Another day, another government. You know how it is - wake up, a cabinet's been formed, eyewatering public sector cuts in the air, wonder what's up for neighbourhood management? Pottered along to the National Association for Neighbourhood Management conference, along with about sixty other folk. Probably all of us (with the exception of one of the speakers, who shall remain nameless) had years of experience of co-production and were sensitised to its nuances, and led by NANM we co-produced an absorbing event.
We heard two nicely complementary presentations from Gerry Stoker and Steve Broome. Gerry spoke about the Manchester Uni / Southampton Uni research into changing civic behaviour, which has come to be known as the 'Nudge-nudge, think-think' project because of the way it contrasts two ways for policy to influence what we do. Meself, I just think there's a massive policy conspiracy to get me to see things in that framework.
Steve Broome offered the first update I've heard on the RSA's connecting communities project which has been carrying out social network analysis in the New Cross area of south London. They've been rather coy about what's been happening but suddenly here's a whole lot of data which, Steve says, will help us understand 'the total set of connections and possibilities within a community'. Drilling down you can appreciate where the strong and weak points might be, and you can help people to recognise and exploit their network position. Apparently
'people who value neighbourliness are more likely to be in the core of the network.'
This will be worth examining closely. At least two pieces of work that I'm aware of have suggested that there may not be a strong connection between neighbouring and community activity. The project report is expected in about 6 weeks' time, and Steve said the data will be made available online. Hopefully the kind of work they've done will be inexpensively replicable, and we'll begin to see constructive ways of exploiting the knowledge gained, eg in finding ways to support older people to age in place.
This is the place to offer a note of tribute to two street reps from Shipley, Sue and Arthur Kenworthy, who made the journey down to London to have an input to the two workshops I ran. When a number of practitioners are gathered together in a room, there's nothing like having the experience of local people to draw on. Sue and Arthur are a couple of residents trying to make a little bit of difference in their neighbourhood: they exemplify the barely-recognised efforts of thousands, but yesterday their thoughts and experience were listened to and valued.
So will neighbourhood management fit into new social policies? We seem to be watching a rapid shift from what I call transactional government - characterised by treating the citizen as compliant consumer of state services who has to struggle for their entitlements - to what Geoff Mulgan has called relational government, characterised by involvement in decisions, co-production and conversational democracy. Am I being over-optimistic?
An argument resonating at yesterday's conference was that we can't afford not to invest in NM. A few weeks back on the NANM blog, Ben Lee put it like this:
'The coming weeks and months will be a crucial time for all of us. On the one hand there is more support and hard evidence than we’ve ever had for the principles of neighbourhood action, localism and empowering citizens through co-delivery. But while some local agencies hold their nerve and take considered decisions about radical devolved service models, others are already taking rushed decisions to reduce or cancel ‘pilot’ programmes - flying in the face of evidence.
We believe local practitioners and community activists need to be taking the best evidence and achievments of neighbourhood working to the heart of the debates about cuts.'