech tree; without regular applications of organic matter, land on which vegetables are grown will become depleted and crops diminish; soil health depends on the presence of multiple, interacting organisms. But a gardener does not, nor cannot, control the workings of nature per se.
The role of system stewardship role within a small town – in which social justice, a clean & green environment and healthy citizens with opportunities for meaningful occupation are all agreed as valued outcomes – has many parallels with the role of the gardener. There is some shaping of the environment to be done – such as the encouragement & facilitation of collaborative networking and by funding organisations that contribute to the achievement of outcomes through working collaboratively. There needs to be acknowledgement of the enormous variety, value and ever changing nature of the many contributors working towards the core outcomes that exist within the town – from informal groups and charities all the way through to large institutions.
A further question
What might system stewardship look like in Hartlepool? Clearly Hartlepool Borough Council has an important role to play, as does the town’s voluntary & community sector. But how do they come together to act as a collective gardener? Is this even possible? Surely it is worth some effort applying to thinking about it?
Overarching values and considerations
The outer circles represent three key considerations – or values – which need to inform the activities of the whole system:
Community Wealth Building – because experience demonstrates (as in Preston) that a circular economy hugely benefits citizens. Such economic arrangements ensure that procurement is made locally wherever possible – and that local economic capacity is supported and grown in various ways to ensure that procurement opportunities can be taken. Environmental, as well as economic, benefits to citizens follow on.
Diversity, Equality & Inclusion – because despite legislation and decades of awareness training, a significant minority of people remain excluded from activities & opportunities accessible to the majority. This is because they possess certain characteristics for which much of the current system characteristics –physical and psychological –are not designed to accommodate. Such characteristics include such labels as “physical disabilities”, “learning disabilities” and “sensory loss”.
Creativity, Beauty & Inspiration – because humans possess an aesthetic sensibility. The physical appearance of objects, places, people and the nature in which ideas are expressed (such as through poetry or stories) influence our emotional responses and our the appreciation of their meaning. The arts, culture & heritage play an important framing role in our appreciation and engagement with the world. KPIs, action plans and targets do not change the world (though organisations must be accountable for the outcomes of the public resources they use) but pictures, photographs, tales & films often do.