Sociologists use the term framing to describe the way in which your prior experiences – cultural and personal – give context to way in which you approach a problem or issue. Its a central aspect of how the public sphere operates and critical to our decision making process – both formal and informal. As a simple example – reframing a question means looking at an issue from a different point of view.
But framing is more subtle than that – we create a frame of reference for ourselves which is full of shortcuts and metaphors which reflect what we feel as much as what we think and are full of the unconscious biases that we all travel with. The 8 tribes research is all about exposing some of the underlying framing of the word and practice of ‘digital’ and the term tribes references the fact that these frames are cultural, emotional and behaviorual – with rational being a poor second when we come to talk about beliefs.
The relationship between politics and frames is fascinating. Political parties argue from within their frame and appropriate the facts that fit their reality – its one of the reasons that evidence based policy making often fails as has been eloquently argued by Jonathan Flowers in his post on “The growing chaos and complexity of local government”. Of course we all do this – but its codified in the political process to such an extent as to make fake news – an extreme example of frame over content – the decisive factor in our democracy today.
In local politics the political party frame often slips and a new local framing of endeavour and purpose emerges as the dominant story of the place – for example in Wigan with the Wigan Deal. On a larger scale, reframing is part of the process of the social shift we are undergoing as part of the end of the Industrial Age. One of my concerns is the invisible reframing which is created as a result of the codification of much of our lives as we move into more digtial spaces.
I was struck while at the recent Solace summit about the emergent new frames for local government as a sector and how these are starting to take root – or not.
- Economics: as devolution and the need for a more balanced economy emerged from the post-Brexit, tapering austerity landscape places are starting to consider what kind of growth they what. As Neil McInroy from CLES would put it there is a new macroeconomic framing emerging which is based around principles of good or inclusive growth which has a fundamanental principles of good jobs right now rather than assuming any job is ok as long as the tax trickle down effect is there.
- Public service: new public management has had a invisible grip on the way in which public service ’thinks’ for a long time. It’s a model designed for the industrial society and its not adapted for innovation, place or system leadership. Programmes like ignite or 21st Century public service are looking at different ways to train and develop public servants in a way which combines the capabilities needed to work differently in the future.
- Leadership: models and approaches to leadership are always under debate but I see the dominant frame for local government leadership shifting from organisational to system leadership. I think this is profound as it highlights a whole new set of skills and approaches and has the potential to fundamentally shift the balence between managerial and political leadership of place.
- Generational thinking: perhaps because of the shift to system thinking and perhaps because of the new emphasis on the generational challenges of house building, social care and place based economic growth, you can see a generational mindset emerging which is looking beyond the challenges of the next electoral cycle and sees local government putting its role as long term custodian of place to the fore.
- Westminster: this one feels more elusive and it’s linked as much to the changing narrative around globalism as it does to the shift in power between central and local government or the more direct consequences of devolution. The reframing is of the animating force of policy and new ideas coming from local not central government.
Each of these new frames put profound stresses on all aspects of old models not the least on our democratic model and structure which wasn’t working for a 20th let alone a 21st Century society.
You’ll notice that digital is not listed here. This is because its not a thing in its own right – its just part of the toolset and mindset that you need to embrace these new concepts. Its a gateway key to the network society.
This is more than story telling – each of these emergent frames are wrestling for language and believes within the system and as with the 8 tribes their different levels of maturity mean that tribal warfare is more likely in the short term as they each wrestle for the upper hand.
The leadership challenge is complex – but I believe means living in the between space of different frames until they settle into a coherent – or at least useable set of concepts.
New frames are necessarily new ideas – but they are ideas which are moving into the mainstream. With each reframing we move further from the industrial society and towards the future and the shaping of the netowrk society. These big ideas are to be ignored at our peril – old power and elites from the Industrial Age are codifiying what they can of the past. The question becomes what of the old world do we want to take into the new and what will follow us as unwelcome baggage?