Not a jolly

In October 2012 I attended one of the events at Leeds Digital Festival. Titled Facebook v Reality, it was a session exploring what the perfect social media platform would look, feel and sound like if we had wellbeing at the centre of our collective designer-minds. There’s a great write up here by @victoriabetton who co-hosted with Aiden Moseby aka @textartist

It concluded with the following;

And the last thought from a council colleague about the increasing relevance of digital to the public sector:

“two years ago attending this session would have been a jolly – today it’s work”

That council colleague was me. It wasn’t until my tongue started moving that I realised what my brain was saying. New ways of working, such as blogging, and using tools that aid conversation, that once might have seemed not the appropriate thing to do, are now being used as accepted ways of doing things. Fair play, it may be slow, but it’s happening. I suppose it’s recognition, even evidence, that the public sector is gradually transiting to a different place. But what is that place?

Well, according to the commission on the future of local government, (you can find a summary and report here) it is a place of civic enterprise;

A place where councils become more enterprising, businesses and other partners become more civic and citizens become more engaged.

That’s going to need some explaining and time to digest. I’m not going to do that here, but it seems everyone will need to contribute to make it the best it can be. Rest assured, it will be coming to a town near you shortly.

Conveniently for me though, I recently attended my organisation’s leadership event, about civic enterprise thinking. I thought it might be useful to share some of what went on here. In a nutshell, there were about 6 speeches, some networking and a couple of ‘doing’ sessions and a Q&A with Nicola Adams, home town girl.

The bit that got me really thinking came from the shortest of the speeches. It was by Simon Flowers, head teacher of the school down the end of my street. His mum, Mrs Flowers, taught me at school; small world. He was talking about the people in our lives that really inspire us to do great things. He’d worked out that when you take holidays and weekends into account, school kids are only with those ‘special’ teachers; those they will remember for the rest of their lives, for 2% of their school life. Children are actually only ‘in school’ for 15% of the year. For those kids and families who struggle to live what many would consider a normal life, that is 85% of the time ‘away’ from potential extra help and support; that which could inspire them to do great things.

Simon explained that his school management team has had to change to be able to better support that 85% as much as possible. His deputy on the management team was a chef. They have transferable skills which they use to work with small community groups. To some families, it makes such a difference to know that there is a developing community there to help them. He intimated that the families are responding and it is starting to make a difference to the kids even whilst they are in school. They are more engaged.

So ‘working on the 85%’ is a hook that I took away from that event.

If I’m honest, I’m struggling with the wording of the civic enterprise description. The bit where…”citizens become more engaged” It suggests citizens need to get involved more. Maybe so, but perhaps they are having the discussions about how to make a difference, about what it means to ‘build capacity’ and about what they want for their communities. Perhaps they have a view which they express. Just maybe it isn’t in what is termed call ‘civic space’, by voting or responding in the places they feel comfortable. So the chats at the bus stop, in the hospital waiting areas and in the coffee shops, on blogs around the city and those in organisations at the water cooler, after work in the pub need to be captured and understood. Bet it’s rich stuff.

Getting back to the “today it’s work” quote, I read a tweet this week that suggested work is what you do, not where you go. As well as the ‘doing’, work is also the thinking, the inspiring and the learning…. and it seems to me that to be able to deliver on the civic enterprise stuff, it means more conversation and with those perhaps not yet fully involved ….in a place that suits them, at a time that suits them.

For me, that would be the working on the 85%

Things like flexible working arrangements, joint working with other organisations and the people with the voices and the views. And recognition that to make a real difference and have ‘the conversation’ we don’t always need to measure and account or work within 9 to 5 parameters. Recognition and acceptance that work might manifest itself in non traditional forms and happen at different times and in non conventional places is one huge step in working together for this ‘new place’.

It is so not a jolly anymore, if it ever was.


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to.
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