Over the past 300 years or so humankind has developed a system for producing, distributing and exchanging goods and services, which has been based on human ingenuity in the design and development of tools and systems, alongside the extraction and exploitation of natural resources built up over millions of years, in particular sources of energy.
Overall this has massively increased human productivity, led to big increases in material income and wealth and resulted in huge improvements in health, wellbeing and life satisfaction to which many have become accustomed, although the distribution of these benefits has been very uneven and there is still huge unmet demand to match the lifestyles of the most prosperous.
This development has led to natural resources being used up much faster than they are being replaced at the same time as waste products alter the complex natural systems which forms the habitat on which humans and many other species rely.
Therefore options need to be explored which can help maintain and renew the environment on which we rely by reducing our reliance on non-renewable resources, reducing the production of harmful waste and using waste products as substitutes for non-renewable resources. If we don’t the survival of our species, or a large part of it, along with many others is likely to be at serious risk over a relatively short period.
Despite the magnitude of the problem and while it is a relatively short period in terms of human history, let alone that of the planet, it still appears very long term when compared to the myriad urgent priorities that crowd in on us as we try and navigate our way through life and the rate at which we discount the future is in practice much higher than it might be in theory.
To develop and decide on the most feasible longer term options and balance them against shorter term priorities will require widespread collaboration, this in turn will have to be built on rapport and respect and a clear and deep understanding of the many different issues, risks, probabilities, interests, objectives, needs and concerns.
In some cases the choices we make will involve trade offs between competing interests and priorities but there are also likely to be many areas where synergies can be exploited in the achievement of varied goals. This search for positive-sum games will require no let up in the ingenuity we have employed over the last 300 years.
On this referendum day in Scotland, I am writing this piece without knowing the outcome. By the time most of you read this, our future will be clearer. And by then, whatever the outcome, the work of restoration, healing and moving forward together will have commenced.
Some years ago I worked as a mediator in Malawi with a large group of people who represented several sides in a dispute. We had three days of workshops and negotiations. On the first day, we played what we call The Gain Game. This is a development of The Prisoners’ Dilemma, a well-known exercise in game theory. Anyway, the learning is simple. Those who cooperate sensibly tend to achieve more successful outcomes than those who are aggressive and adopt a winner takes all approach.
The Game is played using red and blue cards. The red cards encourage selfish playing and the blue cards are used by those who understand the benefits of collaboration. Of course, they are played in a variety of combinations depending on the actions and reactions of the players. It is often only in retrospect that the players understand that the key to success is to remove the red cards from the game as early as possible. And that such a move itself requires communication, trust and cooperation, whatever has gone before. But setting aside the baggage of the past can be difficult for some, especially when the game is set up with incentives to encourage defection from cooperation.
In Malawi, on the third day, the participants decided that they would ceremoniously place their red cards in a place where they could be seen by all and used by none. This was a symbol of giving up the opportunity to requite the other. It was a symbol of willingness to work together, whatever the consequences or the outcome. It was a moment full of meaning and acceptance. There was acknowledgement of the pain of the conflict and of the sacrifice entailed in giving up the potential to gain revenge. There was acceptance of different points of view and recognition of the need to work hard and respect the other, especially if that other had lost something which was irrecoverable. The act was also one of reassurance, of putting out of play that which could be used to cause further harm and lead to mutual destruction.
This, therefore, was an act of reconciliation and hope. In Scotland and in the rest of the UK, from Friday morning, that will need to be our guiding light. Acceptance, acknowledgment, recognition, reassurance. A rediscovery of all that binds us together and is common, rather than that which separates or has separated us. Getting into each other’s shoes, we can walk together in one direction, with a common destination, arm in arm, whatever the constitutional position. Some will say this is naïve. Well, what is the alternative? It is good to consider where we would go if we don’t agree on what needs to happen next. That gives us a measure, a benchmark, against which to judge whether taking responsibility, showing courage, acting humbly and being disciplined about ourselves and with others is the proper course of action. Look over the precipice if you will, but don’t push. We might all go down together.
There are golden bridges to be built to reach out to others who think and feel differently, leaps of faith to be made and trust to be regained. There are victory speeches to be written, not for ourselves but for others, so that, when they go back to their various constituencies, their words are words which work for us as well as for them. There will be concessions to be made, faces to be saved, hard positions to be softened. We’ll need to be prepared to improvise and be flexible. And we’ll need to assume that each is trying his or her best in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. There will again be no “us” and “them”, only “us”.
See also John’s article in Perspectives magazine, Black and white…or shades of grey?, on the framing of the referendum question.
Collaboration was probably the word most used by those that spoke at the launch of What Works Scotland (WWS) http://whatworksscotland.ac.uk/. WWS is an initiative led by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and funded by the Scottish Government and ESRC aimed at improving what has become known as the Scottish model of public service delivery. Cabinet Secretary John Swinney emphasised the key features of this model in his speech.
At the heart of the model is collaboration – collaboration between Government, local government, public agencies, third sector organisations and collaboration between those delivering public services and citizens to co-produce desired outcomes. These outcomes can be summarised as an improved quality of life in Scotland with services being delivered more efficiently, in a way which prevents problems from occurring and realises the potential of individuals and communities.
This whole approach was set out by the Christie Commission and is now widely accepted in concept as a way forward. The challenge is to put it into practice with the necessary speed, scale and intensity. WWS is one of the mechanisms to help achieve this.
The way we frame tasks shapes how we tackle them. This may be the case for providing public services in a collaborative, preventative, outcomes based way as well. Traditionally we have tended to frame issues in terms of what’s the problem and how can we provide a service to solve it. Perhaps a more innovative and productive approach would be to ask – what are the possibilities and how can we use the assets at our disposal to enable citizens to collaboratively realise them?
The really encouraging thing is that there appears to be a growing understanding of what needs to be done in theory and a real appetite to see how it can be made to work better in practice.
The recent EDAS (Economic Development Association Scotland) Conference took as it’s theme ‘Our economy – beyond the referendum: developing a route map for common ambition.” Amongst the speakers and the floor discussion there appeared to be a growing consensus that a fairer, more equal society (in terms of opportunity, ownership and outcome) is not only an indicator of a well functioning economy, but will also contribute to improved economic performance. Amongst other things, this would come about through realising wasted human potential, increasing demand for products and services and reducing demands on public expenditure to ameliorate problems associated with inequality. Interestingly the relationship between equality and growth has also received attention from the IMF this year. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2014/sdn1402.pdf
In terms of how this ambition is to be achieved in Scotland there were a number of calls for a more collaborative approach in a variety of different contexts. These included:
- between the private public and third sectors;
- within public authorities and agencies trying to stimulate development to better join up policy and practice;
- between communities and developers to jointly develop plans that can meet shared interests;
- between employers and educationalists to shape curricula; and
- within companies to give employees a greater stake in the business and the chance to bring their experience to bear, not least in developing productivity improving innovations.
Coincidently this identification of the need for greater collaboration to improve economic performance came a week after the launch of a new group called N56, with the strapline ‘Scotland means business’. http://www.n-56.org/ This business led group (started by Dan Macdonald) has as part of its founding statement a desire “to facilitate a culture in which the private sector truly works alongside government, the public sector and communities, in the interests of establishing and implementing a strategy from which society as a whole can benefit and prosper. Indeed we believe this culture is more important than any individual policy.”
Maybe there’s something in the air that can be built on, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
I reluctantly attended the meeting on 21st May of Collaborative Scotland.
Why was I reluctant? I didn’t know if it was “worth it”.
I was unsure if what I was going to achieve or learn would be worthwhile. I was uncertain whether it was worth the journey from Motherwell to Edinburgh. I was irresolute about whether it was worth my time. I had been given a casual invitation from a friend whom I trusted: this was the only reason I persisted.
All these unfathomable elements took their toll. I found myself wondering again and again if it was worth it. When I hit heavy traffic, when there were road works, when I had difficulty parking…..should I go on? What would I gain?
However, having reached my destination, the event made me consider many things, which now, upon reflection, I feel able to share.
It was nothing short of life changing.
The “Respectful Dialogue” assisted the group to encourage others to rely on inner resources that are seldom tapped into. It prodded us to use intuition and the ability to innovate in the face of uncertainty. I learned that deep trust and respect could be built within the group, and that by helping each fellow, we can get beyond the devaluing process that we hold.
We were allowed to experience, for the first time perhaps, what deep alignments are possible.
It fostered a coalescing of group leaders from many sectors of the Community around items of shared concern, and assisted in moving towards a successful resolution. We were put in a situation where we had to reach deeply into ourselves, to evoke our higher nature, and simultaneously understand that we are all connected. By learning from this experience, we could be flexible and adapt quickly to change.
It was an inspiring night, and if you missed it, I am truly sorry.
I am also extremely grateful that my commitment took me there. The next time my little nagging voice asks “why?” I shall inform it that we are going on a great adventure!
What is THAT worth?
Notes and reflections on some of the ideas which emerged from group discussions and facilitated conversations about Scotland’s future. The event was hosted by Collaborative Scotland on 21 May 2014.
• There was a shared sense of both the importance of the decision which the Scottish people are being asked to take, but at the same time a sense of frustration and disappointment at the quality of the public debate which had taken place to date.
• There was a sense of frustration directed at the politicians, but at the same time an understanding of their role in essentially marketing particular causes and positions.
• The sense of frustration had manifested itself in a thirst for knowledge – for information and, perhaps, underlying this need, a search for objectivity; for real insight.
• A sense also however that the quest for knowledge, and information, might only be one part of the answer. Just as important was the right sort of information, in the right quality and quantity (there was a significant risk in information overload and misinformation).
• Moreover, there was potentially a risk in assuming that information of itself would provide insight; the acquisition of information was not a substitute for the exercise of effective judgement and decision making.
• Drawing some of these threads together, it was unclear how people would go about exercising the decision they were being asked to make in the autumn of this year, or indeed how one should go about that decision, responsibly, in a way that did justice to the importance of the question.
• While there was an attractiveness to an evidence-based approach, this could not ultimately remove the inherent uncertainty which surrounded any decision of this sort, or indeed life in general. The important point was in trying to find a mechanism by which, individually and collectively, we could arrive at a decision which would allow us to move forward positively from the current discussion.
• This is where, it was perceived, the role of respectful dialogue would be critical. The emphasis on ‘dialogue’, as opposed to ‘debate’ is deliberate; the latter having a ‘harder’ more adversarial edge which leant itself more to a positional approach and potentially to the exclusion of relevant interests and stakeholders.
• It was important to listen and to seek to understand the perspective and interests of different groups, individuals and stakeholders. There was a power in really trying to put oneself in the shoes of that other individual, group or stakeholder.
• Debate and adversarial process did not naturally lend themselves to this kind of understanding and empathy. The world is not as black and white as this; there will be a range of legitimate and understandable different perspectives, and interests. There is uncertainty. Very little, if anything is actually clear cut.
• Some considerable importance was attached to the roles and interests of those who are in effect disenfranchised by this vote. A number of examples of these people were considered; including children, people living in England, or other parts of Europe or of the World, and those both unable to vote and/or to articulate themselves in a way which might naturally tend to give them a voice in the discussion. Their perspective, interests and voice were nonetheless important. Emphasis was placed in particular on the importance of the insight and interests of children, whose futures will be impacted by the decision we are about to make.
• There was a need for clear leadership, but not necessarily in the traditional sense, in which that term is associated with strength and assertiveness. Modern leadership might come through the clear facilitation of effective dialogue.
• There is a danger in evoking emotive language; the importance of remaining calm and seeking to be ‘measured’ in the course of the discussion.
• A sense, finally, both of the importance of the decision, but also of the way in which it is arrived at; the importance of the process, and of the agreement of process, in establishing parameters within which the discussion will take place. This is important, both in fostering the quality of the discussion, and the quality (and perhaps longevity) of the outcome.
• We must not be complacent about the risk of arriving at a decision in a way – whichever way the vote goes – which causes damage to communities both within and outside Scotland.
On 21st May, Collaborative Scotland held a “Dialogue on the Future of Scotland” at the excellent Edinburgh Training Centre. The event combined an exploration of the processes that can help facilitate a more productive exchange with the opportunity to touch on some of the issues of substance concerning the forthcoming referendum. It also provided participants the opportunity to consider issues from a different perspective by standing in others’ shoes.
A critical starting point of any dialogue is the opportunity to build rapport, not least to allow the people to be separated from the issues and the foundations of trust to be laid. The evening began with each table of five or six people introducing themselves to each other and saying something about their hopes for the discussion and their concerns about the referendum, which a more respectful dialogue might be able to help address. The opportunity to share food also played a part in building rapport and humanising the proceedings.
Many of the emerging worries that participants shared concerned the aftermath of the referendum
– possible schisms in families, friendships and communities, a sense of loss given the emotional investment in the campaign, the impact of an overly triumphal reaction by the ‘winners’ and the need for reconciliation.
Other concerns included: overly simplistic arguments about extremely complex issues, the impact on the rest of the UK and a lack of candour about the difficulty of answering questions which are just unknowable at this stage of the process.
It was felt that the nature of the discussion that precedes the referendum can play a part in addressing these concerns. In part this is down to language and de-personalisation and in part to the structure and processes that frame the discussion. The latter part of the evening focused on this by inviting participants to role play different groups of stakeholders. After a brainstorming and vote, five stakeholder groups were identified – interestingly, each group will not be directly involved in the referendum vote, but all will be influenced by the outcome. The groups chosen were: children in Scotland under voting age, Catalonia, UK-wide charities, the north of England and the EU Commission.
The participants were randomly divided into each group and asked to address a number of questions which centred on; what are your interests in relation to the referendum? what risks do you foresee? what are your concerns? what opportunities might present themselves and what hopes do you have?
The representatives were then brought together for a facilitated discussion. Specific attention was paid to the ground rules (e.g. confidentiality, reporting back, order of speaking etc.) with opportunities to reflect on what worked and what could be improved.
At the end of the evening the group as a whole took the opportunity to highlight key learning points. These included:
• There is a very wide and disparate set of stakeholders that have an interest in the referendum and the way in which the dialogue leading up to it is handled
• The way in which the process is structured and conducted can play a key role in determining the outcome and the nature of the discussion (“calm or hot”)
• Facilitation which helps achieve productive outcomes is a form of leadership
• Process management is hard work for facilitators and for participants, requiring concentration and engagement
• There is a very big difference between dialogue (which explores interests, hopes and fears) and debate (which encourages advocacy for and against positions)
• Dialogue enables conversations that matter and the building of collective wisdom
A lot of ground relating to both content and process was covered in a relatively short period of time. There was much that can be built on in many forums between now and September. We all have opportunities to help facilitate more productive dialogue.