Conversations with both Cassie Robinson and Noel Hatch have made me resolve to try and get back to my weekly blogging habit and do some proper week notes. These are going to be a bit of a shopping list I think to start with as I’m still all over the place both in terms of enquiry and in terms of getting under the skin of my new role but hopefully sense will emerge over time.
I’ve had a week of exploration, first of ideas via the @si_exchange dine-around that Noel hosted and then with my team. I have had chance to spend time with our outreach team to meet some of homeless community – hearing stories and seeing the brilliant work the team do. I also had a tour of one of the site of some of our (future) affordable homes which got me thinking about future community building and and then a very special afternoon with our bereavement team where I saw first hand the care and attention they bring to the rituals of death that as a society we often think too little about. I also had a lot of google hangouts and Zoom meetings…..
So many thoughts whizzing around after this but prompted by the conversation that Noel hosted on Monday but very much reinforced by what I am seeing around me I have been thinking – a lot – about how you create space and capacity for change.
When I was at Public-i I spent a lot of time making the case that Councils and the wider system needed to change. Part of what motivated the two roles I had after that was to dig deeper into the process of changing in a corporate context where a lot of my more research focused work has looked at change from the perspective of system thinking and social research. This piece on ‘all change is system change’ is reflective of my continued belief in the need to reframe organisational change as system change and is where these two strands come together.
What I see around me now is a system which has been forced to change and which is trying to work out which bits it likes and which bits it wants to bend back into their original shape; I am seeing people planning from their own reality and not always with the solidarity which the clear lens of Covid brought and I am seeing people who are worn out from the last 5 months and are gearing themselves up for an uncertain future.
Anyone who has been following local government over the last few years knows that the impact on ongoing cuts have been savage but stepping into my role I am astonished and in huge admiration of the creativity and innovation that has been brought to bear to continue to deliver and improve services. It’s very clear that everything is running very lean and that Covid has tapped into the resilience that was a large part as to why things still work. What is remarkable is that everywhere I look the appetite and energy to make things better is still strong – but the uncertainty of our reality means we are even less clear than usual as to what better means.
I have come to this new role with a million ideas about ‘better’ – but coming back into an operational leadership role (or at least leading operational teams) I am reminded that people rarely need more ideas – what they need is the time to develop and nurture the ideas and questions that they already have – and sometimes a bit of help to make them stop admiring the problem and just dive in…..
I see a large part of my role as creating the space and the opportunity for change – and right now it feels like the most important thing to do is to help people recharge and regain the resilience they will need for what comes next. That means I am going to be spending time over the next couple of months helping teams to look at their ways of working and at a practical level making sure that they are set up to support each other and take advantages of the positive aspects of flexible working with respect to work/life balance.
When we talk about change something that is often missing though is perspective and the ability to join those ideas up and knit them into a systemic response to the problem you are trying to solve – or the opportunity you are trying to reveal. So the second thing I see my role as being is to connect together the people trying to make changes happen and create spaces for opportunities to flow into – and using these to shape the direction we go in.
Something else that that can be missing are skills; new skills around data, around approaches like asset based working or system thinking can help reframe and reshape a problem into an opportunity. So I see part of what I need to do to make sure that people have the right tools and knowledge to address the problems we want to address.
One of the themes that came out of the conversation on Monday was abundance; how do you find it, how to do you create it and how do you design for it; creating environments that make the most of what you do have and not what you are missing. This requires creating space for imagination and play as well as giving people permission to dream. Abundant thinking is the opposite of the extractive nature of a lot of industrial process thinking – and it’s exactly for this reason that we should think in systems and not in process terms. A good example would be the community response during Covid – despite people being hugely constrained there was abundant solidarity and support – and a lot was achieved by working systemically and not in near process terms. I want to help find and work with the abundance which is in our system.
I have always been dead against being one of those people that has loud opinions about what should happen without rolling up my sleeves to try and make it happen. I think part of that rolling up of my sleeves now is in taking the time to define what my role is in making change happen as well as understanding what it is that people need in order to create that space and capacity for change. I’m going to take this question into next week and see what happens.