Living with the Amish

“I really understand why people are drawn back to the safety of the community, and why some people never leave.”


That’s Britain! Episode 1 – Junk Mail, Bus Conductors, Missing Luggage, Rubbish & Littering, Public Spirit, Pot-holes, Blood Transplant Centre

Junk Mail

  1. We get too much of it
  2. The Royal Mail depends on the revenue it gets from delivering it
  3. There’s no way to control it, though the government is implementing a one-stop opt-out from April 2012 for the junk mail that gets sent to us at our address on the edited electoral roll
  4. Even having registered with the Mail Preference Service (and the Telephone Preference Service) I still receive a lot of, mainly anonymously addressed, junk mail – and I guess this will continue even with the new opt-out, because the electoral roll isn’t the only source of addresses, and the Royal Mail isn’t the only deliverer of junk mail.

So… the solution not mentioned on the programme, is for people to opt-in to specific sorts of junk/direct mail advertising (and so not get anything else).  So for instance, as I live in rented accommodation, there’s no point in double-glazing sales adverts being sent to me.  But there is a point in getting takeaway menus.  I’m sure this sort of information would be valuable to advertisers as they would benefit more for each item of direct mail they sent.  And I would benefit because I would get less direct mail, and I would only get direct mail that was relevant to me.

Bus Conductors

  • Gave a sense of community
  • Stopped trouble before it started – community safety, feel safe
  • Gave added value – information, help, flexibility
  • BUT adds 25 percent to each tick
81% of the vote WOULD pay 25 percent extra on bus fares to bring back Bus Conductors.

Missing luggage on airlines

  • 1 in 200,000 chance of luggage being permanently lost
  • 0.01% chance of luggage not turning up at the right place and the right time, but eventually being recovered
  • Ade’s luggage got lost on the way back! 😀

Environmental Enforcement Officers – Rubbish, Littering etc

  • Fines for littering – yes.
  • Fines for mis-sorting rubbish and recycling – no.
  • Personal responsibility for sorting recycling – yes, with the local council helping too.  But also state role to get companies to reduce amount of packaging.

Public Spirit – how willingly will people help a stranger?

Help parking a car – every person asked helped.  And only one of them laughed.  And 8 out of the 16 people were willing to actually drive the car.  And 4 of them wait for him to get a ticket.  Well done Britain!

Worst pot-holes in Britain

“Yes I’ve paid my tax, now go and fix some pot-holes” – road tax disc holder!

Unsung heroes – Blood Transplant Centre

There are times when you just need a strong leader to make something happen

My thesis (which I write about on this blog), which I accept is only an ideal: Community Development is the answer to everything. One problem with this thesis: But, there are times when you just need a strong leader to make something happen.

Definition: a “strong leader” model – the way of working where there is one person who is the leader, who is fairly autocratic or authoritarian, and who takes all the decisions (though they may ask for others’ ideas) and has all the responsibility.  Everyone else largely does what they are told to do.  It is very appealing to human nature – assuming they are a good quality leader, it means everyone else can enjoy knowing there is a clear vision, knowing what their role is within the vision, knowing what they have to do next, and not having the responsibility for overall success.  It is also often very quick to achieve a conclusion (success or failure) because the process doesn’t involve lots of discussion.

How to integrate the “strong leader” model within Community Development

The community decides when to use the “strong leader” model: who they want as leader, their powers, responsibilities, limits, and when the community will take charge again.  Fundamentally, the community is always in power: they just choose to use the “strong leader” model on occasion, delegating certain decisions, in a similar way to them choosing to use a particular tool or technique where they “delegate” certain decisions to the process described by the tool or technique.  And I think it would be important that there isn’t a long-term or permanent leader – one is appointed each time (preferably a different one) for a specific project.

Problem: most people and communities tend towards wanting a strong leader most of the time – it’s human nature. Therefore the Community Development work (catalysed by the Community Development worker) that has to be done, is to urge the community to limit their use of the “strong leader” model.  They need to limit how often they nominate a leader, and also for how long the leader is in power before the community takes charge again, and then how much power and responsibility the leader has.

Process and method: in each situation when the community wants a strong leader, the community should work in a Community Development way to do as much as possible to limit what they actually need a leader to do.  Through Community Development techniques, the community should do as much of the task as possible, and should make as many decisions as possible, before the leader’s role begins.  Also, again using Community Development, the community should design the role of the leader and nominate the leader, and set out the limits of the leader’s job.  The community should be encouraged to narrow down and cut away as much as possible of what the leader will do, and take on more and more itself.

My implication in this whole post is that, while it is always possible to impose greater limits on the use of a “strong leader” model, there will always come a point when a “strong leader” is needed – a tiny kernel.

Question: Given my examples above, is the “strong leader” model only needed and appropriate for making an event happen?

Question: Am I right that a “strong leader” is sometimes needed?

Other thought: My thoughts on Community Development are really me doing philosophy.

Related post: Need for leadership

Analyse and Plan according to Audience and Purpose

Can you think of anything that can’t be analysed according to its audience and purpose?  Can you think of anything that shouldn’t be planned from the starting point of its audience and purpose?

In planning, every decision should flow from what the audience is and what the purpose of the thing is.  What characterises the audience?  Why would they be interested?  What would they want or need?  Then, what is the purpose of the thing?  Broadly, it’s to cater for the audience, but what is the aim of the thing beyond this?  What is it for?  What is it to do?  The more specific you can be about these things, the better.  And the more focussed on these things, the more likely you will be successful.

In analysing the success or otherwise of something, you analyse it on its own merits: how well did it achieve its purpose? How well did it cater for its intended audience?  (Of course, you can then go on to analyse it against broader considerations…)

I learnt this in English Literature at school, but it seems to apply across the board; posters, events, organisations, websites, campaigns…

In Community Development, it would be a crucial tool to use, and a crucial skill to help the community to learn.

Do the small thing you can do

I’ve just been watching the first episode of Ian Hislop’s The Age of the Do-Gooders on BBC 2.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, being interviewed on this programme, said that the trap we, as a society, find ourselves in today is that the problems we face become downward spirals because they are so big.  Our economy is struggling, we face major public service cuts, the global economy has major problems, there are huge international threats to peace and security, and the global threats from climate change are all overwhelming; and the common reaction is to think there is nothing we can do to solve any of these problems, so it’s not worth trying.  As a result, the problems are addressed by fewer people, and the problems get worse.

He then said that he thought the Victorian Do-Gooders would say to this situation, “Do the small thing you can do” because “small things are worth doing” and lots of small improvements will accumulate into the big change that is needed.

The Do-Gooders in the programme did lots of good things: abolishing the slave trade, campaigning for high standards in medical surgery and other professions, making the Civil Service impartial and recruited through examination rather than patronage, running profitable clothing mills which provided decent housing and education for workers and their families, preaching an Evangelical Christianity that required people to do things for their city and for the good of others, and establishing social housing for the first time.

The criticism now of these Do-Gooders is that they went about their work by wielding power, being paternalistic and patronising, telling people what is good for them, and forcing them to conform to this.

As ever, my solution is to “Do the small thing you can do” in a Community Development way.  Work from the ground up, starting where people are, helping them find out for themselves that what they think they need may not be best for them, and helping them help themselves to implement their ‘owned’ changes.  And yes, to act at the small level, because that is achievable, but also because the ‘small’ matters.  And maybe with lots of small changes, the big problems will be solved.

Motivation: manipulating it for good

Companies are motivated to make profit.  I don’t believe, in and of itself, that this is bad.  We just have to find ways to make this motivation work for good means and ends.  Regulation is one such way.

As David Mitchell said in his Observer column (1st August 2010):

“we can only properly harness the power and wealth of oil companies for developing sustainable energy sources by creating a business environment in which that activity is as profitable, or looks like it will become as profitable, as drilling for oil.”

David Mitchell | Give me Ryanair’s brazen villainy over the bogus compassion of BP | Comment is free | The Observer.

I think the same principle can be applied to other agents – other organisations, groups, and individuals.  And when working with people, this can be empowering: finding what someone is motivated by, then creating the environment in which their motivation will lead to good things.  It’s manipulative but without the negative connotation IF they know about and agree to it, and if it leads to good things for themselves (and doesn’t benefit the manipulator).

Do you vote for a person or for their policies?

I’ve just watched an episode of Penn Point with Penn Jillette. In it he said something along these lines:

President Obama campaigned on certain policies regarding wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. When he won the election and got into power, he was given additional secret information for the eyes of the President only. This secret information led him to change his mind about the best policies, so he didn’t do what he had promised.

Penn’s argument is that this negates all democracy. Following the argument through…

Any politician, once in power, will be given secret information they did not have before. This secret information could well persuade them to change their mind and go back on campaign promises. (Which raises the issue of the power that the unelected people have – those who collect and collate this secret information and present it to the new political leaders, but anyway…) So if this is allowed, then it means there is nothing the electorate can do to choose or even influence policy either at an election or afterwards because the power of the secret information will trump the electorate who can’t know the secrets. So we are left to choose a person we trust to change their mind in the best way on our behalf.

So then, what is the best way to choose a trustworthy person? Certainly not through traditional elections, which involve all the tricks of marketing, spin, and putting personalities on show to gain popularity. And elections don’t involve anything that might reveal the depths of someone’s character, their psychology, and inner motivation; I don’t think it’s possible to reveal these things, particularly in the context of an election when the person concerned would be inclined to hide their weaknesses.

So maybe Penn is correct, that all democracy is negated.

However, my answer is that continual involvement is necessary for true democracy. The problem only exists because the people are only encouraged to engage once every few years at an election, and then in between elections their influence is very weak.

Through continual involvement, using the tools and principles of Community Development, the people build a relationship with their leaders so they both get to influence the other. There needs to be a constitutional safeguard to balance the power of the government with the power of the people in between elections, as well as the existing safeguard of elections themselves. The constitutional safeguard I imagine is one that enshrines the existence of local Community Development workers, and the responsibility of government to respond comprehensively with the Community Development work undertaken on behalf of the people; something akin to the legal responsibility of MPs to reply to every letter from their constituents.

So then, if this system was in place…
A new leader, when elected, would be given the secret information and their minds would be changed about the best policies to implement. But they wouldn’t be able to get away with breaking their promises and continuing in power until the next election without consequence: they would have to engage with the people, and explain their decisions or explain why they couldn’t explain their decisions for secrecy’s sake. And in all areas they would have to involve the people in implementing their policies, and give evidence for how their decisions are developed from what the people tell them, and help the people who would be affected negatively by their policies. They couldn’t escape meeting people who they had disappointed; they would have to meet and engage with these people on other issues. The pressure would be very strong I believe.

Imagine our leaders having to help you sort out a dispute with your neighbour over your shared garden boundary wall, help you help them in their campaign for a new primary school, and at the same time deal with you demanding to know why they supported a war. At the moment, politicians can just walk away from these situations. But if they had to continually engage at this level with the people who disagree with them, they couldn’t stand the pressure not to break their own promises because they would be in relationships with the people who they would disappoint. It would work because ultimately politicians are human beings, and need to be liked.