Archive for category Change

The modern medical conundrum

“The observation that the provision of dignified care is ‘not rocket science’ is one that is frequently made and at the level of individual interactions or personal care this may well be true…However, the reasons why this does not always happen are complex and multi-layered and they cannot be addressed by imploring one occupational group, to care more. Instead, it requires action at all levels of the NHS and by every member of staff, from the chief executive to the porter. Another set of guidelines or ‘dos and don’ts’ will do little to rectify the situation as these already exist in abundance”

Dignity in Practice: An exploration of the care of older adults in acute NHS Trusts (June 2011)

“Here then is our situation at the start of the 21st Century: We have accumulated stupendous know how. We have put it in the hands of some of the most highly trained, highly skilled and hardworking people in our society. And with it, they have have indeed accomplished extraordinary things. Nonetheless, that know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields – from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us”.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right (Atul Gawande, 2010)

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A “bucketlist” and the last of human freedoms

To-do list book.

I’m conscious the last few posts have been focussed on human mortality – though I prefer to think of them as a celebration of life if you read more closely. But at the risk of distressing still further…..

You may have heard of Alice Payne. And if not then you need to:

I tweeted (a little tearily I admit) about Alice’s inspiring (if a little heartbreaking) blog on the morning of 8th June and then again that afternoon.

And so, it transpires was everyone else. And so by this morning Alice was tweeting about how the twittersphere was making a series of wishes come true….while newspapers as far aways as Sydney were running her incredible story.

There are a few lessons in Alice’s story. One being the power of the Internet to spread news/share stories/inspire action among many. Another being of course the power of connected consciousness – when harnessed – in the service of good. But the most important is a very human one….

The most important lesson perhaps that Alice has taught us all is that we should never underestimate the ability of one person – even in the face of the most insurmountable of all human obstacles – to affect many for the greater greater good.

I doubt Alice has heard of Victor Frankl, the celebrated psychiatrist and of course, holocaust survivor. And why should she. But in his famous book: “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl wrote something that I recalled as I read Alice’s blog the other morning.

Frankl wrote of the lesson he learned from simple acts of courage and humanity he observed among the devastation of the internment camps,  in the face of the most insurmountable of all human obstacles, death itself:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”

In Alice, Frankl finds the modern embodiment of that sentiment. She is choosing her own way, her own – incredible – attitude in the face of her given set of circumstances.

I hope Alice completes her buckletlist. I hope she outlives her diagnosis. I hope. But whatever transpires she has served many of us in a more profound way than she might ever imagine….a 15 year old girl, writing with such gentle sadness and wonder reminding us and perhaps challenging us to ask the question….do we truly appreciate and exercise that last (and maybe the greatest) of all human freedoms….the ability to choose how we might live. Even in dying.

Alice. Thank you.

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Gil Scott-Heron (1949 – 2011)

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On 27th May, the celebrated “bluesologist” Gil Scott-Heron sadly passed away, aged 62 years old, to what he might allow us to refer to – in a nod to one of his most notable works – “The Other Side”.

Gil Scott-Heron was many things to many people: writer, composer, poet, recording artist, long time drug-addict, son of Chicago (and an ex-Celtic footballer!), resident of Harlem, father, convict, cultural critic, “voice of Black protest culture”, husband, anti-apartheid activist, friend, inspiration….to quote Chuck D, the leader of Public Enemy, speaking in The New Yorker in 2010, “You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word”.

I came late to Gil Scott-Heron. While aware of his early work and influence on the music and social culture of the 1970’s, I hadn’t engaged at any real level with his music. I picked up his last album, “I’m New Here” in early 2010 just after it’s release. It was a crucially important time for me personally and perhaps as a consequence of that, something in him and this album, at this moment deeply affected me. In particular the title track struck a deep chord. When you understand Gil Scott-Heron’s own life story, what he achieved and lost; what he succumbed to, suffered and ultimately overcame (however briefly in the end), the lyrics take on a genuine power and for me, at that time, a deep and important resonance. From opening with a searingly honest two line admission of personal responsibility (or at least complicity) for what we may each become,  it plays out ultimately as a celebration of and a testament to the ability to change; to redeem oneself; to renew and redefine a life, however late, in the face of any adversity; in spite of any past.

Gil Scott-Heron has come full circle in this life. And wherever he is now, I’m sure he’ll find someone to show him around. But I’ll always feel sorry that I never got a chance to express to him that while our respective challenges were, of course, very very different, he reminded a fellow seeker in this life that whatever we face, however daunting the road ahead, whatever we carry with us from the past – in an echo of the great Invictus – we can always, always, turnaround.

And so thanks, at least in part to Gil Scott-Heron, as the first hour of my 36th birthday rolls past, I truly feel that after a long long time….with a voice of reason….I am new here again. 

Gil, RIP.

I’m New Here lyrics
I did not become someone different
That I did not want to be
But I’m new here
Will you show me around

No matter how far wrong you’ve gone
You can always turn around
Met a woman in a bar
Told her I was hard to get to know
And near impossible to forget
She said i had an ego on me
The size of Texas

Well I’m new here and I forget
Does that mean big or small

No matter how far wrong you’ve gone
You can always turn around

And I’m shedding plates like a snake
And it may be crazy but I’m
the closest thing I have
To a voice of reason

Turnaround turnaround turnaround
And you may come full circle
and be new here again

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#BigSociety Squiggles & Behaviour Change

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Just over a month ago, the very excellent @davidwilcox posted another excellent piece on “Mapping the Big Society Territory” here. I recommend it to you.

So taken was I by it that I scribbled a humble response which I’ve copied below. It touches on similar points as my response to Elizabeth Moss Kanter’s blog post on “Leading Change” back in May this year.

I really need to commit to doing what I said I would and build out this model I have in my head showing a map of considerations (anchored in empirical evidence) when designing and leading a change effort. 

Anyway – thanks to David Wilcox for his piece and the chance to articulate this. It’s a bit more generalised than I’m entirely comfortable with but it was late and Mrs C was digging me in the ribs to “turn that bloody iPhone off!!”…

@davidwilcox Interesting post, squiggles and all.

Three points only and humbly submitted. 

First, although some will argue it’s “only semantics”, the point on naming convention is interesting. Any behavioural economist worth their salt will tell you that the very phrase “Big Society” is enough to disengage (or at least barely raise the inherently self interested/motivated pulse of) the general populace.  We know from years of research that even when our own very personal (e.g. Health, wealth) interests are at risk we often remain unroused to act appropriately (rationally) in the short or long term. So, when the long term aim is as impersonal, intangible and thematically vast as a “Big Society” then people won’t be roused. They’ll feel it’s “too overwhelming”, “too big for them to meaningfully contribute to”, “clearly not a pressing priority specifically for me to act on” (the latter is oft referred to as ‘the bystander effect’ in behavioural psychology) etc. It’s a similar challenge for Global Warming…So, although “Our Society” is still a little wooly (what do we think those we’d like to see more involved interpret “society” to mean do you think? I doubt many would respond positively on instinct alone..) it at least calls to the (shared) ownership instinct in each of us via “our”. Shame you didn’t mention our very own “Co-operative Society” here in Lambeth….It’s like the Big Society but re-labeled for Red Rose Authorities. Room for one of those on the diagram?  

In it’s effort to address this behavioural challenge – in part by setting up it’s own “Nudge nerve centre” (aka The Behavioural Decisions Unit) at No 10 and trying  to encourage behaviour change among the general populace from there, the Coalition appear to be overlooking the key principle of any effective change (diffusion) initiative: those in the “Early Adopter” and IN PARTICULAR those in the “Early & Late Majority” categories adopt the desired behaviours/engage fully not simply because of WHAT they see to the left of them on the diffusion model but WHO they see. And I’d suggest that those who the Government hope to engage in the Big Society (who currently aren’t) are least likely to respond to diffusion from Government/Civic Orgs and most likely to respond to diffusion from peers and role models from the “Our Society” bubble of your diagram. I hold out most hope for the Social Enterprise community but I’m not convinced alone that we’ll get to (and sustain) those hard to reach places where society of any sort – big or small – could do with a little pick-me-up.  Hence my second point – the role of the existing “Our Society” is most fundamental to this effort and why the work the RSA piloted in New Cross to understand and leverage existing social networks and influence is vital. If Tipping Point and the myriad of behavioural economic/psychology books that followed in the last decade have taught us anything, it’s that influence is not distributed evenly. And rarely are authority or establishment gifted with the large quota they might like to believe is the case.  Should all roads on your pic therefore start from “Our Society”? I’m not sure just yet but a more considered understanding of how to harness and embolden existing activists with genuine and breadth of influence across into your “BS” bubble seems like the best bet for Gov. I’ve seen little to reflect they grasp this and the meeting you describe (the inside/out or top/down model) confirms this. The call for a more “emergent” approach is a good one – and could ultimately prevail (though do we even have high level desired outcomes?) but it need not be entirely free form as I infer above if we target resources where the greatest return in diffusion can be earned.

Finally, if there is one thing that we know works more powerfully than peer pressure to encourage behaviour change, it’s loss aversion. The final, actual reality of withdrawal of local services and the gains that were previously derived from those services may ultimately be necessary to create the incentive to engage the hereto disengaged. But I’m not convinced. Given the discussion on Big Soc has largely focused on community services such as libraries, parks, leisure facilities and some non (or lightly) regulated local authority functions, I’d hazard a guess that those most likely to feel the greatest loss aversion to their withdrawal are those who are already reasonably socially active in the “Our Society” bubble. So back to point two I guess.

Longfellow once wrote: “I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth I know not where”. We Irish have a more optimistic take on that. As I’m often reminded: “if you don’t know where you are going, that’s where you’re sure to end up”.

I sense Cameron would prefer to locate his arrow (age of austerity etc) and I don’t think he’s a wandering Irish troubadour at heart. But without some future vision expressed in somewhat tangible outcomes for people to organise themselves around that may be his fate. At the very least the current vacuum on meaning and process was sure to open and much energy dissipated in the ensuing mudfight.

Part of me hopes for the best. Part of me fears the horse has bolted, unhoved, unsaddled and with no direction. Part of me thinks that the true discussion can only commence when we understand the gaps the big society has/will need to fill when the CSR dust settles. I know that’s not the ultimate point but it may be it’s ultimate test.

And part of me thinks he should have just published one of those “Change the World for a Fiver” books with 50 no cost ideas for contributing to the local community with a foreword which explains that research from the past fifty years suggests that levels of social connection and philanthropy are better predictors of life expectancy and mental health than most any other measure (incl alcohol and tobacco consumption). Long life and happiness you say?! Sign me up. I’ll start soon, honestly….

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An Education – for the 21st Century

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I went on a bit of a “rant” today in response to some worryingly narrow responses to an excellent piece the wonderful Euan Semple had posted on his blog The Obvious, criticising a school (which the son of his friend attends) for withdrawing/banning the use of Facebook in school time.

I’ve copied the relevant exchanges/pieces below. I hope I didn’t upset Helen or Christian but sometimes you have to say what needs to be said. There is little more important than progressive education….we should continue to encourage a progressive discussion.

This seemed somehow apt today as I went along to the local Primary School to hear about the possibilities for becoming a Governor. I’ll be checking they harness social media in the classroom before I sign up to anything!

I’m glad to say that most of the posts that preceded and followed mine agreed with Euan’s original sentiment. So all hope is not lost….I was really touched by his kind words following my post. That, for those of you who don’t know the influence of the man, is praise indeed.

Anyway, here it is (was?) albeit a spell checked version (old habits..) starting with Euan’s original post. You can find the full exchange with all comments at his excellent blog which I’ve linked above.

Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook


Banning Facebook is like banning the telephone. What people in authority don’t realise is that it is just a tool. Any tool can be used or misused. What they should be focused on is harnessing its potential not being paranoid about what people do with it.

Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. Yes learning what people had for breakfast – but also learning news, learning what works, learning what books are best to read, learning where to find the right bit of information.

It is particularly ironic when schools ban Facebook as they are the very ones who should be teaching effective use of this technology – not keeping their pupils stuck in some industrial, factory model of learning.

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When you’re at school, you are there for learning. Learning the important stuff – and the even more important stuff about being social in the first place, by talking to friends, face to face.

Social sites don’t help with this, which is why this ban (to which I can relate very well) is so interesting:

September 22, 2010 | Christian Guthier

Guns are just things.

Porn is just pictures.
Crack is just a substance.

“Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. ”
This statment strikes me as absurd and untrue.
Absorbing random bits of information piecemeal is actually the opposite of learning and is, as we are finding out, having a very negative impact on young minds ability to function in reality.

Is information synthesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Huge assumptions being made there Helen and Christian. I wonder how much experience you have actually had of these tools or of the way people and kids use them?

Yes those things are just things and can be used for good or ill. Demonising the things without dealing with our issues ducks the issues.

Social tools enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things.

Otherwise what are we doing now and why did you leave a comment?

September 22, 2010 | Euan

Am not assuming anything, just reporting my direct experience (I work part-time with teenagers – outside the US) and I see that constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition (not just while the devices are being used).

Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued.

The social environment has changed vastly and our teenagers now, will reap the whirlwind.

Of course Social Networks “enable” many positive things, but just because something is “enabled” it does not follow that it actually happens.

Like schools, nightclubs also “enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things”.

Should schools be converted to nightclubs so that the kids may enrich their minds. communicate, network, bond and “learn” dance moves, chat up routines etc etc?

You first assertion that social tools are about learning, gives a very skewed idea of what learning is.
(Assuming he is adolescent) its natural, that your son is more interested in learning social / romantic skills etc etc, rather than other skills that might be of value later on, but we as parents, I think would serve his generation better, by demonstrating that not all learning has the same value no matter how cool and groovy.

September 22, 2010 | helen clattenberg

Great debate Euan. I do want to also pick up on some points raised by Helen and Christian (thanks for stoking this conversation both).

“The social environment has changed rapidly”. Agreed and if we don’t help to equip our children to learn and thrive in that environment then both we and our schools are abdicating all responsibility as educators for their future well-being. If we don’t teach our children how to use all available resources safely and efficiently – for their own good and the good of wider society – then we set them and society up to fail in what is becoming a true knowledge intensive “attention economy”.

“Depth of consciousness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued”. These are still learned and valued attributes. If ever we needed to help our children learn the power of mindful attention and patience then this is the age. But we must teach them within, not without, the social environment in which they will live otherwise it just won’t stick.  It is interesting to me that some of the most powerful and joyous advocates of “social technology” are those who are already deeply conscious and mindful.  Simply because it provides opportunity for a growing awareness of our infinite and inherent “interdependence” as Ethan Nichtern calls it. Check out Bhuddist Geeks or 21Awake or The Here and Now Project for what is a much more mature and evolved consideration on this:  it is a necessary invitation and opportunity to explore what it means to be conscious and patient within (not outside of) the 21st Century. The aspiration is still the same but our children are growing up in a different time so it must a slightly different question.

“All learning is not equal” but why do we persist in suggesting that we – any of us – know what learning is most relevant and to whom? Even the way we study is being challenged as we learn for example that (as musicians already know) repetition of a single discipline/area of study in discrete chunks does not work well for sustaining retention and cognitive development. Rather, regular short bursts of a range of subjects/tasks/disciplines in one sitting yields much more. Even the recognition that so much of our best learning is social is underpinned by science.  But back to my original point – not all learning is equal/as important as other learning. Agreed, but who is best placed to decide that? We continue to prepare so many of our students for a world we appear not to have noticed is changing in front of our very eyes. The capability to source, discern, synthesise and connect to both information and people (in a mindful and patient manner) are among the key skills we will need for the future. As Steven Berlin Johnson says: “chance favours the connected world”. But it also favours the connected (and skilled) person therein.

If that’s not among the “important stuff” then I worry for our young minds. The Battle of Hastings and long division will only get us so far.

I’m fully behind Euan on this. How we learn/teach should reflect how we understand our young people to live. Without that much learning can (and will) feel redundant and stifling. Like everything else, Facebook isn’t bad, but there are bad users of Facebook. Apparently some of our schools are among them.

September 22, 2010 | Shane Carmichael

I love it when comments are way better than my post! :-)

September 22, 2010 | Euan

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A little bit of “nudging” on London’s South Bank

Image of the human head with the brain. The ar...
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Regular readers of this blog (?!?!?) will be well aware of my interest in all forms of human/social psychology and in particular my interest in the role of behavioural and social psychology in managing change.

It’s an area of study that’s become quite sexy of late, perhaps with the poster child being Steve Hilton himself, stripped bare and holding a well thumbed copy of “Nudge” in a strategic position for the annual Conservative Party’s WI calendar.

It’s all rather simple really. Just a recognition of what psychologists have been telling us for some time. How we make decisions/choices is a much more subconcious and often malleable process than we might like to imagine – a process which might be influenced (deliberately or otherwise) by a myriad of  subtle (or not so subtle) factors including deliberate commercial or political “nudging”.

No point in me regurgitating a century of study here. Just pick up an one of: “Nudge”, “The Tipping Point“, “Blink”, “59 Seconds: Think a little Change a Lot”, “Freakonomics” or “How we Decide (the list is potentially enormous) and indulge yourself.  In my opinion anyone embarking on a career in advertising, political policy, sales, marketing, change management, branding or religious outreach (Amen) should be forced to read all of these tomes and a few others besides before they darken the door of any self respecting employer in any one of those “industries”.  An interest in and understanding of the psychology and subtlety of human behaviour should be de-rigour for all.

I’ve been interested in the varied work of the in London for some time. Not least because I get to spend hallowed time most weeks in the company of one of it’s leading brand thinkers – Sean McKnight. At the end of last week The Engine Group (EG)  had this little piece on their web-blog: on the subject of behavioural psychology (or behavioural economics if you will). I thought it was good that EG are exposing more of their disparate teams to this discipline (although I’d blithely assumed they’d all be light years ahead in their public reflections) but more importantly it did make me think about a lovely example of behavioural nudging in action which I saw on Friday in London.

Opposite Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank, you will, during the course of the year, find a group of folks who use the small sandbank there to sand sculpt. They’ve been dong this for years. I’ll occasionally throw 50p down into the circle they’ve drawn in the sand to collect tips but never more. But of late they have adopted a new tactic to nudge us into giving “more generously”. They have set up two yellow buckets with a small portable bicycle bell set inside each one. There is a little note beneath each bucket inviting onlookers to throw some tips and “See if you can ring the bell”.

I invite you to pop along and watch what happens. Based on the last two five minute visits I’ve made, I  predict their tips are up maybe 300% minimum.

But why?

Because now not only are people throwing coins (tips) to reflect their appreciation of the sand sculptures; they are throwing coins to – much more importantly (and in some cases it seemed, exclusively) – see if they can make a small bell, in the bottom of a yellow bucket go ‘Ding’. It is a nudge to one of our strongest instincts and motivations – to succeed in a task that should be eminently achievable but is often frustratingly not. Add the public setting (no one likes to look bad in public and the ‘herding’ influence of others on our behaviour is more powerful than we may accept!), the fun atmosphere created as we try (and try) and the satisfactory feedback/reciprocation provided by the simple “ding” of a bell in the bucket and you have the ingredients for the perfect nudge.

I watched today as one lady asked “What happens if I hit the bell?”.  Having been told – “nothing, it makes a “ding””, she spent 3 minutes throwing coin after coin at the bell in the bucket to no avail; I threw a sum total of £1 in coins trying to hit said bell, as did my lowly paid companions.  Even more interesting was watching how a group of 6 people, who had almost walked past the sandbank, turned on hearing a faint “ding” (followed by great cheering from the friends of the aforementioned lady who, £5 down I reckon, had eventually hit the “jackpot”). Said party then each proceeded to throw coins at the yellow bucket with barely a glancing appreciation of the sand sculptures and so on until we decided to leave.

I bet if you asked 50% of those people 5 minutes after they’d left the scene what the two sand sculptures were that day, they wouldn’t even be able to tell you*. It was one of the most simple and stunningly effective applications of behavioural nudging that you’ll see in a social context in London today. For any male readers – it’s bit like those little flies on the back of certain “progressive” urinals (a subliminal target for you to aim at to reduce the amount of “splash-back”)…simple, yet deadly effective.

All those industries I listed, but most importantly, political policy, are (it would seem and we should hope) learning much from moving behavioural psychology and economics to the heart of what they do in both Policy formulation and execution. In an era when we have scarcer resources with which to encourage, facilitate and deliver some Big Society shaped national scale behaviour change then every arsenal in our weaponry much be drawn down.

There is of course more, much much more, to facilitating large scale human change than dropping a few bells in the bottom of a bucket (another blog on that subject is due) but it does demonstrate that for all our self congratulatory sophistication, we are simple animals in so many ways, driven by a few fundamental primitive instincts. The challenge is to harness that simplicity and those instincts to assist society in making smarter decisions about our health, wealth and happiness. In all those industries a fundamental question we must ask in shaping products, offerings or policies is this: which of our basic human instincts/longings/aspirations does this play to and therefore how best shall it be framed to lead “customers” to the most “appropriate” response.

There is a fascinating debate to be had about whether subliminal nudging is enough (or even immoral) or whether “customers” need to be granted a more active understanding of and participation in how certain choices impact both ourselves and others if behaviour change is to be sustained (and moral) but that’s for another day. For now, I’m off to sort out my bell and yellow bucket. You can find me outside the Ritzy in Brixton between 10am – 4pm; making daisy chains for tips….

*A rather fetching lady’s face and a starfish like creature were the order of the day….once you saw past those yellow buckets.

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The Big Lunch 2010 and the importance of “social capital”

The Big Lunch 2010 - Sudbourne Road“I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit… If he may come into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors” (Hanifan, L. J. 1916)

Last Sunday, 18th July, the residents of Sudbourne Road, Brixton, gathered to celebrate “The Big Lunch 2010”. Under appropriately blue skies our sleepy, if perfectly formed, slice of south London was transformed for an afternoon into a theatre of food, music, dancing, playing, face painting, badge making, ice cream slurping and neighbourly celebration.

Pre-dating the now ubiquitous “Big Society”, TBL is – like all good ideas – a very simple one. By encouraging neighbours and communities to come together and socialise within the simple construct of a street party, they believe we can:

  • Build and improve community spirit and engagement
  • Make the third of us who live alone feel happier, closer and… friendlier
  • Conquer our natural shyness, to open our curtains, doors and minds and look out for one another
  • Share stories, skills and tools, so we all end up richer in every sense
  • Discover common ground across age, class, faith, race and the garden fence.
  • And you know what. It might just work.

    I’ve lived on this street for over two years.  It’s a beautiful place. Yet we only knew the wonderful couple who rent the flat below us and our neighbours to the right. And really, that was it before last Sunday. And it’s interesting how that seems entirely acceptable for so long. How you can live in such close proximity to so many people and yet live so very far apart.

    I won’t deny to being a little bit cynical when Lucy Sherwood (our fearless leader for 2010) dropped the first of the leaflets for this year’s event through the door. It’s just easier that way it seems. But I couldn’t help but notice that as the day grew closer the greater my anticipation – and hopes – grew. The evolutionary psychologist in me would have diagnosed this as the natural reaction of any innately social animal, but it was also in part triggered by my long held interest in behavioural psychology – particularly when concerned with collective/group behaviour – both in the workplace and in society at large. In particular, two of my favorite studies on the role and importance of community or social capital, kept playing out in my mind.

    In 1995 Robert Putnam published a groundbreaking study of the growing fragmentation and associated dislocation of community and group life in America. Initially published as an article in the Journal of Democracy ““Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”, a book of the same name in 2000 went on to be a bestseller.  According to Putnam, social capital “refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks‘ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other”. According to Putnam, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. Putnam’s studies of modern American life led him to conclude that social capital is declining in the United States. This is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making America far less ‘connected’. Putnam believes that social capital can be measured by the amount of trust and “reciprocity” in a community or between individuals.

    Anyone familiar with life in N. Ireland or wider United Kingdom will recognise that the trends described by Puttnam are mirrored here. As The Big Lunch website itself reminds us:

  • Two million more single person households are forecast by 2019.
  • We have more rich, poor and ethnic ghettos than ever before.
  • There has been a 7% annual drop in trust between neighbours from 2003-05.
  • Social trust in the UK halved and now among the lowest in Europe.
  • While there are subtleties to be recognised with regard to some disadvantages and inequalities associated with the creation and distribution of ‘social capital’, in the main commentators agree that it can be an extremely positive force – increasing civic and political participation (“The Big Society“), contributing to our personal and collective mental well-being (The New Economics Foundation) as well as improving our physical health and life expectancy.

    Those of you who have read Malcolm Gladwell‘s excellent Outliers, will be familiar with what has become known as “The Roseto Effect”.  In the mid 1960’s medical researchers – led by Stewart Wolf (a physician) – were drawn to Roseto (a close-knit Italian-American community Pennsylvania) by a fascinating but puzzling statistic: defying medical logic, Rosetans died of heart attacks at a rate only half that of the rest of America. The men of the village smoked and drank wine without moderation. They worked out their days doing hard manual labor in nearby slate quarries. The Mediterranean diet, with its preference for olive oil rather than animal fats, had to be compromised as poor immigrants couldn’t afford to import cooking oil from their homeland and so instead they fried their sausages and browned their meatballs in lard (don’t we all?). Yet, they retained unusually healthy hearts in spite of their unhealthy diet and lifestyle. The question was: How?

    In “The Power of Clan”, a report on studies conducted by Wolf and John Bruhn (a sociologist) over a broad period of time from 1935 to 1984, they found that mutual respect and cooperation contribute to the health and welfare of a community and its inhabitants while a lack of concern for others and self indulgence have the opposite effect.

    Studying the history of Roseto, they found that early immigrants were shunned by the English and Welsh who dominated this corner of eastern Pennsylvania. As a result, the Rosetans turned inward and built their own culture of cooperation and community.

    “People are nourished by other people,” said Wolf, noting that the characteristics of tight-knit community are better predictors of healthy hearts than are low levels of serum cholesterol or tobacco use. He explained that an isolated individual may be overwhelmed by the problems of everyday life. Such a person internalized that feeling as stress which, in turn, can adversely affect everything from blood pressure to kidney function. That, however, is much less likely to be the outcome when a person is surrounded by caring friends, neighbors and relatives. The sense of being supported reduces stress and the disease stress engenders.

    More recently studies in both the USA and here by the BMJ have confirmed the correlation between an active social life/set of social connections and longer life expectancy.

    And though it my not have felt that way as  I hoovered up Sudbourne Road’s finest samosa’s, jerk chicken, potato salad, sausages, ice cream and baked goods; there was an undeniable feeling of hope, optimism and yes, “well being” (personal an collective) as the evening drew to a close.

    New neighbours had been met; interesting conversations held; ideas on matters of interest to the local community – schooling and local planning applications in particular – were exchanged; histories shared; new friendships made. We appear – and it’s a shame on me that this was even remotely a surprise – to live among wonderful people with shared aspirations, hopes and fears for our street, their families and themelves.

    And so in the midst of all the semantic scuffles about The Big Society (or more locally known as Lambeth’s “Co-Operative Council”), what it is and what it might/must become it was a delightful thought that something as simple as a set of street parties, held across the UK, bringing neighbours together one day in July, might just be doing more for all of us than David Cameron’s band of merry social architects as yet.

    “People are nourished by other people”.  That’s the Big Lunch. Literally and metaphorically.

    Long may it run.

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    Tips for Leading Change – HBR

    Things Have Got to Change
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    I got a bit above my station this week.  Reading a blog post called “Five Tips for Leading Change” by the excellent Harvard Business SchoolProfessor, Elizabeth Moss Kanter, I thought I’d add a few thoughts of my own.

    You can read Elizabeth’s inital post here and my comments below.

    Dear Rosabeth.

    Thank you for an interesting post – relevant for both organisational and social change efforts. Resonant of much from “Nudge” (Thaler& Sunstein), “Tipping Point” (Gladwell) and the lovely ‘Persuasion’ chapter in Prof R Wiseman’s excellent “59 Seconds”.

    While recognising the length of the article has somewhat curtailed what can be covered I do think there are a range of points in addition to these five that must be considered some of which commentators above have picked up on.


    Strong messaging and narrative are important of course but equally if not more important are how those messages are delivered both in terms of appropriate channels and also who is delivering – Gladwell’s Tipping Point teaches us that certain individuals and groups can have a disproportionately effective influence in spreading messages/encouraging the adoption of new behaviours. This is relevant also in any consideration of a “coalition” particularly when identifying early adopters/key influence-rs who can provide early momentum and authenticity (the latter being particularly vital)

    One of the challenges of large scale change programs is the risk of the “bystander effect” and so a consideration of how to personalise/localise messages/calls to action is fundamental to initiate desired behaviour. Increased sophistication in direct marketing communication technologies (e.g. PURLs) – used in the private sector increasingly – should be more widely adopted to personalise social “change campaigns”. As Keller suggests in his wonderful, yet simple, ARCS model, both Attention and Relevance are key drivers of human motivation when it comes to learning/adopting new behaviours. In turn, personalising/localising mass change campaigns can assure audience attention and relevance.

    Linked to motivation must be basic human evolutionary considerations of reward/recognition and or censure/denial. We – as individuals and groups – still largely act in our own interest or the interests of those we most closely associate ourselves with. The notion of Schein’s “survival anxiety” as a potential driver in social/corporate change programs is, I believe a fascinating one. Either we must reduce the level of anxiety associated with change to the extent that it is easily embraced or we must drive survival anxiety up to the extent that it subsumes the anxiety associated with the change itself. Obviously the former approach is desirable but it also requires more time and sophistication – not something often possible in many programs for change.


    Your point re “action nudges” is vital and good to see this recognised – timely reinforcement/ encouragement of desired behaviours is key. But we must also be clear what it is we want people to do precisely and then provide them with the opportunities/skills/direction/support/tools for them to do so. Change programs – Government or Corporate – must create the necessary “enabling context” for participants to engage and experience early successes in their own personal change experience (however small). This leads to both Confidence and Satisfaction (the final two elements in Keller’s Model) which are both vital to sustain changes in behaviour. This must not be overlooked.

    I think looking at this from the individual’s perspective is vital and so in all of this I urge all of us involved in this area to ensure that those communities and individuals we wish to persuade to change in some way must be both motivated and capable of doing so.

    Anyway – thanks again for the post on a subject of importance. I hope these brief reflections are useful.

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    A parable for our times?

    Hooghly River, Kolkata, India.
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    It was many years ago that villagers in Downstream recall spotting the first body in the river. Some old timers remember how Spartan were the facilities and procedures for managing that short of thing. Sometimes, they say, it would take hours to pull 10 people from the river, and even then only a few would survive.

    Though the number of victims in the river has increased greatly in recent years, the good folks of Downstream have responded admirably to the challenge. Their rescue system is clearly second to none: most people discovered in the swirling waters are reached within twenty minutes, many in less than ten. Only a small number drown each day before help arrives — a big improvement from the way it used to be.

    Talk to the people of Downstream and they’ll speak with pride about the new hospital by the edge of the waters, the flotilla of rescue boats ready for service at a moment’s notice, the comprehensive health plans for coordinating all the manpower involved, and the large number of highly trained and dedicated swimmers always ready to risk their lives to save victims from the raging currents. Sure it costs a lot but, say the Downstreamers, what else can decent people do except to provide whatever is necessary when human lives are at stake.

    Oh, a few people in Downstream have raised the question now and again, but most folks show little interest in what’s happening Upstream. It seems there’s so much to do to help those in the river that nobody’s got time to check how all those bodies are getting there in the first place. That’s the way things are, sometimes.

    ~ D.B. Ardell

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    Stop the clocks – Change success revelation!

    List of Christian thinkers in science
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    The Harvard Business Review rarely lets me down but today they strayed into the business of “stating  the bloody obvious”:

    I mean what next: Joseph Ratzinger outed as a Catholic and a bear found “taking a break” in the woods? I hope they got reduced rates from McKinsey on this one!!

    Employee engagement in change programs has long been known to be a critical success factor in any effort at organisational change so no idea why this was worthy of “Daily Stat” release today or any other day.

    I’ll forgive them this time…but something inside me died a little…

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